Many of you probably saw 7×7’s recent issue with 100 Things to Eat Before You Die. While I think some of their choices were a bit repetitive this year, it’s a fun issue and always gives me a nudge towards spots I’ve been meaning to try and dishes I need to get my hands on. While studying their inclusions, I noticed a serious omission. For those of you who have had the pleasure of eating the homemade English muffin breakfast sandwich at Mission Beach Café, you know what I’m talking about. This may be up there with my top three favorite things to eat for breakfast in the city–with or without a glossy endorsement.
Warming up to the morning at Mission Beach Café
This place rocks on weekday mornings. It’s relatively quiet, there are folks reading the paper, and neighborhood locals wander in to grab a cup of coffee and a pastry. They’re pulling off quaint neighborhood eatery remarkably well. It’s spacious. It’s comfortable. The service is laid-back but attentive. And dear god, that sandwich. Essentially, it’s a fried egg with melted cheddar, caramelized onions, and mushrooms wedged in between a satisfying homemade English muffin. The nooks and crannies catch the slightly runny egg perfectly, but there’s also more of a delightful heft to the English muffins here than your typical store-bought variety.
The Breakfast Sandwich on a homemade English muffin at Mission Beach Café.
A few weeks ago, I brought two friends to Mission Beach Café. We were all catching up with each other until the waitress brought out our breakfast. I kept getting distracted and interrupting: you guys have got to try this; I wonder if you can make these English muffins at home?; do you think you have to use yeast to make English muffins? My friends loved their food, but could’ve used a little less talk of yeast and a little more talk of weekend plans. But the second I got home, I started researching recipes online and found one from a blog called Tracey’s Culinary Adventures (a lot of food bloggers have played with this recipe by famed bread master Peter Reinhart so it must be the real deal). It seemed to be a relatively easy foray into the big, bad world of yeast (I’m a quick bread kinda’ gal myself), so I set out to buy the ingredients and managed to have a whole lot of luck. I ended up adapting the recipe slightly myself, adding a little more sugar because I’d heard the sugar helps the yeast rise (and I didn’t have much luck with that the first go-around).
In under a minute you’ll have a warm, fragrant ball of dough.
My mom claims this is the best thing I’ve ever made. I’m not so sure about that, but they were easy (albeit a little time consuming: my yeast took a bit longer than the recipe dictated, so allow a good few hours just in case) and have proven to be quite addicting. I quickly learned that there’s a difference between instant yeast and active dry yeast. I’m not going to lie. I still don’t completely know the territory I just entered, and I definitely had to toss my first ball of dough. But there’s something thrilling about kneading buttermilk, flour, and yeast and watching it rise and form into magic breakfast (or lunch, or late night) treats.
Letting the dough rise, forming balls, quickly cooking each side, and popping them in the oven: done!
I didn’t try to emulate the breakfast sandwich at Mission Beach Café (not yet, anyway), but I have been slicing halves, toasting them, and eating them with just about every jam in my kitchen. And a quick note: the only time-consuming part of this recipe is letting the dough rise. You won’t be slaving away in the kitchen. Pick up a good book or get caught up with old friends on the phone and they’ll be done before you know it.
I’ll never buy Thomas’ again!
2 1/4 cups bread flour
2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 tbsp. shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4-1 cup milk or buttermilk, at room temperature
Cornmeal, for sprinkling
Makes: 6 English Muffins
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Mix in the butter (or shortening) and 3/4 cup of milk (or buttermilk). If the dry ingredients are not yet fully incorporated, add enough of the remaining milk so a dough forms. Stop mixing right when this occurs: don’t over mix!
2. Sprinkle flour on a dry surface and turn the dough out of the mixer, and knead by hand for about 9-10 minutes. The dough should be tacky (but not sticky), and register 77 to 81 F. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and roll the ball of dough around the bowl to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for at least an hour, or until the dough doubles in size. It helps to keep the dough (in terms of rising) in a relatively warm place–away from cold, drafty windows or open doors.
3. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and shape into small balls. Lay parchment paper on a baking sheet and spray lightly with oil. Sprinkle with cornmeal.
4. Move the dough balls to the baking sheet, spacing them evenly with enough room to rise and double in size. Mist them lightly with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal then cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise another hour, or until the rolls are nearly double in size.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Heat a flat griddle to medium (350 F) (you can also use a skillet on the stove top if you don’t have a griddle). Brush the griddle lightly with oil and gently transfer the dough balls to the griddle. Allow them to cook for 5-8 minutes or until the bottoms are a rich golden brown color. Be careful not to burn. Carefully flip and cook the other side for the same amount of time. They should flatten as they cook.
6. Remove the muffins from the skillet and transfer them to a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 6-8 minutes.
7. Transfer the baked muffins to a cooling rack and let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing or serving.