Friday, March 26, 2010

benedictorious eggs and english muffins from scratch

ben·e·dict: (noun) a newly married man, esp. one who has been long a bachelor.
ben·e·dic·tion: (noun) an utterance of good wishes.  
food for thought.
we ate a lot of good food in hawai'i, and one of the best meals we ate was home-cooked "breakfast for dinner" eggs benedict made my by stepmom, kat. it was incredible. which is hard to say for someone who has hated poached eggs my entire life. i, in fact, am that jerk at the restaurant who asks to have the eggs benedict, "but could you make the eggs over hard instead of poached?" yeah. that's me.
but these eggs were awesome. and the hollandaise was divine. so it inspired me to embark on my own eggs benedict adventure. 
as usual, i'm always wondering: do i need to buy that? could i make it myself? plus i'm in the process of trying to clear out my cupboards before i move, so i decided to make english muffins. from scratch.
did you know that english muffins are baked on a griddle?
a word to the wiser-than-i here, if you're gonna make english muffins from scratch (or any kind of bread, for that matter) you need a little foresight in meal prepping. unless you want to eat dinner at 10pm, which is how it turned out for us. 
i found this recipe for english muffins, and used it as a rough guide. my tweaked version went something like this:

english muffins
    * 1 cup milk
    * 2 tablespoons white sugar
    * 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
    * 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
    * 1/4 cup melted butter
    * 4-6 cups flour (i used a combination of white and pastry wheat, and i didn't need the whole 6 cups)
    * 1 teaspoon salt
  1. warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. mix in the sugar, stirring until dissolved. let cool until lukewarm. in a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. in a large bowl, combine the milk, yeast mixture, butter, and 3 cups flour. beat until smooth. add salt and rest of flour, or enough to make a soft dough. knead until springy. place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
  3. punch down. resist the urge to knead - i read somewhere else that the "nooks and crannies" that we all love about english muffins (aka their ability to soak in butter) are formed by the less you handle them. roll out to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut rounds with biscuit cutter, drinking glass, or empty can. Sprinkle a surface with cornmeal and set the rounds on this to rise. dust tops of muffins with cornmeal also. cover and let rise 1/2 hour.
  4. heat greased griddle. cook muffins on griddle on medium heat until they start to puff and brown - the recipe says about 10 minutes on each side, but i thought that was too much. keep baked muffins in a warm oven until all have been cooked (i'm not sure why that is unless you're going to serve them all immediately, so i didn't do that). allow to cool and place in plastic bags for storage. 
make some new friends, because you've just made more english muffins that you can possibly eat by yourself, three meals a day, until you're sick of english muffins.

the results: mine turned out a little closer to the bagel end of the bread spectrum than the english muffin end, but i'm pretty sure that's because i didn't have the patience to let them rise fully twice (remember i hadn't accounted for that in my meal prep time). other than that they're pretty tasty, and next time i might forgo the wheat flour and do straight white flour; i mean english muffins are a decadence anyway, so why bother trying to make it healthy?
did i mention that this was a meal of firsts for me? i haven't made english muffins before, and i've also never poached an egg. or made good hollandaise sauce. and both of those things have a reputation for being tricky.
the hollandaise was actually the inspiration for this meal because i made meringues a few nights before and had leftover egg yolks.
i relied on epicurious' basic hollandaise sauce recipe for guidance. here's the recipe with my thoughts added:

hollandaise sauce:
* 3 egg yolks
* 1 tablespoon cream
* 2/3 cup melted butter, cooled to room temperature (the original recipe says 1 cup, but that's a ton of
   butter, and the reviews of the recipe recommended cutting it down)
* 1+ tablespoon lemon juice,to taste (you can also use white wine vinegar, but i think vinegar's disgusting)
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* Dash of cayenne pepper

Use a small, thick ceramic bowl set in a heavy-bottomed pan, or a heavyweight double boiler. Off the heat, put the egg yolks and cream in the bowl or upper section of the double boiler and stir with a wire whisk until well-blended — the mixture should never be beaten but stirred, evenly, vigorously and continually. Place the container over hot water (if you are setting the bowl in water, there should be about 1 1/2 inches of water in the pan; in a double boiler, the water should not touch the top section). Stirring eggs continuously, bring the water slowly to a simmer. Do not let it boil. Stir, incorporating the entire mixture so there is no film at the bottom. When the eggs have thickened to consistency of very heavy cream, begin to add the cooled melted butter with one hand, stirring vigorously with the other. Pour extremely slowly so that each addition is blended into the egg mixture before more is added. When all the butter has been added, add the lemon juice or vinegar a drop at a time and immediately remove from heat. Add salt and a mere dash of cayenne.

Note: If you proceed with care your Hollandaise should not curdle. If it does, however, don't despair. Finish adding the butter as best you can. Remove sauce to a small bowl, clean the pot and put a fresh egg yolk in it. Start over again, using the curdled sauce as if it were the butter.
that recipe's verbatim because it turned out quite well. i cut down the butter (as mentioned) and bumped up the lemon juice because i like a tangy hollandaise, but other than that i think the instructions were spot on.
while all of this english-muffin-cooking and hollandaise-sauce-stirring was going on on the stove, i decided to do the asparagus and the bacon in the oven, separately, so they wouldn't take up my stovetop space. the asparagus turned out a little dry, but bacon in the oven is great - and requires do much less attention.

finally, the poached eggs.
i've been intimidated by the notoriety surrounding poached eggs and how difficult they are to make. thankfully, i have the internet. so i didn't have to figure out how to make them myself. i recommend these guidelines, which tell me that those little cups that hang on the side of your pot are actually not only cheating but making your eggs steamed rather than poached. good thing, i didn't have those anyway.
here are the main tips: bring your water to just under simmering, add a tablespoon of vinegar and a little salt: the vinegar will help your whites stay put and not feather out all over the water. once you gently slide your eggs into the water - turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 3 mins.
admittedly, i let mine sit for a bit longer than 3 mins because i'm grossed out by runny yolks, but that's what poached eggs are all about, i suppose, so go ahead and do that for yours. now, i also went through the extra step of dipping my poached eggs in warm water after removing them from the pan because i really dislike the taste of vinegar, but this adds several extra degrees of hazard with the potential to have those whites you worked to keep together fall all apart (which definitely happened to me), so proceed with that at your own risk.

and voila - breakfast for dinner has never tasted better. i mean, butter + eggs + bacon + asparagus, what could be bad?