I've gone through a couple of English muffin recipes lately looking for the one that works. You know: getting the "nooks and crannies" business just right. But this wasn't a new recipe, just a redo of the last "best" one that we enjoyed.
I scalded the milk as per the last effort. Scalding milk is not, as in the old days, intended to kill bacteria or yeast but actually serves to change the protein structure that improves the rise. The heat results in denaturization of the casein molecule and improves the final product - at least, when it comes to bread. I used the heat from the scalded milk to melt some butter and a pinch (but just a pinch!) of sugar and set it aside to cool.
Now, unlike scalding which remains beneficial, proofing yeast, that is, putting the yeast in water with a touch of flour or sugar and waiting for the bubbles to appear is a waste of time. Modern processed yeast (Baker's Yeast or Saccharomyces cerevisiae) within its expiration date, works just fine 99.9% of the time so there's no need to proof it. Per my usual, I added the dry yeast to the flour and salt as I normally do for all my breads and mixed it thoroughly.
Now I have two counters, a sink, and a stove top covered with various work utensils and bowls of dough for Pan Cubano, Country Loaf, and English Muffins, another bowl with the egg, and a fifth and final bowl with scalded milk and butter cooling.
Timing is everything in the kitchen and I thought I had everything fairly well planned out. It was time to add the milk to the flour and yeast. Check the temperature...125F...too hot. "Wait a little longer", I said to myself. 110 is the right temp.
A few minutes later thinking all is right with the world (Men in Black III is just starting on the idiot box) in goes the scalded milk and the beaten egg into the flour and yeast, and I mix it all up, knead it just a little, and set it aside to rise.
Some time later, the Pan Cubano is done, two loaves of Country Loaf are still rising on the board, MB III ended (I hope there's a IV), and the English Muffin dough is...doing nothing. Nada. Looks like some smaller, paler version of The Blob.
In my haste to watch what turned out to be a very good movie (true to the first and so much better than MIB II) I must have killed literally millions of S. cerevisiae by adding milk that was just a little bit too warm.
I now had two choices, start over (it's now 4AM!!!) or hope that a couple of the little beasties survived and give them time to procreate and flourish. Since it was now bedtime, I opted for the latter and left nature to her own devices.
After a few hours of sawing wood, I started checking on the dough every now and again. It seemed to be growing but I still wasn't convinced of its will to live. Eventually, it took 7 hours for the magic to work and the dough rose to the occasion presenting itself as something respectable and worthy of attention. Mother Nature is tenacious! So I rolled out the dough, cut the muffins and set them aside to rise for the second time. That only took 4 hours but they seemed otherwise OK and I cooked them up. Delicious! The little bit of yeast that survived took its time multiplying and enabled some acidity to creep into the dough. Great English Muffins. Oh, and lots of knooks and crannies too!
So I came up with a recipe that requires patience and, in this particular case, the death of a few million (billion?) members of one somewhat alien species. But hey, Men in Black isn't real.
It isn't, right?