The entrance of the tea-things at seven o’clock was some relief; and luckily Mr and Mrs Edwards always drank a dish extraordinary and ate an additional muffin when they were going to sit up late, which lengthened the ceremony almost to the wished-for moment.
Oh, do you know the muffin man? He was a common enough character in Jane Austen’s day- even garnering a mention in Persuasion! English styled muffins (different from the modern quickbread version) were made of yeast raised dough and baked on a hot cast iron griddle. They are thought to have originated in 10th century Wales.
These early muffins were the fare of the lower classes and didn’t see the fashionable tea table until the 17-1800’s. As tea became a meal in itself, many cooks tried to out do each other with elaborate pastry and iced confections. For those not given to sweets, however, English Muffins, toasted and buttered, could be just as delicious. Growing in popularity throughout the 19th century, the muffin became the “most fancied” bread on the Island and English Muffin factories sprang up all over England. Muffin men, hawking their wares in city streets, were a common sight.
Because they bake so quickly, a plate of steaming hot muffins soon became a tea table staple. Served in their own silver dish, the muffins would be split, toasted over an open fire, buttered and served, sometimes with jam or preserves. English muffins and their American equivalents were also served at breakfast- as they are to this day.
One of Jane Austen’s distant relations, Mrs Lybbe-Powys kept a household journal much like Martha Lloyd’s. In it, she records this recipe:
half a Gallon of Flour, half a pint of Yeast, put as much water as will make it about the thickness of paste, stir a little salt into it and beat it well over nigh. ye next morning lay a clean Cloth on the table and flour it, then turn ye past out of the pan and make them up with your hands into small flat Cakes. they must be baked upon an Iron plate of ye Fire and when half done turn’d.
4 cups of flour
1 1/2 packets of yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water or milk
1 tablespoon of Salt
1/2 teaspoon white sugar (to feed the yeast)
cast iron griddle
Pour the water into a bowl and add the yeast and sugar. When the yeast is soft, add the flour and salt. Mix thoroughly. Dough will be very sticky.
Coat your hands in flour before kneading the dough. While kneading, continue to add small amounts of flour to the dough until the stickiness disappears and the dough becomes more solid. You may find you add as much as 1/2 cup more flour during this process.
Put the dough in a large bowl, cover with a towel, and leave in a warm place overnight. The dough should more than double by morning. The underside of the dough may be a bit sticky — if so, knead it a bit more. Using your hands, shape the muffins into small golf-ball sized balls. Set the muffins aside, cover with a towel, and let rise for an hour.
Preheat ungreased griddle over medium heat. Add shaped muffins to griddle and cook for about five minutes on each side.
The muffins will look like biscuits on the outside and English muffins on the inside. Serve immediately. Makes two dozen small muffins.
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