Writings on curious recipes, food I've tasted around the world and the quest for finding the perfect blueberry muffin.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

English muffins and an excuse to perfect Eggs Benedict at home

I don't know where to start this, because I'm not exactly sure what it's about. At first, I thought it was about an English muffin. I decided to bake English muffins, because I've been seeing them everywhere yet they never look (or taste) as good as I think they should. So I prepared the batter yesterday evening and placed it into the fridge for a slow, overnight rise. I thought I was going to wake up in the morning, bake up a batch and enjoy a still warm English muffin, sliced and topped with a slathering of fresh farm butter and home-made jam. It was going to be an easy, satisfying, fuss-free breakfast.

But then, as I was falling asleep, I started to think that once I was going to make English muffins, I might as well make Eggs Benedict (nevermind the fact that I have never poached an egg in my life, or made Hollandaise or have ham lying around - or actually like eggs that much). That all seemed beyond the point. For some reason I got fixated on the idea that there's nothing worthier for an English muffin than to be topped by a poached egg (and ham, and Hollandaise sauce).

So today I started reading up on egg poaching. I quickly realized that there are about as many methods as there are cookbooks. Seriously. Poach in water with vinegar or without? By first boiling the egg for 30 seconds to harden the shell? In a frying pan or pot? In just before the simmer, barely simmering, simmering water? For one minute, two minutes or 3.45? Some even advocate putting the egg into cling film (not advised in cookbooks, thankfully). None of the authors seemed to agree and worse, they all claimed that only their method was fail proof.

And thus my breakfast making of trial and error began. With, um, the emphasis on error. Eggs were ruined (I say no to pre-boiling, no to the frying pan, no to the simmering water). Then sauces didn't emulsify (because I wisely chose to go with a recipe that sounded much too complicated for its own good), and I may have spent 12 minutes trying to make a metal ring holder out of a tuna can to bake my muffins in before caving and running to the store - but I'd prefer not to talk about that.

Yet after more hours than I'll admit to, I finally sat down for breakfast brunch lunch post lunch (it was afternoon, people). By that time I had gone through four cookbooks, three internet sites, 7 eggs, 226g of butter and three espresso. I had dirtied pots and pans and felt rather exhausted, and technically I hadn't even started the day. 

But then my fork slid through the Hollandaise sauce, into the poached egg - bursting open the most vibrant egg yolk (thank you, Rookery farm!) - through the ham and finally the English muffin. Things got messy. And it wasn't elegant. But for the lack of a better description: it was so, so good. The English muffin was everything I want English muffins to be, the ham was crisp, the eggs poached to perfection and the Hollandaise was just right. This is how Eggs Benedict should be. This was actually worth the effort, I thought....

Still, tomorrow I might just reach for the jam. 

Eggs Benedict
You'll need

English Muffins
Smoked ham 
Poached Eggs
Hollandaise Sauce

English Muffins
Recipe by my favorite bread baker, Peter Reinhart.

Prepare the batter the night before (can sit in the fridge for up to four days).
Special equipment: English muffin rings

14g // 2 teaspoons of honey
14g // 1 tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil
340g // 1 1/2 cups of lukewarm whole or low-fat milk (about 95°F or 35°C)
340g // 2 2/3 cups of unbleached bread flour
5.5g // 3/4 teaspoons of salt
6g // 2 teaspoons of instant yeast
2g // 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
43g // 3 tablespoons of warm water
Cornmeal for dusting

Combine honey with oil and milk and stir to dissolve honey. In another bowl whisk together flour, salt and yeast, then add the milk mixture. Whisk by hand for one minute, then scrape down bowl with a spatula, and mix again for a few more seconds. Scrape down bowl again, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, remove bowl from fridge two hours before you want to bake the muffins. When you are ready to bake them, dissolve baking soda in warm water and then gently and carefully fold the mixture into the batter (as if you were folding egg whites into a cake batter). Let the batter stand for 5 to 10 minutes, until it starts to bubble. 

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Brush with oil and dust with cornmeal. Brush the English muffin rings with oil as well, and dust with cornmeal. Place the rings on the skillet and lower heat to medium-low, but more towards the low end. 

Fill a 1/3 cup with batter and pour the dough into a ring - the ring should be about two-thirds full. Don't worry if the dough doesn't fill the ring immediately - it will rise and fill it out while cooking. Fill all rings this way, then sprinkle cornmeal over each muffin. 

Cook the muffins for 12 minutes, until the bottom is golden brown. Then flip them over (in their rings) and cook for another 12 minutes. If it takes less than 12 minutes, then your griddle is probably set too high and you will end up with undercooked muffins!

When both sides are golden brown and the dough is springy to the touch, remove the muffins from the pan. Cool them in their rings for 2 minutes, then remove the rings and place the muffins on their edge to cool - this will help them from sinking and shrinking. Cool for about 30 minutes before serving.

Poached Eggs

As I mentioned above, after multiple misses, I finally found a technique that worked perfectly.

Here's how. In a medium sized pot, bring about 1.7 liters // 1.5 quarts of water along with one tablespoon of white wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon of salt to just before a simmer. In the mean time, crack an egg into a small bowl. Using a spoon stir the water, creating a whirlpool effect. Then lower the bowl with the egg to the surface of the water, and gently plop it into the centre of the pot. Set the timer for 3 (to 4) minutes and stand back. And watch. It will come together perfectly. Scoop out egg with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel, if you are not using it immediately. When you need it, you can re-heat the egg by briefly placing it in hot water.

Hollandaise Sauce
After one epic fail, this is the recipe I turned to. It's from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book

2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of boiling water
226g // 2 sticks of butter, melted and hot
2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt to taste

Using a stick blender, blend yolks for a few seconds, then add the boiling water - slowly. Now add the melted butter in a very slow stream (almost in drops). Gradually it will thicken. Once all the butter has been added you should have a smooth, pale yellow sauce. Whisk in lemon juice and season with salt. If it is too thick, you can add a little more boiling water. It will keep for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature.

To assemble
Place a cast iron skillet on low heat. Brush with butter. Slice English muffin in half and place the halves, sliced side down, in the skillet, until slightly browned. Using the same skillet, fry the ham until crispy. Place a slice of ham on each muffin half, top each half with a poached egg and top the poached egg with a few tablespoons of Hollandaise. 

Enjoy immediately!


hakkachan said...

lovely .... love your pics and the poached eggs are perfect :D

littlemissdids said...

Hehe, thanks!! :)

Horizon At Fleetwood said...

Your eggs benedict look absolutley delicous! A perfect recipe to enjoy on a lazy Westchester Sunday morning!

Malcolm said...

I have been planning a "start-to-finish" Benedict post, and Tastespotting brought me here. Lovely pictures, and a lovely post!

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