The Fresh Loaf

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fork split English muffins to make nooks and crannies-- myth or fact?

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

fork split English muffins to make nooks and crannies-- myth or fact?

I keep reading in various recipes that splitting English muffins with the tines of a fork "creates" texture or "creates" nooks and crevices. This has never made any sense to me. As far as I can tell, the texture is already *in* the muffin, created by large, irregular air bubbles, which are encouraged by using a higher hydration dough (or batter) and by ensuring adequate proofing time right before cooking on the griddle. I have always split my muffins with a bread knife, and have no shortage of large, irregular pockets inside. Am I missing something? If this is a myth, why do people keep repeating it?

My theory is this: the original idea was that the mark of a good English muffin was one that had so many large holes inside that it COULD EVEN be split with just a fork; a knife wasn't required. For reasons unknown, this then morphed, illogically, into the current, widespread notion that English muffins SHOULD be split with a fork, and this was then retroactively justified by attempting to connect it to the texture of the nooks and crannies.  

What do you think?

Kent in Taibei

flournwater's picture
flournwater

I'm a member of your club, dragon ...

Once the muffin is baked it doesn't matter what you split it with, the crumb is going to be the same whether you use a knife or a fork.  And it would be absurd to suggest splitting them with a fork then reassembling the prior to baking.

But the myth (that's what I believe it is) persists.  I think the myth grew out of a commercial ad that touted how their muffins could be fork split (because they're sliced while still warm and allowed to finish cooling in a controlled environment after being reassembled) and the concept became distorted over time.  At least that's my theory; admittedly one that I can't support with any solid data.

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

Even Reinhart (BBA p.157) regurgitates this one: "Instead of cutting open the finished muffins with a knife, use a fork. The commercial brands like to trumpet this as 'fork-split' English muffins. The advantage is that by running the tines of the fork into and around the edge of the bread, the famous nooks and crevices that are so much a part of the English muffin mystique are created." (emphasis added)

arzajac's picture
arzajac

To me, the holey landscape of the proper english muffin is accentuated by fork splitting, while cutting with a nife leaves a smoother surface which doesn't show off the large holes as well.

 

So it's both.  You need to have the texture there to begin with.

 

ejm's picture
ejm

I can see that fork-split might be preferrable. We rarely have English muffins (I tried making them once but they weren't entirely successful.)

However, I always break open rolls rather than cut them. I'm not a big fan of the smooth surface. There are larger wells created to catch the butter AND leave some sections unbuttered and I prefer that. My husband always slices open rolls though. When the roll is cut open with a knife the butter goes on and soaks in evenly.

Claire, my recollection is that the English muffins sold here are very similar to a crumpet I had eons ago in England.

-Elizabeth

my first (and only so far) try at English Muffins (2006)

English Muffins? - September 2006

pmccool's picture
pmccool

yes, fork-splitting an English muffin does create a more irregular surface.  If you slice through the muffin with a knife and then look across the cut surface, it will essentially be a smooth plane, like so: -------------- .  If, instead, you split or tear the muffin and then look across the split or torn surface, it will be very irregular with lots of high and low points, like so: /\/\/\/\/\/\/\.  The high points will tend to toast up nice and brown faster than the low points and the irregularties in the surface will trap lots of butter or jam.

Neither splitting or slicing will change the internal structure of the crumb; that's already there.  If the muffin has larger, irregular bubbles making up the crumb, it will have more of a "nooks and crannies" appearance to the viewer than will a muffin with a tighter, smoother crumb.  And that will be true no matter which method is used to open the muffin.

Since they taste good either way, use whichever method suits your esthetic preferences.

Paul

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I fork split them when I toast them, and use them open-face, e.g., eggs Benedict. i slice them for sandwiches.

David G

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Echoing David's post, "spot on" McCool.  I raised an engineer, and he tries to help me think like one, but I haven't graduated to the pinacle for that level of thinking quite yet.

pmccool's picture
pmccool

As a matter of fact, thinking like an engineer can be an impediment in some situations.  Just ask my wife! 

My professors, though, would be proud to know that they were so successful in beating that way of looking at things into my head.

Paul

ejm's picture
ejm

Rats! Why didn't I think of /\/\/\/\/\ vs. --------- ?  (See? It's true. A picture is worth a thousand words...). Thanks for clarifying what I was trying to get at, Paul.

-Elizabeth

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

OK, I did split one (fine crumbed one) with a knife and one with a fork just now, and there's a definite textural difference, but it's not the large holes which I understand to be the 'nooks and crannies'. 90% of the desired nooks and crannies is going to be the alveoli, the big air bubbles like what you get in a high-hydration ciabatta.

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

The "Nooks and Crannies" description is really Thomas' English Muffin marketing hype, but I do agree with those above that it's really nicest to have the jagged, uneven fork-split surface to brown (sort of like hundreds of miniature gringes) and to catch the butter and jam.  Nothing quite like buttering a well toasted, fork-split English Muffin.  Yum!

Now, can someone please explain to me why they shrink?????  None of my other breads and rolls seem to do that. 

I made the KAF recipe for sourdough EM's the other day and they are very good, but they tend to shrink in the toaster. 

