Homemade Sourdough English Muffins
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
Light and airy with the loveliest chew, these sourdough English muffins are surprisingly easy to make. They do not require an autolyse, nor do they require English muffin rings for cooking. They are irresistible when freshly baked, but if you have the patience, they’re even better when toasted and slathered with butter or jam.
In early November, Maurizo Leo released his first cookbook: The Perfect Loaf: The Craft and Science of Sourdough Breads, Sweets, and More.
The arrival of his book coincided with a homemade sourdough starter experiment, and so I spent much of those first few weeks exploring Maurizio’s various sourdough discard recipes, namely the pancakes and the cornbread, both of which my children loved.
In the weeks that followed, I read through the book’s introduction and various guides and learned more about Maurizio’s approach to sourdough, which I have long known from his beautiful blog, The Perfect Loaf, as being very technical, scientific, and precise.
But I’ve since learned so much more. Given the breadth of his book, there are many details and features I could discuss — like why Maurizio favors using a levain (as opposed to simply using his starter) for leavening and why he almost always incorporates some freshly milled flour into his loaves — but let me highlight the one concept that has struck me the most, the one I have mostly ignored in my own sourdough bread baking journey, the one I think has the most potential to help so many sourdough bread bakers: The importance of dough temperature.
Desired Dough Temperature: Why it Matters
If you’ve ever made a loaf of sourdough bread, you know that one of the biggest challenges is determining when to end the bulk fermentation. If the dough overferments, you may find yourself with a puddle of dough suitable only for the compost pile. If it underferments, your finished loaf may be unpleaseantly dense.
When determining when to end the bulk fermentation, I’ve always relied on volume increase — i.e. I end the bulk fermentation when the dough has increased in volume by 50% to 75% in volume. I use a straight-sided vessel to help better gauge the volume growth, but I still always feel a bit of uncertainty when I make the call to end the bulk fermentation: Could I push the fermentation a little bit more? Did I push it too far?
If you have found yourself facing similar uncertainty at this phase of the sourdough process, you will love Maurizio’s tip: take the dough’s temperature. Every recipe in The Perfect Loaf has a desired dough temperature (DDT). For many of the recipes including the sourdough English muffin recipe featured here, that temperature is 78ºF. The DDT is the ideal temperature the dough should be at the end of the bulk fermentation.
There are a number of factors that will get the dough to that DDT, namely the temperature of your kitchen, but also the temperature of the water you use. As such, Maurizio suggests very specific water temperatures for each recipe. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, the temperature of the water you use to mix the dough will vary, and Maurizio kindly provides a chart listing various kitchen temperatures and the coinciding appropriate water temperature.
For my 68ºF kitchen, the water temperature I should use is 98ºF.
Overall this is a simple concept, but it’s one I wish I had paid more attention to from the start because with this one sourdough English muffin experiment alone, the bulk fermentation finished in a more timely manner because I paid more attention to the details: I used 98ºF water, and I found a cozy spot above my toaster oven to set my bulk fermentation vessel (to more closely get to the suggested room temperature of 74º-76ºF).
And while my dough didn’t quite get up to 78ºF, I felt less uncertainty ending the bulk fermentation given the amount my dough had risen coupled with its temperature, which registered around 75ºF when I turned it out.
PS: If you’re new to sourdough bread baking, I have a free email course that covers the basics.
A Few More Features of The Perfect Loaf
In the introduction to the book, Maurizio writes: “The breadmaking process may initially seem very long and complicated, but mostly the dough is left to rise unattended, with you stepping in time to time to guide it along the way.” And he continues to note “the amount of detail and guidance [he’ll] provide will never leave you feeling lost.” This is true. If you are into or interested in sourdough bread baking, The Perfect Loaf is a must-have for your library. Here are few more highlights:
- How to build a sourdough starter from scratch.
- How to maintain a sourdough starter including a small one.
- Sourdough starter troubleshooting.
- Sourdough bread baking troubleshooting.
- QR codes that link to videos at nearly every turn.
- In depth explanation about levains, and why Maurizio prefers using a levain to simply using his sourdough starter.
- Detailed explanations about flour including freshly milled flour.
- Recipes for both savory and sweet sourdough breads.
- Baking timelines for each recipe.
- Sourdough discard recipes.
What you you will not find? Volume measurements. So get a scale! It will change your life.
About These English Muffins
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn to this particular recipe for its seeming ease relative to some of the other recipes. It does not require an autolyse — hooray! — and it does not require muffin rings either. The dough is made in a stand mixer, though you could certainly mix it by hand, and it requires both a stovetop sear and some time in the oven. Here’s an overview of the process:
- Make the levain.
- Mix the dough.
