The muffin that the English understood as a muffin — the muffin of the “muffin man”, the widely recognized itinerant muffin seller on the streets of English cities, especially London, from the mid-19th century well into the 20th — is known internationally as the “English muffin.” This differentiates from the American muffin, which is single-serving cake.
The English muffin seems to have originated in the early 18th century. (If you have evidence for it prior to the 18th century, then please leave a comment with a primary source reference.) The English muffin is a yeast bread. If you only work in sourdough, then make it with sourdough, but be clear that this was not period practice. The English muffin was English in a profound sense. English culture — and here it is probably wise to be clear that I mean English, not Welsh, Scottish, or Irish culture, saw this bread an honest English bread in contrast to “French Bread” which was a common bread referenced by French inspired high status cookbooks. The French bread of high status English tables was a lightly enriched white bread. Two recipes here — one published for the English market by Henry Howard and a French version from the same time period (early 18th century) by the great French agronomist and writer, Louis Liger. The English muffin is an unenriched bread cut into rounds about the diameter of a tuna fish can, and baked on a griddle, like a pancake or crumpet. It was understood as a pure, honest, clean, no nonsense English bread, aligned with a concept of the English people of pain folk. In contrast to the sensual French who add eggs, milk, and butter to their bread, symptomatic of a people who take pleasure in the senses, who even talk about food as if it were important!
Many of the people who attended my seminar on English muffins said that this recipe made the best English muffins they had ever had. I agree. This is a fabulous recipe.
Hannah Glasse (1747) as Revised by Briggs (1796)
Note: Redacted for dried yeast rather than barm
100% all purpose white flour*
60% warm water (Glasse) or milk (Briggs) so this is your choice.
4.7% warm water held in reserve*
*The Glasse recipe called for .3% salt. This was not an error. Salt quantities in period breads range from close to or equal to our current love of salty breads (something in the range of 2% salt by weight of flour) to breads with little or no salt.
500g all purpose white flour
300g warm water (Glassse) or warm milk (Briggs)
Reserve: 23g water (Glasse) or milk (Briggs)
8g dried yeast
This is a “straight dough” recipe. Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Turn out onto a table top and knead, or knead in a mixer. Put dough into a bowl to rise until it doubles. Rising times are temperature dependent. In a warm environment the dough will double in roughly one hour. When doubled, gentle turn out onto a lightly floured counter, roll to about 1.5 cm, ½ to ¾ inch, cut with an English muffin cutter, if you have one, otherwise, cut with a glass. Before I make a cut with a glass I always dip the rim in flour. Let the cut dough rest until it rises by about 30% to 50%. Then, bake on a griddle that is hot enough to bake them, but leaves the bottoms pale and soft.
Let cool, and then serve. English muffins are always toasted. While it is current custom to split the muffins open with a fork and put into a toaster, before the advent of electric toasters muffins were toasted whole by holding them in front of a fire with a fork. The outsides become hard and it becomes possible to pull the muffins apart. A Victorian toasting fork is exactly what you need to toast your muffins in style before an open fire.