I have a hodgepodge of baked goods on the kitchen counter right now. A loaf of sourdough sliced and ready for sandwiches. Brioche buns to cradle the bratwurst I barbecued over the weekend. Angel food cake for dessert topped with berries and whipped cream. And tortillas (which, okay, are “fried goods”) by the bagful. But we’re not done here. There’s one more option, one where my starchy carb willpower goes flying out the window. English muffins.
Who among us doesn’t love a warm, toasty English muffin? The little round breakfast breads give us so many reasons to choose them. They’re delicious, whether with butter, jam, or as an ingredient in Eggs Benedict. They’re satisfyingly circular. They’re usually fork-split so they break apart easy for the toaster. You feel like you get two-for-one instead of a single piece of boring toast. And as if to boast of their popularity, McDonald’s bakes millions of them into their Egg McMuffins.
Here’s another appeal of English muffins. They have all those nooks and crannies to secure the melted butter. You’re familiar with the term “nooks and crannies” (I know you are). It’s the primary descriptor in Thomas’ English Muffins advertisements. But you probably don’t know the backstory. Thomas – as in Samuel Bath Thomas – created the “American” English muffin in 1880, after moving to the United States from England. He brought with him a griddle-baking process for the muffins, which results in the signature crunchy outside and soft inside. 140 years later, I’m hard-pressed to come up with another manufacturer of English Muffins. Okay, maybe Bays. That’s it.
Ironically, English muffins are a more popular breakfast item in North America, Australia, and New Zealand than in England. But you can’t just call them “muffins”, at least not in America. Muffins (coming from the German muffen for “little cake”) refer to blueberry or corn or some other muffin with a more specific taste than the sourdough of English. Not sure about you, but my consumption of English muffins to blueberry or corn is probably 100:1.
You think you “know the muffin man”, but I’ll bet you’re just singing the children’s song (and you’re welcome for getting it stuck in your head). There really were muffin men, you see, way back in the mid-1800’s. They’d walk the streets selling their fresh-baked muffins, ringing bells like an ice cream truck. In Britain there used to be so many muffin men ring-ring-a-ringing, Parliament passed a law to ban the bells. But people still bought their fresh-baked muffins (at least until houses started getting this new invention called a “stove”).
When Mr. Thomas first sold his muffins in America he called them toaster crumpets, described as a “more elegant alternative to toast” to appeal to finer hotels. Over time he changed the description to “English muffins” to better serve the masses. The company bearing his name has been making them ever since, and the griddle-baking approach is the secret to all those nooks and crannies.
While we’re on the subject, let’s settle the debate on crumpets (and scones, for that matter) vs. English muffins. Crumpets look like English muffins. They’re about the same size. But that’s where the similarities end. Crumpets are only cooked on one side. They have a milder taste. And there’s a good explanation for the popularity of English muffins over crumpets in America. Muffins go better with coffee, which Americans drink a lot more of than tea. Can’t tell you when I’ve ever seen someone having a crumpet with their coffee.
“The Muffin Man” song includes the lyric, “… who lives on Drury Lane?” Turns out, Drury Lane is a real street; a thoroughfare bordering Covent Garden in London. But I prefer to think the Muffin Man lives right here on my street. The Muffin Man is me, because not a week goes by where I don’t include the English rounds in my breakfast.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.