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15 October 2009

gluten-free English muffins

gluten-free English muffins

Whenever I have felt just a mite constricted about being known as a "gluten-free blogger," instead of someone who loves food and the chance to write about it, I have tended to say, Yeah, like all people want is a gluten-free English muffin recipe. The rest doesn't matter.

I don't know why I always chose this example. Maybe it's because I grew up eating Thomas English muffins, the flat discs that came in the little trough of a package wrapped in plastic. I'm not sure I had ever eaten a good English muffin before. I liked the packaged ones — melting butter topped with a spoonful of raspberry jam, a steaming mug of black tea to the side — but I didn't miss them much. Life's just fine without an English muffin, thank you.

But these past few months, I've had some baking revelations. Some scientific ones — the ratios and flours that work best in our kitchens — arose from the urgency of finishing the book. But more, I've had a softening. I have found myself, quite often, standing before the counter in front of the bay window, sifting flours, drizzling in oils, and preparing sheet pans with parchment paper.

I spend too much time in front of the computer by the nature of my work. Baking helps my cramped fingers unfurl, like flowers moving toward the emerging sun. When flour and softened butter are clumped in the palm of my hand, I feel at ease. I'm not worried about the work yet to be done. I'm just moving toward the next step in the recipe.

Plus, the kitchen always smells good — brown sugar and vanilla, poppy seeds, roasted bananas — and now Little Bean toddles towards me, trying to discover the source of the scent with her nose.

I really do love baking, and it's time to take it up again. Yesterday, the wind lashed the windows wet with rain and the trees blew side to side so violently that the kid looked up in amazement as we sat on the porch. It's growing dark by 6:30 now. Time for hot chocolate. Time to pull out the muffin tins.

Hell with the fact that gluten-free baked goods are different than gluten ones. (Not always worse. Sometimes, they are better.) I'm not looking to reach some Platonic ideal anymore.

I'm just baking.

So when I found this lovely, lovely post by Sara at Culinerapy, all about her husband Paul and how much she loves him, and how much he loved the English muffins she made from scratch? I wrote her a note to say how grateful I was to have read her sharing. And then I pulled the flour bin down from the top shelf and started making English muffins.

And now I want to share them with you. I'm happy to be a gluten-free blogger. I am. I'm saying yes to it.

Here they are — imperfect and homey, flecked with yellow cornmeal, a touch easy to burn, sure to delight — English muffins from scratch, gluten-free.

poached eggs on English muffins

Gluten-Free English Muffins, adapted from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice

You may be aware that dozens of intrepid food bloggers have been systematically baking their way through Peter Reinhart's master tome, in what they are calling The BBA Challenge. For months I watched their attempts and successes with a distant interest, enjoying the pictures but not thinking I would join in.

But after I read Sara's post, I knew I had to make these English muffins. Our friend Lara loaned me her copy of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and I dove in. I must have looked pretty funny, this gluten-free girl studying a bread book. But this is how I have begun to bake foods I'm starting to love. I study the best bakers and what they do.

This recipe yields English muffins different than the ones you'll see in the BBA Challenge. These may not puff up quite as much as the homemade gluten ones do. They don't have quite the same spectacular nooks and crannies of the traditional ones. Nothing gluten-free will ever be exactly the same as the gluten ones. But that's okay. That's what I have learned. I don't want to copy. I want these to be my own.

For the past two months, we've been eating these English muffins for breakfast. They're easy to toss together. They're fun to watch toast in the skillet. And they hold melting butter wonderfully well.

When Sharon visited last month, we ate English muffins with poached eggs. The girl loves her gluten. But these? "These are really, really good," she said, in between bites and the silence of chewing.

That's all I really want when I bake gluten-free — to make good food that makes people happy.

1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup corn flour (this is cornmeal ground into a flour, NOT cornstarch)
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
3/4 teaspoon guar gum
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 teaspoons canola oil

Mixing the dry ingredients. Sift each of the flours into the bowl of a stand mixer. (You can use your biceps and spatula, if you don't have a stand mixer.) Add the gums, the sugar, salt, and yeast. Mix well.

