Food: US vs. UK Round 1.2 — More Muffins.

by Brenda W. Clough

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Agh, I knew this would happen. I knew that Americans have two kinds of muffins: English muffins, and muffins. Regular muffins look like this:

StarbucksThese are from Starbucks, which means you can walk into a shop anywhere around the globe and the muffins will look exactly like this. Note how they do not at all look like the muffins here in our previous post. English muffins are totally different from muffins. At least in America. What British muffins are has been addressed, alas with no photos, by Chaz. I, an American, still have no idea what the things look like.

Observe also that these gigantic cupcake-shaped things have to be eaten by peeling off the paper baking cup and biting them. There is no possibility of splitting or toasting things shaped like this. I suppose you could butter them, but the crumb is very crumbly and cake-ish, and will break up under the action of the spreading knife. Also, look at all the stuff — the blueberries or whatever baked in, the crumble or nuts or whatever  crusted on top. You do not need butter; these things pack heavy calories all by themselves. These are huge, maybe four or five inches across at the top, quintessentially American muffins. A person who eats one of these for breakfast is not a person on a diet. Which is why we call those things that Thomas makes English muffins. Having stolen the terminology from bakers across the water, we now have an unbridgeable divide in terminology.

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To further muddy the waters, here is an artisanal English muffin from Baguette Republic, which sells at the farm market near my house.  It says ‘English muffin’ right on the bag, to distinguish them from the regular muffins (paper baking cup, blueberries, stuff on top) which they also sell. The ingredients are also listed: canola oil, durum flour, salt, King Arthur flour, and white starter. I assume this last is yeast. These farm market English muffins are excellent, and beat Thomas’s all hollow. You eat them the same way, splitting, toasting and buttering. Note how they are bigger — about 4.5 inches in diameter. A Thomas’s English muffin is only about 3 inches across. They are definitely bready, not cakey, and they do not have the slight sprinkle of cornmeal that the Thomas English muffin has, presumably to create the impression of being baked or fried on a griddle. These muffins are probably baked in muffin-top pans like this.

I can tell that we are groping towards a real terminology, at last. If I had better software skills I could create a family tree kind of a thing, with pictures. We have Thomas English muffins, which are at least in the US what comes to mind when you say English muffins. American muffins are the ones you see above, with their paper baking cup and blueberries. Which means that the things that Chaz was eating in his boyhood must be termed English English muffins. I am confused. But persevering! Next up: scones!

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Food: US vs. UK Round 1.2 — More Muffins. — 7 Comments

  1. Would calling what Chaz was eating when young British muffins clarify or further muddy the waters? Does it seem like maybe a whole new terminology is needed?

  2. So Starbucks muffins are Gigamuffins and not regular muffins. Plus they are nowhere near as good as muffins made with real stuff like butter, and orange peel, and considerably less sugar. Muffins — and living in Canada I will call them North American, and not just US-ian, muffins — are essentially a form of sweet bread like banana bread (which is different from sweetbread, which is made from brraaiiinnnss. (OK, actually, the dictionary tells me sweetbread is made from the thymus gland.)). Sweet breads are a bit different from actual cake proportion-wise, and also different in how you mix them and bake them.

  3. Sorry, I have put the picture up! I realize now that on my green plate the muffin looks the size of a tire. I like the idea of calling Chaz’s muffin’s British muffins. Clearly he cannot call them English muffins. Chaz, you need to post a picture of these confections, so that we can all know what we are talking about. And how you eat them. Toasted? Buttered? Marmalade?

    This is going to be a long journey through the mutual jungle, and some day we will get to quick breads and sweet breads (not sweetbreads, which I do think somebody could have named better, to save on confusion).

  4. In the Maine of my youth, a muffin was (and still is) a smaller, slightly swe.et version of a quick bread, and it is, indeed, split and buttered by many a Mainer of the traditional persuasion.

    Blueberry (wild blueberries only, please) is classic, as is the corn muffin.

    The things in Starbucks are the giant mutant offspring of a muffin and a cake. They’re far sweeter and crumblier than our traditional muffins.

    • I made some berry muffins too 🙂 The blriuerbees I bought was a little sour, so I used them for baking. I like the idea of adding bananas to the recipe…this fruit has got this magical power of making bakes soft and fragrant!

  5. Brenda, Brenda, nobody *needs* butter. But we wants it – oh how we wants it! Melted. On everything. Fact: all the bread/muffin things were invented solely so we’d have something to slather butter over.

    Don’t even get me started on browned butter…