A friend came over to make English muffins with me. It was such a rainy day.
We started with a simple goal: whole-grain holes. So we ground spelt berries until we were warm and had 6 cups of flour. Then we mixed in 2.5 teaspoons of salt. We put 2 teaspoons of yeast in half a cup of warm water, and let it dissolve. Then we put the yeast in the flour along with 1.5 cups cold water. We beat the mixture vigorously with a large wooden spoon for five, ten minutes, until it looked less like batter and more like dough. The coarse, freshly ground spelt flour is slow to absorb moisture, and that means it acts wetter than it will later on.
Then we squeezed the dough with our hands -- the dough still being too wet for the usual fold 'n' push kind of kneading. And when it began to form long lanky strands of gluten, we cleaned our hands, wet them, and added yet more water. The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book suggests a texture near to "runny," and we didn't stint with the water, not at all. I think we added another cup, gradually working it in until the dough was slippery, quivery, tender, and tendoned with gluten.
We let it rise, then, and ate a pleasant lunch and read our books. The rising process for a very wet dough is not quite like the usual one where your ball gets larger and larger. Rather, the rising process is one of intense bubbling. The mass rose, yes -- after maybe two hours or so it doubled. Then we stirred it back down -- usually an unremarkable process. The dough, however, did not fall back quickly, but took several minutes of stirring before reluctantly settling back down to its original size. Its bubbles were strong and well distributed.
It rose again, this time more quickly, and again we stirred it down. Then we generously floured two large rimless baking sheets. We cut egg-sized lumps from the dough, shaped them into floppy rounds, and placed them on the baking sheets. They were too wet to cover -- a cloth, unless well-floured, would have stuck. We had fifteen rounds when we were done.
We left them to rise and found a long enough gap in the rain for a nice walk up the dark drippy stairs on Potrero Hill.
By the time we got back, the rounds had spread out and puffed a bit. We warmed two large cast-iron skillets over a medium-low flame. Breath held, we lifted the first little muffin from the tray. It was a two-person job, sliding under the muffin from two sides and gingerly dropping it in the pan. You could do it by yourself if you had to.
We let it cook for five minutes on one side. We flipped it -- fingers work well for that. Bubbles formed. It puffed. Five minutes later, we flipped it again, and a few minutes after that, its sides were springy and we pulled it from the pan.
We split it immediately and discovered a beautiful array of holes, which we filled with butter and devoured. We were perhaps a little giddy with our success.
Our next goal is shapeliness. Rings might help the muffins be tall and circular. And then maybe we could altogether forego the shaping, let the dough have a third rising in the bowl, and just pinch off muffin-sized pieces as we fry them. This dough, after all, does not deflate very readily. And the shape of the rising rounds didn't seem to have much effect on the muffins' final shape.