Adding the wet ingredients. With the mixer running on low speed, pour in 3/4 cup of the buttermilk, butter, and egg. The dough should be smooth and just a touch sticky. If it feels stiff, add the remaining buttermilk. Keep running the mixer for a few minutes, to allow the dough to form more fully. (But remember, no need to knead!)

Letting it rise. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Settle it in a warm place in your kitchen. (If you have trouble getting doughs to rise, try putting the bowl on a wire rack, which sits on top of a large bowl of hot water. You can replace the cooled water with hot water every 1/2 hour or so, if you wish.) Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel. Allow the dough to ferment for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Shaping the muffins. Line a sheet tray with a silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle cornmeal on it, liberally. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. While it may not be entirely possible to shape them into boules, the way a gluten dough does so easily, you can roll the balls around a bit until they feel smooth. Put the balls of dough on the cornmeal-covered sheet tray. Cover them with a clean dishtowel in a warm spot for another 60 minutes, until the pieces have swelled a bit.

Cooking the muffins. Preheat the oven to 350°. Put a large skillet over medium heat (a cast-iron skillet is ideal). Add just a touch of canola oil. Carefully transfer 3 of the dough balls to the skillet with a metal spatula and cook until they are golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes on each side. (If you burn one, it's not the end of the world. I did, at first.) Transfer them back to the sheet pan and cook the remaining three dough balls.

Bake the muffins in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes to make sure the middle is cooked. The finished English muffin should have a bit of a hollow thump when you tap the top. Take them out of the oven and transfer them to a wire rack.

Here is the important part: you must allow the English muffins to cool for at least 30 minutes before you touch them. Otherwise, they will fall apart.

When you are ready to eat them, split them open with a fork, gently. This is what makes the nooks and crannies you associate with English muffins.

Makes 6 English muffins.


At 12:38 AM, Blogger Jen Yu said...

YOU make me happy. Reading this made me happy. You inspire, you spur me on. You have opened a whole new world to me. xxoo

At 1:03 AM, Blogger TC said...

'English' muffins (we just call them muffins here) are one of the things I have missed most since going gluten-free, particularly topped with a poached egg. I am definately going to give these a try. Thanks for the inspiration.

At 4:17 AM, Blogger Football Widows Network said...

Sounds like a great plan for this weekend (my GF husband emailed the link to me :). He doesn't seem to react well to sorghum flour either. What would you use as a substitute?

At 4:45 AM, Blogger CatherineMarie said...


Where do you buy your sweet rice flour? I still have a small stash from Trader Joes, but its almost gone.

(And yes, I still read and use all my bread cookbooks)


At 5:45 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I was just printing out your recipe for the english muffins...and I noticed that the measurements for xanthan gum weren't there...could you please clarify? TIA!!!

At 5:52 AM, Anonymous lisa16 said...

Shauna-- if you are dairy free, what is the best buttermilk substitute to use for these? Almond milk? Rice milk? Coconut milk? Water? What do you think?

At 5:52 AM, Blogger Allison the Meep said...

These look absolutely perfect and I can't wait to try the recipe. Thanks for sharing!

At 6:37 AM, Blogger Tracy Chastain said...

Weekend Breakfast! Yippee!!
thanks Shauna -- tracy & kim

At 6:51 AM, Blogger Green Key said...

Hi Shauna. Thanks for this recipe! I'm excited to give it a try. I have a question - you don't mention flattening the dough balls out to a disk shape - does that just happen in the pan, or does one flatten themat some point?
Thanks so much. It's lovely to see your more frequent posts.

At 6:59 AM, Blogger Jenny said...

Shauna, do you find that you can substitute agave for sugar successfully in your recipes? I need to use the lower glycemic properties of that sweetener. I can also use the xylitol but I prefer the liquid agave. These sound scrumptious.

I found a fabulous pumpkin black bean chili recipe and made it last night! Sometimes it would be nice to add a chunk of bread to meals like that!

At 7:26 AM, Blogger Dorian said...

Jenny: regarding subbing lower glycemic sweeteners: have you tried palm sugar? It's way down there on the GI chart and in my experience acts pretty much like sugar when you bake with it, although it does have a distinctive, slightly caramel like flavor.


