Large skillet (preferably cast iron)
1/2 cup / 75 g bread flour
1/4 tsp instant (also called quick-rising or bread machine) yeast
1 1/3 cups / 315 ml water
3/4 tsp instant (also called quick-rising and bread machine) yeast
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 1/2 cups / 510 g unbleached all-purpose flour, as needed
Yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground, for cooking
1/2 cup / 120 ml Clarified Butter, as needed
Clarified Butter Ingredients
1 pound unsalted butter, cut up
How To Make
To make clarified butter, melt 1 pound of unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter is completely boiling and melted. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Skim off the foam from the surface of the butter. Line a wire sieve with dampened, wrung-out cheesecloth and place over a medium bowl. Carefully pour the clear yellow melted butter through the sieve, leaving the milky residue behind in the saucepan. Pour into a small covered container. Refrigerate until ready to use.
At least one day before cooking the muffins, make the biga: Mix the flour, water, and yeast in a small bowl to make a sticky dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 and up to 24 hours. The biga will rise slightly.
Combine the water, biga, yeast, oil, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Affix the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture looks creamy, about 1 minute. Add enough of the flour to make a soft, somewhat sticky dough that cleans the bowl. Stop the mixer, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and let stand for 10 minutes. (To make by hand, combine the water, biga, yeast, oil, and salt together in a large bowl, and break up the biga with a wooden spoon. Stir until the biga dissolves. Mix in enough flour to make a cohesive, but tacky dough. Cover with a towel and let stand for 10 minutes.)
Replace the paddle attachment with dough hook. Knead on medium-low speed (if the dough climbs up the hook, just pull it down), until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface to check its texture. It should feel tacky, but not stick to the work surface. (To make by hand, turn out the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and feels tacky, but does not stick to the work surface, about 10 minutes.)
Oil a medium bowl. Shape the dough into a ball, put the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with oil, leaving the dough smooth side up. Cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until almost doubled in volume, about 2 hours. (The dough can also be refrigerated for 8 to 12 hours. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding to the next step.)
Using a bowl scraper, scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface. Cut into 8 equal pieces. Shape each into a 4-inch/10-cm round. Sprinkle an even layer of cornmeal over a half-sheet pan. Place the rounds on the cornmeal about 1 in/2.5 cm apart. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until the rounds have increased in volume by half and a finger poked into a round leaves an impression for a few seconds before filling up, about 1 hour.
Melt 3 Tbsp clarified butter in a heavy, large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat until melted and hot, but not smoking. In batches, add the dough rounds to the skillet. Cook, adjusting the heat as needed so the muffins brown at a steady pace without scorching, adding more butter as needed, until the undersides are nicely browned, about 6 minutes. Turn and cook until the other sides are browned and the muffins are puffed, about 6 minutes more. Transfer to a paper towel-lined half-sheet pan and let cool. It will be tempting to eat these hot off the griddle, but let them stand for at least 20 minutes to complete cooking by carry-over heat. Repeat with the remaining muffins, wiping the cornmeal out of the skillet with paper towels and more adding clarified butter as needed.
To serve, split each muffin in half crosswise with a serrated knife. Toast in a broiler or toaster oven (they may be too thick for a standard toaster) until lightly browned. Serve hot.