Grim's Grub: The Drury Lane double dealer
A baked good by any other name is filled with nooks and crannies
Samuel Bath Thomas was playing both sides against one another. He was a fraud!
Picture it — 1875, 10 years since the conclusion of the American Civil War. The United States and Great Britain are almost certainly on rocky ground with one another.
At the beginning of the war, the United States had hoped to get any foreign ally they could. While Great Britain had abolished the slave trade in 1807, U.S. Secretary of State William Henry Seward was so unpopular abroad that he alienated them and most of Europe.
As a result, instead of an ally, the United States looked to their former adversary and saw a less aggressive, but far from helpful neutral party that leaned somewhat in favor of the Confederacy.
The English, it seemed, refused to get involved, but recognized somewhat the status of the Confederate States. They never officially recognized the rebels as a nation or signed any agreements with them, but southern leaders apparently firmly believed if they held out long enough, Britain would favor the South and provide aid.
Now, the war has been over for some time, the United States remains united, and no doubt, there are still hard feelings from those who thought that certainly, given the circumstances, they deserved the support of the crown.
I'd guess that's true for both North and South.
Now comes Thomas, who, just over 20 at the time, moved from Plymouth, England, to the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City where he began working for a bakery.
In just five years he had made enough money to open his own, under his own name.
Thomas attempted to bring British foods to busy New Yorkers. Among his special baked goods was a sort of breakfast item likely based on a small yeast leavened bread from Wales called a "Bara Mean."
He marketed them as "Toaster Crumpets" for years.
It seems that Thomas eventually came to the realization, however, that Toaster Crumpets was not that particularly appealing as a name.
After all, who reading this now even knows what a crumpet is? And you all have the internet at your fingertips.
To highlight their exotic nature, Thomas renamed them, calling them English in 1894. They grew in popularity until Thomas realized he needed a patent.
He trademarked them under the new name and advertised them as having "nooks and crannies," a description that would be recycled into advertisements many years after his death in the company that still bears his last name.
While he still lived, Thomas' bakery grew in fame to the point where the products became a global hit. When they hit the shores in England, they were also seen as popular and exotic because Thomas chose to market them back where he came from as American.
On shelves in the United States they were marked English; in the UK, American, and nobody had a phone to call overseas and see if they were all being duped.
As far as fake-outs go, this one was easy to swallow. After all, by any other name his product would have been as delicious, and Thomas had earned his reputation.
The process was all his own. Where normal crumpets would be made with baking powder, Thomas used only sourdough starter.
This made the emblematic nooks and crannies what they were. In addition, they were baked in a hot griddle, which made for a crunchy exterior and soft interior.
Today the specific recipe and process is still a secret that is split into several parts, with the parts known, collectively, only by seven people.
The product is like almost nothing else, and that's probably why Thomas was able to get away with calling them American Muffins in Great Britain.
And, of course, that means when he changed their name in New York all those years ago, he called them English Muffins and no one was the wiser.
Homemade English Muffins
- 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¾ cup milk
- ½ cup water
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted and allowed to cool until just barely melted
- 1 egg at room temperature
- Cornmeal or semolina for dusting
Combine the milk, water and sugar in a bowl or glass measuring cup and warm the ingredients to 110 degrees. Add the yeast and stir. Set the mixture aside for 5-7 minutes until a foamy head develops.
Combine the flour and salt in a bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Once the liquid is ready, mix the egg and melted butter into the milk mixture.
While mixing on low speed, pour the liquid into your flour mixture. Either increase the speed and mix for 7 minutes or knead until elastic and smooth.
Transfer the mixture to a large, oiled bowl and cover it with plastic. Allow the dough to double in size in a warm spot. This may take about an hour.
Transfer the dough to a floured counter. Gently spread it out and pat it until it's just under an inch thick.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle the paper with cornmeal or semolina. Use 3-inch round cutters to cut the muffins, then transfer them to the prepared baking sheets using a spatula or your hands.
Re-roll the scraps and continue cutting until the dough is all used. Cover the muffins loosely in plastic wrap and place them in a warm spot to rise for about 30 minutes.
Place a large skillet over very low heat. Once hot, sprinkle with cornmeal or semolina in the skillet, then carefully place 3-4 muffins in the pan. Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes. Carefully flip the muffins and cook them for another 5-6 minutes. Check the first batch for doneness to determine if you need additional cooking time.
Repeat the last steps until you have cooked all the muffins.
Freezer Breakfast Sandwiches
- 12 eggs
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 pound breakfast sausage, divided in 12
- Or 12 slices bacon
- Or ham, sliced ¼-inch thick
- 12 slices American cheese
- 12 English muffins
While the eggs can be fried one by one, if you have ramekins, a jumbo muffin pan, muffin top pan or whoopie pie pan, those will make cooking the eggs easier.
Spray your chosen pan with nonstick spray. Crack an egg into each nook of your pan and puncture the egg yolk, being careful not to damage any protective nonstick coating on your pan. Bake the eggs at 350 degrees for 14-17 minutes. Once done, add salt and pepper to taste.
While the eggs are cooking, cook your choice of breakfast meat and drain it on paper towels. Also toast your breakfast muffins and butter them.
When all muffins are toasted, meat is cooked and eggs are done, assemble your sandwich by adding an egg, a meat and cheese. Set these on a baking sheet and allow them to cool.
Once cool, wrap each sandwich in plastic, wax paper or foil and place in your freezer.
When ready to eat, defrost sandwiches in the microwave for 1 minute, then flip them over and microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute until heated through.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com.