At 8:04 AM, Blogger Jenny Matthews said...

Shauna, I am absolutely in love with you and your blog. I made corn bread last weekend and for the first time it actually tasted good! Like Lisa16 who already commented, I am dairy free so I'm always adapting your recipies one step further. I'd also love to know what is an appropriate substitute for buttermilk.
Thanks for doing what you love!!
Blessings, Jenny

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Jen said...

I can't wait for my cousin to visit with her baby! I'm going to have so much stuff ready for them to eat! THANK YOU!!

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

what a cool coincidence: I have BBA checked out from the library right now, and I am fascinated. I thought I knew a LOT about bread until I got my hands on this book... wow. Glad you're finding it equally inspiring.

At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Janice said...

Oh Shauna! First, let me say it was wonderful meeting you and your husband and Little Bean at BlogHer Food, to get a chance to tell you how your words affect me. I am one of those crazy BBA Challenge Bakers. I am not personally someone who needs to live gluten-free. But I have so many friends who do. So as I've been baking through the challenge, those friends have been weighing heavily on my mind. I have at least 7 gluten-free flours sitting around, as I try to adapt something for them. Thank you for doing the work for me on these English muffins, for I am at the bottom of the learning curve! Can't wait to try them.

At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

My eyes grew wide when I saw the subject line, so when I saw you were not only talking about gluten-free English muffins but giving a recipe--oh my! I'm going to try making these egg-free and dairy-free. What excitement!

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Leah said...

You are like melting butter in the nooks and crannies of my heart.


At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yum! Thank you Shauna. I look forward to making these. Do you think Buckwheat would be an ok substitute for the sorguhm?

At 11:19 AM, Blogger The Touchy Duchess said...

I'm not restricted from consuming gluten by my diet. But I would like to follow your blog and try some of your recipes, if only for the pleasure of reading more small stories so beautifully written, and to learn something new about what can be done in the kitchen.

At 1:38 PM, Anonymous La Niña said...

What's next, croissants? (just kidding) Can't wait to try these. Booth misses the English muffins- could be a revelation.

On another subject: corn meal. I spent ten minutes in the baking aisle at Ballard Market and could not find one single bag of corn meal (including all of Bob's Red Mill) that was not processed on equipment that also processed wheat. I want to make cornbread. What cornmeal are you using???

It is Chili season after all.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Lauren said...

He he - Love it! English muffins have always been elusive as a celiac, but these look great =D.

At 4:12 PM, Blogger ballast photography said...


I suck down gluten like a sixth grader on a pixie stick--I read your blog for the writing. It's that good. And your pictures are almost equally inspiring. Your love for your work shines through every sentence and image you post and I'm nourished by that, even if I never eat a bite of gluten free food.

At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Sho said...


If Sharon loved your English muffins, they must have been GREAT. Oh, and the photo of your meal was spectacular (as all your photos are.)

How lucky you are to have a "Sharon-o-meter" to rate your food!

Take care,


At 6:33 PM, Blogger Elana said...

Love the onion video and all I could think of when I watched it was "please pass the chef," he is adorable and I love your deep laughs in the background. The two of you exude joy, fun and giggles which are a pleasure to partake in.

Per your statement that these English muffins are, "imperfect and homey," no! They are gorgeous and look delectable.

Have a good night.

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Gaile said...

yes! I know what I am baking tomorrow. Thank you for sharing this with us, and for pointing out again that gf doesn't have to be an exact copy of the gluteny version, but can be unique, and yes, sometimes even better. And 'toddling'? Wow, hard to believe she's old enough to be walking. So happy for you!

At 7:02 PM, Anonymous The Diary of an Epic Failure said...

Shauna, you just answered the question that has been rolling around in my head these last few weeks... Am I a gluten-free blogger or just a blogger who loves to write about food? I have Celiac Disease...and I am proud to be gluten free, just like you. Thank you for reminding me of that fact.

By the those who were can get sweet rice flour (also called Mochiko) at Asian markets if you are lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood!

At 6:56 AM, Blogger Karen said...

