Tom Douglas’ Dahlia Bakery is one of my favorite places on earth and the bakery’s cookbook one of my oft-used treasures. This yeasty feather-light muffin has lovely nooks and crannies that crisp up beautifully when toasted, exactly where I turn when I want to be transported!
1 medium (140-170 g) Yukon Gold or other waxy potato
First portion of water: 1-1/3 cup (315 g) at 68°F* (cool tap water)
3 cups (418 g) bread flour
1/4 cup (28 g) whole wheat flour
1 T (21 g) honey
2-1/2 tsp (15 g) Kosher salt
1-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
Second portion of water: 1/3 cup (79 g) at 68°F* (cool tap water)
Olive or vegetable oil for oiling your hands and the bowl
*The water must be at or very close to 68°F; use your thermometer to check
For dusting the pans
2 T all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work counter
2 T cornmeal
Do One Hour Ahead
Cut the potato into 1-inch chunks, leaving the skin on. Put the potato into a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the potato is tender, 8 to 10 minutes after the water is simmering. Drain the potato, transfer to a bowl, and using a potato masher or a fork, mash the potato with the skins on. Measure the mashed potato. You should have a well-packed 1/2 cup (120 g) of mashed potato. Discard any excess potato and place the 1/2 cup of mashed potato in the refrigerator to cool. When the potato is completely cool, start your dough.
Pour the first portion (1-1/3 cups or 315 g) of 68°F water into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add both flours, the cooled potato, the honey, salt, and yeast. Mix on low speed for ten minutes. You should have a soft dough that is sticky, stretchy and wraps around the paddle. Scrape down the dough. Turn off the mixer and allow the dough to rest in the bowl for five minutes.
After the dough has rested, turn the mixer to medium speed and mix for another 1-2 minutes. At this point the dough should be wound around the paddle and will be stronger, tighter, and stretchier. With the machine running, start adding the second portion (1/3 cup or 79 g) of 68°F water, about 2 T at a time. Let each addition of water absorb fully before adding more water. (It is very important to add the water gradually, in about 3 additions). When all the water has been added, allow the dough to mix for another two minutes until a smooth and shiny dough is formed. Use your thermometer to take the temperature of the dough. The dough must be between 75°F and 80°F.
If the temperature of your water is 68°F, the temperature of your dough should be in this range. But if the dough is cooler than 75°F, you can place the dough in a warm place for a little while and check the temperature again. If the dough is more than 80°F you can place the dough in a cool spot for a little while.
Oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and roll and flip over into a ball, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a slightly warm place and allow it to rest for 30 minutes. (Slightly warm means warm room temperature. If your kitchen is 68°F to 70°F or so, just letting the dough sit on the counter is fine. If your kitchen is cooler than this, find a slightly warm spot, such as near the stove. You do not, however, want to put the dough in a place that is too warm.) After the 30 minute rest, uncover the bowl so you can “turn” the dough. Rub some oil on your hands before turning the dough, because the dough will be sticky. Using your hands, reach over to the side of the bowl farthest from you and pull straight up on the dough on that side, stretching it upward. (Stretch it up as far as you can without breaking). Then drop the dough as you fold it over toward the side of the bowl closest to you. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat, pulling the dough on the side of the bowl farthest to you, stretching it straight up, then folding the dough over toward the side of the bowl closest to you. Continue giving the bowl a quarter turn and stretching and turning the dough, until you have gone around the circumference of the ball of dough a total of four turns.
Turn the dough over, cover again with plastic wrap, and return it to the slightly warm (68°F to 70°F) place and let it rest another 30 minutes. Turn the dough with oiled hands as described above, working your way around the circumference of the ball of dough a total of four times.
Cover the bowl, return it to the slightly warm (68°F to 70°F) place and allow the dough to rest for an hour (total resting time of the dough will be two hours). The dough should be sticky, bubbly and active.
At this point you can either finish the English muffin in a single day and continue to shape, proof and bake the English muffins or cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator overnight. (If you plan to finish in one day but need a stopping point, you can also refrigerate the dough at this point for an hour or more.)
Time to Bake
When you are ready to shape and bake the English muffins, combine the 2 T flour and 2 T cornmeal (for dusting the pans) in a small bowl. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and dust them with the flour cornmeal mixture. Set the pans aside.
Generously flour a work surface (because the dough is sticky), then dump the dough out onto it (removing it from the refrigerator if the dough has been refrigerated). Using a floured metal bench scraper or a floured knife, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. To shape each muffin, place a portion of dough on the floured work surface and pull the dough up and over itself (in other words, try to fold the dough roughly in half), flipping the portion of dough over so the floured side is now facing up. Scoot the dough to an unfloured or only lightly floured part of the work surface and roll the portion of dough with the palm of your hand cupped over it, using a rolling motion and rolling the dough firmly between the palm of your hand and the work surface, to shape each muffin into a round shape. Ideally, the top part of the dough, which is under your palm, is floured, and the stickier bottom side of the dough will give you some traction with the unfloored work surface. Another way is to roll each portion of dough firmly between the palms of both hands instead of on the work surface, flouring your hands if needed. Rolling this soft dough into nice round balls takes practice, but don’t worry if your results are not perfect—your finished muffins will look a little more rustic but will taste just as delicious!
Place six English muffins on each prepared baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Cover the rolls of dough with clean kitchen towels and put them in a slightly warm but not hot place until they have doubled in size, which will take one hour to one hour 45 minutes if the dough has not been refrigerated and will take 2 to 2-1/2 hours if it has been.
When the English muffins have doubled in size, the dough will feel a little less sticky to the touch. Also, when you press gently on the dough, it will feel light and airy, not dense, and you may see some bubbles. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Put the pans in the oven and bake the muffins for 8 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and flip each muffin over to the other side. Use your hand to give each muffin a firm pat to flatten it slightly—but do it quickly and be careful of the hot steam! (You can protect your hand with a folded dish towel if you like). Rotate the pans and return them to the oven, switching them between the racks. Bake the muffins until they are golden and baked through with a few browned patches, about 8 minutes more (about 16 minutes total baking time).
Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes and then slice each English muffin crosswise in half and toast. For longer storage, place whole muffins in plastic freezer bags, then thaw before slicing and toasting.
Recipe by Chef Gwen LeBlanc, head baker at the Dahlia Bakery