- Bulk fermentation, which includes 3 sets of stretches and folds followed by a room temperature rise.
- Divide the dough, ball it up.
- Cold proof overnight.
- Room temperature proof.
- Stovetop sear followed by a bake in the oven.
- Brief cool.
These English muffins are light and airy and have the loveliest chew. They’re irresistible toasted and slathered with butter, and, as you can imagine, they make outstanding eggs Benedict, which I made for breakfast for the first time in ages this past Christmas Eve. Next time I’ll be sure to heed Maurizio’s advice, which is to make a double batch, as a single never lasts long enough.
Maurizio Leo’s The Perfect Loaf 🍞🍞🍞🍞🍞
How to Make Sourdough English Muffins, Step by Step
Before you begin, here are some flours you may want to pick up: high-protein flour (such as KAF’s bread flour) and spelt flour (for the dough itself) along with polenta or semolina flour (for the exterior).
This recipe starts by making a levain, a mix of ripe sourdough starter, water, and flour.
You’ll need 6 grams of ripe starter and 56 grams each flour and water.
Mix together the flour, water, and starter in a bowl, cover it, and let it sit for 12 hours…
… or until is shows lots of signs of activity:
Gather the rest of your ingredients: water, milk, salt, sugar, butter, and flour.
This dough is made in a stand mixer, though you could knead it by hand if you don’t have one. First, combine all of the ingredients except the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes until combined. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes until the dough begins to cling to the dough hook. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes.
Add the butter, one pat at a time, until absorbed into the dough. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 1 to 2 minutes more until the dough smooths out and clings to the dough hook once again. The dough will be smooth and shiny.
Stretch and fold: Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
Using wet hands, grab one side of the dough and lift it up and over to the other side.
Rotate the bowl 180 degrees and repeat.
Then rotate the bowl a quarter turn and stretch and fold that side.
Rotate the bowl 180 degrees again and finish with a stretch and fold on the last side.
The dough should be folded up neatly. Cover the vessel, then repeat these folds every 30 minutes for a total of 3 sets of stretches and folds.
After the last set, cover the bowl and let the dough rest for the remainder of the bulk fermentation, about 2 hours (if your kitchen is 74ºF-76ºF) or longer if your kitchen is cooler. I transfer the dough to a straight-sided vessel for the bulk fermentation:
The bulk fermentation is complete when the dough has risen with domed edges. When determining when the bulk fermentation should end, Maurizio notes: “The amount of rise is less important than the fact that it has risen and looks alive and well aerated.” As noted above, another tool he relies on is temperature. The desired dough temperature of this final dough is 78ºF. If you have an instant read thermometer use that to help you gauge when to end the bulk fermentation. If you don’t, rely on the noted visual cues.
When the bulk fermentation is complete, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.
Divide the dough into 12 portions.
If you like to be precise, each portion should weigh 80 grams.
Ball up each portion.
At this point, you’ll need a vessel for proofing. About a year ago, I bought one of these lidded DoughMate pizza proofing vessels, and I love it. It’s definitely bulky — I store mine in my basement — so if space is an issue, it might not be the best investment, but I love that the lid provides a seal and protects dough from drying out (or forming a hard skin) while proofing in the fridge or at room temperature. If you don’t have one, a 13×18-inch sheet pan will work just fine.
Dust the proofing vessel or a 13×18-inch sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Transfer the balls to the vessel, cover, then refrigerate overnight.
The following day, remove the vessel from the fridge and let the balls proof at room temperature for at least 3 hours or until they are very light to the touch.
To cook, you’ll brown each side of the English muffin dough balls in a skillet on the stovetop.
Then you’ll bake them for 15 minutes.
Let them cool for at least 30 minutes before halving and devouring…
… or, if you have the patience, toasting and slathering with butter.Print
From Maurizio Leo’s The Perfect Loaf
There are no volume measurements for this recipe, so you’ll need a digital scale.
Another tool you utilize here is an instant read thermometer. If you’ve had trouble in the past determining when to end the bulk fermentation, this will be extremely helpful. The desired dough temperature (DDT) for this recipe is 78ºF, so when your dough reaches that temperature during the bulk fermentation, it’s ready to go.
Water Temperature: Maurizio gives very specific temperatures of the water. This is all in an effort to allow the dough to ferment properly. For the levain, the specific temperature of the water is 78ºF. For the dough itself, the temperature of the water you should use will vary depending on the temperature of your kitchen, and Maurizio provides a way to calculate this figure as well as a handy chart (if you hate math) in his book. When my kitchen is 68ºF, I should use water that is roughly 98ºF.