EvaB's picture
EvaB

they shrink because they have more mositure than most breads or buns you might toast, so as the moisture is cooked out, the bread shrinks.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I have made these a few times and never had much luck getting the Nooks and Crannies as they say. I hope I don't offend any Englishmen by drawing a parallel to Crumpets but I think that's a similar product across the pond.

Eric

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

I made some a while back using a cooksrecipes dot com recipe called authentic-english-muffins-recipe (the SPAM filter won't let me post the link!), and seem to recall getting big holes in the crumb. I made Reinhart's BBA English muffins last night, and got none, just a fine crumb.

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

Are similar but different, too. 

My understanding is that crumpets are made with a wetter and more batter-like dough (you need "english muffin rings" to hold their shape while cooking them on the griddle). The holes in crumpets are clearly from large bubbles in the batter which are everywhere, even in the crust.  The texture is very different from english muffins--more like a crisped pancake than a bready muffin. 

Crumpets seem just slightly sweeter to me than english muffins--that sweetness is barely perceptible.  I really like them--I've purchased an Aussie brand a few times, but haven't tried making them yet. 

AOJ's picture
AOJ

Sounds like we use the same recipe.  Taste great; really big nooks and crannies - no. I have had better luck cutting back on the ww flour. I use 100g AP flour, 100g bread flour, 60g ww flour. I cook them at about 340 deg. for 7 min. on my electric skillet (flipping once), then bake at 350 deg. for 8 min. in the oven.

paulm's picture
paulm

I agree with Paul, wetter dough and lighter hands did the trick.  Just for the record, this was "split" with a bread knife.

 

EvaB's picture
EvaB

ANY muffin or biscuit (baking powder not cookie type) is because the knife if not razor sharp ( and mine vary from sharp enough to shave with but not a bread knife to duller than ditch water) will squash the delicate inners and make it a pasty mess. Of course my mother was a daughter of a southern lady, and you simply did NOT ever split your biscuits with a knife, and my mothers muffins which while not English ones are full of nooks and crannies and most delicious, do not fare well split warm with a knife, they turn into a mess, that doesn't hold butter well, and is gummy!

I am still looking for my muffin rings (yes I have some, but they are put someplace safe) and trying to get the yard into some sort of shape after 40 days of rain every day varying from a centimeter to 9 cm and two bouts of flooding closing roads and other messy things. Throw in a vacation for the first time in over 20 years, and you can see finding things hasn't been a priority. I shall find them, and try making both crumpets and English muffins! And then since I finally found my mother's cast iron muffin tin (well tin is not really the operative word) I will also make her muffins, which is the most favourite of all her breads, biscuits and other quick breads for me, they were crusty, and delicious, no big fluffy inners that turned to gum in my mouth, just all those nooks and crannies to fill with butter while hot. And I just realized that even if they get cold, a pop in the microwave will heat them back up to melt butter properly. We never had microwaves back when, and by the time I got one I never baked being busy trying to keep everyone fed, and in washed clothes.

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

I think that pre-split muffins in a supermarket package aren't going to be fork-split.

I think the illustrated post by tangybread above shows that English muffins split with a fork have a more even and appealing texture than the other two methods illustrated in that post. 

I agree with EvaB about the results of using a knife on muffins and biscuits.  That is possibly because my mother came from a culture that was basically Southern in nature, though not technically in the South. 

Chuck's picture
Chuck

When an English muffin is sliced/cut with a knife, the boundary between top and bottom is straight and is not affected by where the holes are. The result is many holes are mostly on one side or the other, and a few holes are cut roughly in half. The net effect is a surface that's relatively flat, with only tiny open entrances into many mostly-hidden bubble holes.

But when an English muffin is "pried" apart (fork-splitting is the only way I know to do it without squishing the muffin), the boundary between top and bottom waves around to find the "weakest" spot in each small area. The weakest spot is usually the horizontal part of the thin bubble walls. As a result many of the bubbles are divided roughly in half. The net effect is a surface that's fairly rough, with mostly cup-shaped holes.The volume of the holes that are easily accessible to butter is much larger.

As to the theory that "fork-split" originally meant can be split with a fork rather than should be split with a fork, I wasn't there so I don't know for sure, but I doubt it. I've actually seen a special fork made just for splitting English muffins that didn't have curved tines and that was as wide as a typical English muffin (i.e. it was "really fat"); that seems to me an awful lot of trouble to go to for no good reason.

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

 When we were kids my father would occasionally make bread rolls at home (he owned a bakery) to eat fresh from the oven, woe betide the child who attempted to split a roll with a knife! "Use your hands, break them open". Of course I know now he was protecting the crumb, but it did seem like we were being inducted into the special club of those in the 'know' - no doubt he had been so admonished as a child, by his baker father. These days I smile as I hear my brother, reminding his little kids when they pick up a knife for the rolls he has just produced from the oven, "Use your hands, break them open".

I'd not heard of using a fork to split muffins until I came across references to English muffins in American books/blogs, in my family we break muffins too, but a fork would indeed be kinder to the crumb than a knife.

I guess to save confusion with the sweet cupcake shaped muffins which turned up here in recent decades, I see some, but not all, muffins on sale are labelled English muffins now.