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.


 

ClaireC's picture
ClaireC

Isn't there an easy way to test whether this is a myth or not?


Why not get a few people to rustle a batch of English muffins, split half with a fork and half with a sharp knife, then post the photos here and we can compare them...


I can sort of believe that if you pull something apart with a fork you get a different, more jagged, rough texture on the torn open surface, than if you cut it open with a knife and get a smooth, flat surface.


.....but despite being born and bred in England, I don't really know what an English Muffin is!  Do we call it something different over here, does anyone know?

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

ClaireC's picture
ClaireC

This Englishwoman is unoffended and glad for those who have explained what an English Muffin actually is!

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. 

tangybread's picture
tangybread

Has anyone had success in making sourdough English muffins that have those famous "nooks and crannies"? I have recently acquired some sourdough starter from a friend and have been making all kinds of amazing, delicious, whole wheat sourdough goodies with it. I made English muffins for the first time this morning and they were delicious, but still a bit dense (which may be expected from using whole wheat?) and did not have the big, pockety insides I hoped for. My husband really wants me to figure that out. 


 


From the comments in this thread, I gather that the dough needs to be quite wet...I'm not sure how I would pull this off with the recipe that I have. The dough sours overnight, then when you form the muffins, they need to sit for 45-60 minutes before cooking. I don't see how I could use English muffin rings with a very wet dough that needs to rest that long. Does anyone have any experience with this or any tips? The recipe calls for 1 tsp of baking soda, I thought about increasing that a bit, say maybe 1.5 or 1.75 tsp?


Thanks for any suggestions!

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Great big nooks and crannies, no.  


I have some sourdough English muffins cooling now and will post pictures of the crumb tomorrow.  


Yes, a wetter dough will produce more open cells than will a drier dough.  I aim for a consistency that is just barely past the sticky stage and still quite tacky.  If the dough is dry enough to handle easily, it's too dry to open up.  Instead, the muffins will have more of a sandwich bread consistency.  They will still taste great, though!


About the only way I use muffin rings anymore is as muffin cutters.  Or if I want to make crumpets, which really do need some containment while cooking.


Today's batch was made by preshaping balls of dough as if I were making rolls, allowing those to rest for 20-30 minutes, then flattening the balls into disks which were given enough bench time that they started to reinflate before going onto the griddle.  Once on the griddle, they quickly trebled in height, so I'm hopeful that I will see some lovely openings to catch butter and preserves.  If the crumb texture is finer than I hope, it will probably be because I over-worked the dough.  Everything else is certainly aligned to produce a lovely muffin.  I even got the griddle temperature "just right" for once.


The time between shaping and cooking will depend greatly on the liveliness of of your starter and ambient temperatures.


The recipe I use, from the KAF 200th Anniversary cookbook, also calls for an overnight sponge and the addition of 1 teaspoon of soda in the final dough, like yours does.  Frankly, I don't see that a single teaspoon of soda is going to have much effect on that quantity of flour, insofar as leavening is concerned.  It may, however, neutralize some of the acid from the sourdough, creating a less sour flavor.  


Not having tried the muffins with whole wheat, I can't speak from direct experience for your situation.  In general, though, doughs containing whole wheat are going to be somewhat denser than doughs made entirely with white flour because the bran particles cut some of the gluten strands that make up the walls of those nooks and crannies you seek.  This is one application where a very finely milled whole wheat flour will probably work better than a more coarsely milled flour.  If you are using both whole wheat and AP flours in your muffins, try putting all of the whole wheat flour in the overnight sponge so that the bran has the maximum time to absorb moisture and soften.  You may also want to increase the liquid by a small amount because of the bran's greater absorbency (assuming that the recipe calls for only white flour).


I hope that helps.


Paul

tangybread's picture
tangybread

Thanks for the tips! I had a feeling the ww flour was part of the problem, but I am trying to eliminate processed foods from our diet and switch to more traditional foods and preparation methods. My husband, while he eats what I make and doesn't complain, prefers the white death flour...so I'm trying to find a way to make ww more palatable and nutritious for us. The sourdough is amazing!


The pics I posted below were the batch I made this morning. The dough was not incredibly more wet, as I still want to be able to handle it enough to get it in the cast iron skillets I use to cook them, but I did notice an improvement in the nook & crannieness. I also read over my recipe again and I think I put to much flour in the dough the first time. These turned out much lighter. I also think, as you said about overworking the dough, that I kneaded it too much the first time. The directions say to stir in honey, salt and soda then knead to incorporate for 4-5 minutes, which I did. This time, I probably kneaded less than a minute, just until things felt nicely mixed in and the dough started to stick to the oiled counter. 


I'm trying to think of a way to use rings. I figure I'll have to use the oven if I do use the rings: put them in the skillets, fill with very wet dough and let rest a bit, then bake. I have to procure some rings first, although I may try canning rings.


I appreciate the info, thanks!!

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

The outside looks great:



The inside, while close to the desired texture, is still more bready than I would prefer:



So, a bit more liquid or less flour, and gentler handling may be needed.


Paul

tangybread's picture
tangybread

Boy they sure look gorgeous on the outside! 

tangybread's picture
tangybread

I read instructions on making English muffins that said to make short, shallow slices all around the muffin with a bread knife, then twist the muffin apart. So I decided to try all three methods:


Sliced with Cutco serrated bread knife:



Shallow cuts and twisted apart:



Entirely fork split:



Of the three methods, I think I prefer the fork split. The sliced, while it does have some holes, they just don't have the texture. The twisted ones end up with a very irregular surface, with a big bump in the middle, while the forked one has nice texture and a relatively even surface. 


This is just my 2nd batch of sourdough English muffins ever, I'm after those Nooks and Crannies...they turned out better this time (thanks to reading about wetter dough being essential here on TFL), and I'm definitely going to be forking them from now on!

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.

PClark's picture
PClark

does make a better muffin in my opinion. I use the sourdough english muffin recipe on this site, but I add less flour the next morning and scoop and plop them in my rings with an ice cream scoop. Then I bake them at 425 for 6-7 minutes, flip and bake for another 6-7 minutes. They usually fall out of the rings when I flip if Ihave greased well, which is okay. They are delightful! They toast up beautifully but yes the do shrink also. 

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.

Imzadi128's picture
Imzadi128

And now (as they say in Monty Python) for something completely different.

Let's look at this from a different perspective.  I think fork split on the package of the english muffin is just referring how they've pre-split the muffin so that they are easier for the consumer to break open, i.e. no flatware required.

They are not commenting that it is better that way.

What do you all think?

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.