For the levain:
- 56 grams high-protein white flour (12.7 to 14% protein)
- 56 grams water, roughly 78ºF, see notes above
- 6 grams ripe sourdough starter
For the English muffins:
- 33 grams unsalted butter
- 437 grams high-protein white flour (12.7 to 14% protein), such as bread flour
- 55 grams whole spelt flour
- 55 grams whole or 2% milk
- 9 grams sugar
- 283 grams water, roughly 98ºF, see notes above
- 10 grams fine sea salt or kosher salt
- 118 grams levain
- Make the levain: In a medium jar or small bowl, mix the levain ingredients until well incorporated (this liquid levain will feel quite loose) and loosely cover. Store on the counter for 12 hours.
- After the 12 hours, check the levain: it should show signs of readiness: well aerated, risen, bubbly on top and at the sides, and with a sour aroma. If the levain is not showing these signs, let it ferment 1 hour more and check again.
- Cut the butter into ½-inch thick pats. Place the pats on a plate on the counter to warm to room temperature.
- Mix the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the flours, milk, sugar, water, salt, and ripe levain. Mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes until combined. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes until the dough begins to cling to the dough hook. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes.
- Gently press a butter pat with your finger: it should easily indent but not be wet or melted. If the butter is too warm, place it in the freezer for 5 minutes. If it is too firm, microwave it for 10 seconds, then check it again.
- With the mixer on low speed, add the butter, one pat at a time, until absorbed into the dough, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle as needed. Continue until all the butter is added, 2 to 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 1 to 2 minutes more until the dough smooths out and clings to the dough hook once again. The dough will be smooth and shiny. Transfer to a container for the bulk fermentation.
- Bulk fermentation: Let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Using wet hands, grab one side of the dough and lift it up and over to the other side. Rotate the bowl 180 degrees and repeat. Then rotate the bowl a quarter turn and stretch and fold that side. Rotate the bowl 180 degrees again and finish with a stretch and fold on the last side. The dough should be folded up neatly. Cover the vessel, then repeat these folds every 30 minutes for a total of 3 sets of stretches and folds. After the last set, cover the bowl and let the dough rest for the remainder of the bulk fermentation, roughly 2 hours if your kitchen is warm, longer if it is cool (3 to 4 hours or longer if necessary). End the bulk fermentation when the dough has risen, domed, and looks alive and well aerated. I tend to end the bulk fermentation when the dough has increased in volume by 50-75%. As noted above, another tool you can use to determine when to end the bulk fermentation is an instant-read thermometer. The desired dough temperature of this final dough is 78ºF, so when your dough reaches that temperature, it’s ready.
- Prepare the proofing pan: Liberally dust a 13 x 18-inch half-sheet pan (or a lidded DoughMate) with semolina flour or cornmeal (or white flour) and set aside.
- Uncover the container and lightly dust the top of the dough and a work surface with flour. Gently scrape the dough onto the floured work surface and use your bench knife to divide it into 12 pieces roughly 80 grams each.
- Using a lightly floured hand and your bench scraper, shape each piece into a taut ball and place it on the sheet pan; you should be able to comfortably fit all 12 pieces with space in between. Place the sheet pan inside a reusable plastic bag and seal. Alternatively, wrap the pan well with plastic wrap.
- Cold proof: Place the sheet pan in the refrigerator overnight.
- Warm proof: The next day, remove the pan from the fridge and let proof at room temperature (74ºF to 76ºF) for at least 3 hours. (Because my kitchen is cool (68ºF), this room temperature proof takes longer: more like 4 to 5 hours.) The dough is ready when it is very soft and puffed up — it should feel extremely delicate. (For the lightest and most tenderest muffins, it’s essential to give this dough plenty of time to finish proofing.) If it feels dense or tight, let it proof 30 minutes more and check again.
- Cook the English muffins: Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a 13 x 18-inch half-sheet pan with parchment paper and set it next to the stove.
- Place a heavy cast-iron skillet or other large skillet over medium-low heat (or preheat a griddle). Lightly grease the skillet with clarified (or not) butter. Using a flat spatula, gently transfer 2 to 4 dough rounds to the skillet to cook until the bottoms are deep brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the other sides are deep brown. Transfer the muffins to the prepared sheet pan and repeat with the remaining dough rounds, wiping out and re-greasing the pan again with butter between each batch.
- Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. When done, the muffins will have colored a little more at the edges, but they won’t be completely browned.
- Let the muffins cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. These will keep for 3 to 4 days on the counter, covered. For longer storage, transfer to a zip-top plastic freezer bag once completely cooled and freeze for up to 3 months.
- Prep Time: 48 hours
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Category: Bread
- Method: Stovetop, Oven
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: sourdough starter, bread flour, spelt flour, butter, milk