Investigating the Nooks & Crannies of English Muffins

What is an English Muffin?

English muffins1 were indeed created by an Englishman, but the baked goods we recognize as English muffins today were invented in America. Perhaps he was exiled for his deviation from the traditional crumpet recipe; perhaps there were religious differences regarding jams and jellies; or perhaps Mr. Samuel Bath Thomas simply felt called to open a bakery in the land of the free and avoid all the unfair (and fair) stereotypes about British food. Thomas moved to New York city and opened a bakery in Chelsea, where he sold what he called "toaster crumpets," a name somehow more English than "English muffins."

Creating the English Muffin

There is some (vehement) disagreement about whether Thomas actually invented anything, or if he simply popularized a traditional British muffin in the states. The Brits definitely had muffins before Thomas started selling his toaster crumpets, but they are different enough to be classified as a new form.

Thomas's English muffins, which are still the most popular brand in America today, were different from their progenitor in several ways. For one, they didn't contain baking soda, which meant the air pockets didn't rise to the top of the dough but instead stayed in the middle. This change is what leads to both halves of a split English muffin having numerous nooks and crannies into which butter, jam, or eggs can be spread. A traditional crumpet isn't split and instead has air pockets on the top that collect butter et al. Crumpets2 are also softer and thicker than English muffins and are not always toasted.

What do the British call English muffins?

I was hoping, as I'm sure you are, that the answer would be something even more specific and entertaining than the word crumpet, but it turns out the British simply call their version muffins. They can also be called breakfast muffins or toasting muffins.3 As for the sweet, cakey creations we call muffins, the English also apparently call them muffins, but I propose a solution: We'll call those "swuffins," and English muffins will retain the name "muffins" as it seems their version came first.

How are English muffins made?

The recipe for this original English muffin is closely guarded by the Thomas company, with only seven people reportedly knowing the secret.4 However, we can create the original – and very similar – crumpet with home recipes. Try this muffin recipe5 to see something like what the muffin man would have sold on Drury Lane.

The recipe starts out with normal, all-purpose flour and utilizes both yeast and baking powder to make the dough rise. The baking powder creates the signature nooks and crannies of a muffin, though these often rise to the top, leaving more solid dough on the bottom half. By splitting the finished muffins with a fork, you'll maximize the uneven surface of the dough, which, if you're baking them, is your goal. After all, more surface area means more jam, butter, or honey on the bread. You can also ask for clotted cream if you want to be even more British.

Are English muffins healthy?

Compared to American muffins, English muffins are certainly the healthier choice. The above recipe uses one teaspoon of sugar and half a cup of melted butter for the whole batch – much better for the average consumer than sugar-laden sweet muffins. Depending on your individual dietary needs, English muffins may be a great breakfast food, although unhealthy additives – butter, honey, jam, jelly, and peanut butter – can all add significant calories to the meal. Plus, different recipes will yield different results, so I can't speak generally about all English muffins.

Are English muffins vegan?

No, most English muffins are not vegan because they contain butter and milk. However, there are some vegan English muffin recipes6 that replace the animal products with alternatives such as coconut oil. Unless a commercial English muffin is marketed specifically as a vegan option, it probably contains butter or milk and is thus not vegan.

So, What are English Muffins in America?

English muffins are the English – and original – version of muffins before we got our hands on the word and liberated it from redcoat oppression with processed sugars. They are less sweet and more filling than puffy, pan-baked American muffins, making them a much better fit for most diets. These hearty, flavorful muffins are a great breakfast piece, the heart of eggs benedict, and a wonderful jelly delivery device.


  1. English Muffins Aren't English. TheKitchn. Accessed June 2020.
  2. English Muffin History. The Nibble. Accessed June 2020.
  3. Breakfast Muffins. The Daily Meal. Accessed June 2020.
  4. The History of English Muffins. JustAPinch. Accessed June 2020.
  5. English Muffin Recipe. European Cuisines. Accessed June 2020.
  6. Vegan English Muffins. A Virtual Vegan. Accessed June 2020.