Hi Shauna! Two things, been reading your blog for a while ... the story of your and your husband has many times brought me to joyful tears. and i love food, so i kept reading you ; ) ...anyhow, i wanted you to know that i saw your book in whole foods the other day which i thought was pretty neat, the other thing is i made gluten-free miracle bread and loved it but it tasted a bit too much like corn because i didn't have any tapioca starch. do you think a teaspoon or so of vanilla or almond extract next time would help? not sure if these are gluten-free, for me it doesn't matter i can eat gluten but i just LOVE this bread because unlike most homemade bread i've made ... it STAYS SOFT!! so i'm going to keep making it. : ) thanks for any help you can give, and keep up the awesome blogging, you are an inspiration!

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Mardel said...

I read your blog a long time ago and then life interrupted many things and here I am reading you again and you welcome me back (without knowing it of course) with English muffins. I used to bake English muffins with yeast I grew from our own wild grapes and all kinds of gluten. Well, I abandoned that, abandoned the natural starter which wanted to live on wheat and haven't had a decent muffin in years.

You are reminding me that I know so much more now and it is time to start baking again. Perhaps I will start with English Muffins.

At 6:22 PM, Blogger alana said...

Hello... coming out of my lurk to ask a question. I have a gluten free egg free girl on my hands. I'm wondering if you have any suggestions on what a good egg substitute would be here? English muffins would make her very happy...

At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog and was wondering. Have you ever played around with eliminating regular dairy in your recipes? Substituting coconut milk or almond milk or even goats milk for cows milk? My daughter is also allergic to caesin and I was wondering if you had done any experimenting with your recipes along those lines? If so would love to hear your results. Karen

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Linda said...

I've been meaning to try English muffins for some time now. I like the flour combination you use in this recipe. I've got to try it soon.

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Kiri said...

I'm going to give this a whirl. After twenty plus years of cooking gluten free most of my cooking is barely distinguishable from non-gluten free. Most people can't tell (that includes bread and muffins and their texture) I have not tried English muffins however. I'll let you know what I end up with. =)

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Jenny said...

"I spend too much time in front of the computer by the nature of my work. Baking helps my cramped fingers unfurl, like flowers moving toward the emerging sun. When flour and softened butter are clumped in the palm of my hand, I feel at ease. I'm not worried about the work yet to be done. I'm just moving toward the next step in the recipe."

i feel the exact same way. thank you for a lovely nostalgic throwback to childhood recipe, when i used to love farm fresh butter melting in pools over the craters of halved and toasted (til slightly burnt was my favourite!) english muffins. . .

and the gluten free baking world feels like doors upon doors have been thrown open and YOU miss shauna are running around like a darling and soothing good fairy prompting me to push open those doors. . .stepping through into worlds of comfort and connectedness/falling in love with food and the process of it all over again. . .

love and mmmmmmmm. . . jenny

At 9:39 AM, Blogger j.cro said...

I can't wait to try to bake these!!!
I'm new to baking with yeast, but I'm all for the adventure of it.

At some point, I'm even going to try to make a vegan version of these so I can share them with ALL of my friends.

Thank you, Thank you , THANK YOU!!!

At 9:43 AM, Blogger j.cro said...

Note for Jenny in the comments - Coconut Palm sugar is a good low-glycemic substitute.

They come in pucks, which equal about 1/4 of a cup. You can grate the pucks or soften them in your microwave oven at 10 second intervals and them throw them in your food processor.

Here's some more info about Coconut Palm Sugar -

Good luck!!

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Varenikje said...

I am fairly new at gluten free eating and definitely very new at gluten free baking. I am in the process of pulling together some of the non-gluten flours that are needed. I have one question about your English muffin recipe: what is corn flour? Corn meal is the stuff that goes into corn bread. Corn starch thickens gravy. But what is corn flour? I would really like to try this recipe, as I love English muffins. Thank you for all of your help in pursuing gluten free cooking!

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Marisa said...

ditto on the corn flour question. Do you mean masa? you mentioned corn meal in the intro, then corn flour in the recipe. I'm not sure which one you mean.


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