Lib uses a series of tin cans to cut out her muffins: tomato paste cans for cutting hors d’oeuvre-size muffins, mushroom cans, tuna cans, soup cans. The muffins are baked in ungreased electric skillets on a layer of stone-ground cornmeal that is slowly heated until it gives off an unmistakable nutty odor and begins to brown slightly. (Baking muffins in the oven would make them spherical, not flattened.) She shakes out the browned cornmeal from the skillet and adds a new layer for each batch. Her muffins are light and fragrant, and soft on the inside, with enough nooks and crannies to please any butter addict.
Dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in lukewarm water. Pour boiling water over shortening, 2 tablespoons sugar, and salt; stir to melt shortening. Add milk and cool to lukewarm. Add 2 cups flour and beat until smooth. Add egg and beat well; add dissolved yeast mixture and mix well. Add more flour just enough to form a moderately stiff dough. Knead until smooth and satiny, then place in greased bowl and turn dough so greased side is up. Cover and set in warm place to rise until doubled in bulk. Punch down; let rest 5 minutes. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to less than ½-inch thickness and cut into 3- or 4-inch rounds. Place on a cookie sheet which has been covered with cornmeal, cover, and let rise until doubled in bulk. Heat an ungreased heavy skillet or frying pan (325 degrees F on an electric skillet) covered with a layer of cornmeal until the cornmeal just starts to turn brown. Place the muffins, top side down, on the cornmeal and cook, uncovered, slowly for about 10 minutes, then turn carefully and cook on the other side about 10 minutes, or until done. Cool on rack. Split, toast, and butter to serve (or just split and butter while still warm).
To make whole wheat English muffins, substitute half whole wheat flour and half unbleached flour for the white flour. The egg may be left out, if desired; 1 tablespoon of wheat germ may be added. About ½ cup of currants or raisins may be added to either type of dough.