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I'm new to the baking of English muffins. I follow the recipe for sourdough English muffins published on YouTube by Culinary Exploration. After accounting for the 100% hydration of the starter, the recipe calls for about 62% hydration. The procedure involves pre-baking in an open skillet to form a light crust followed by oven baking to finish the center. I use Sir Galahad flour from King Arthur, which contains 11.7% protein.

My EMs taste great and the crumb is exactly what I want, but I get a paper-thin outer crust which is very tough to bite through and chew. The crust seems to be the same on both sides of the muffins; i.e., there's no distinction between the side that was exposed vs the side that was against the parchment paper during proofing. Lowering the heat of the skillet and the oven has no discernible effect, other than reducing browning. The crust does soften a bit with storage, but it's still too rugged.

I fear that changing hydration will alter the thickness to diameter proportions of the muffins. Any other suggestions?

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  • English muffins are supposed to have a chewy exterior crust, particularly sourdough ones. How do your compare with handmade muffins from professional bakeries, if you can get such in your area? Trying to figure out if yours are different from what the recipe intends. – FuzzyChef Jan 26 at 18:13
  • I... think I disagree about English muffins supposed to be chewy on the outside. I think they're supposed to be soft and a little squidgy on the sides. I've never heard of an English muffin recipe that was baked, the ones I've seen all cook solely on the griddle/frying pan. I don't know for sure, so just a comment, but I wonder if its that trip to the oven that makes them chewy. – senschen Jan 26 at 18:55
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    @FuzzyChef Chewy, yes, "impervious" no. I can easily bite into and through top-named over-the-counter EMs, but mine put up a fight. Judging from Culinary Exploration's video demonstration, I meet a lot more resistance than he does. – Brian K1LI Jan 26 at 19:10
  • @senschen I meet substantially more resistance than the recipe's author demonstrates in his video, so I'm not ready (yet) to chalk it up to the oven. I'll try a low-skillet-only approach to test for differences. – Brian K1LI Jan 26 at 19:12
  • What kind of oven? Gas or electric? Did you use convection? – FuzzyChef Jan 26 at 19:35
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I strongly suspect that it's the trip to the oven that's making those muffins tough.

My personal recipe for sourdough muffins does not involve baking them; they are cooked entirely on the griddle. I checked three different sourdough muffin recipes (1, 2, 3) and none of them used the oven either.

So my suggestion is that you try cooking them entirely on the stovetop and omit the oven. This will require longer cooking on the griddle to make sure they're done all the way through; I suggest checking with an instant-read thermometer (should be 90C in the center). I don't suggest lowering the griddle heat, which should be around 175C ... cooking them longer may actually toughen them.

The second thing I notice is that almost every sourdough recipe I've checked has some kind of fat in it, usually butter or whole milk, and the recipe you linked does not. The recipe I've tried that doesn't is Arizmendi Bakery's, which are also very chewy and tough to bite into (I like them, but I suspect you wouldn't). So adding some kind of fat to the recipe would probably help your crust texture; it generally does with bread.

There's other general tips to peruse, just in case you're running afoul of something else like using way too much flour during kneading.

It's also true, though, that different sourdough cultures can result in chewier (or less chewy) crusts. So if eliminating the oven step and adding fat doesn't work, I'd suggest testing a non-sourdough recipe to see if you're having the same issue there.

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I recommend that you brush your English muffins with milk/butter before baking them in the oven. This slows down the drying process of the surface of the dough, making for a softer crust.

You can also bake your bread with a water bath; that is, you place an oven-safe container of water into the oven along with your pan of dough to generate steam in the oven, moisturizing the surface of your English muffins.

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Out of a desire to alter the cited recipe as little as necessary, I arrived at a combination of small procedural modifications that produced the result I seek:

  • Lightly oil the skillet before adding the muffins (note: I did not add more oil when flipping the muffins)
  • Cover the skillet, though not tightly, as the "pouring ears" on the rim of my cast iron skillet don't permit a complete seal
  • Cover the cooling muffins

The oil may be tenderizing the crust slightly during the browning phase, while some "oven spring" may result from trapped steam as evidenced by condensation on the underside of the lid. Cooling under cover allows residual moisture in the muffins' interior to prevent the crust from hardening.

Result: same savory, nicely browned English muffins, but now I don't have to stretch out my jaw muscles before tearing into them!

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