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Tom Harper: How the English muffins are made at Cellar Door (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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I’m hooked on English muffins from Cellar Door. 

They are made fresh daily, available in any number or packaged in a convenient six-pack.

My morning routine includes a light toasting, dab of butter, drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkle of Nutritional Yeast. Yes, I can still taste the sourdough flavor due to the numerous air pockets, aka “nooks and crannies,” within the muffin that enable the toppings to ooze into just the right place.

I recently complimented Louis Wigen-Toccalino, the owner of Cellar Door, on his English muffins, which led to a question: “How do you bake them?”

Tom Harper/Lawrence Times Louis Wigen-Toccalino

Wigen-Toccalino quickly corrected me: “They’re not baked. They are cooked on the griddle.”

A bit perplexed and wanting to know more, I asked if he would be up for an interview about how they are made.

Wigen-Toccalino opened Cellar Door in the newly renovated and historic Stubbs building at 7 W. 11th St. in June 2020. 

With the pandemic underway, he had the bakery mostly to himself. He began creating and fine-tuning the staples we enjoy today. The English muffin was one of the first items Wigen-Toccalino “figured out.” He wanted to use them for hamburger buns. Today they are used for breakfast sandwiches and the standard, with jam.

I asked how he decided what to include in the bakery. Without hesitation, Wigen-Toccalino responded, “By whim! Whatever I decide to make. I incorporate what I like,” adding, “I like to watch the British Baking Show.” 

Wigen-Toccalino is self-taught, through extensive reading and countless hours of practice.

Contributed photo Grandmother Louise & Grandfather Louis Toccalino

He learned from and was inspired by his grandmother, Louise Toccalino. He watched her prepare Christmas dinners for family, making everything from pies to ravioli. As he grew older and passionate about cooking and baking, he asked her to teach him and wrote down her recipes.

The name Cellar Door was inspired by the things his grandmother would bring out from her cellar to prepare and use for special occasions. Sadly, in April 2014, she died — one week before Wigen-Toccalino’s coffee shop, Decade, opened in East Lawrence.

We trekked down the stairs to the Cellar Door bakery, underneath the kitchen. Wigen-Toccalino uncovered a plastic container with a mound of dough about a foot in circumference. My eye then glanced to a quart container with a green tape on the side that read “AM 12/6 mama.” 

For those of us who like to eat baked goods and have no knowledge of what a starter is: It’s a live fermented culture of flour and water. A portion is used to make bread dough rise.

In my naivete, I asked where the starter came from. “We were visiting Rachel Van Wagoner about four years ago in Salt Lake City,” Wigen-Toccalino said. “She made some rye bread and I thought it was really good. She gave me this starter.”

How Cellar Door English muffins are made:

  1. Sour dough, add commercial yeast, mix and sit for 4 hours
  2. Roll the dough out flat
  3. Place in the refrigerator overnight and let it “rest” for 18 hours
  4. In the morning, cut into circles with a biscuit cutter
  5. Let them warm for an hour
  6. Cook them on the griddle at 400°; grill with a blend of olive and canola oil

Interesting fact: The muffins are vegan. No animal products are used.

“The muffins are truly a collaborative effort — the bakers create the dough, and the cooks grill them,” Wigen-Toccalino said.

How does he know they are done? “I’m looking for the color — golden brown,” he said.

What is Wigen-Toccalino’s favorite way to enjoy English muffins? When they are fresh, he does not like anything on them — the moist sourdough flavor satisfies. He also enjoys them as a sandwich with grilled chicken. Finally, with a smile, “Butter and strawberry jam — that is my favorite.”  

This holiday season, create your own topping combination and pick up a six-pack. I bet you will thank me next time our paths cross.

Cellar Door employees are friendly, and the hours are easy: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Keep an eye on the bakery’s website, Facebook or Instagram page for modified holiday hours. 

About the writer

Tom Harper is a Realtor at Stephens Real Estate helping people in Lawrence and Douglas County buy and sell real estate. He is the founder of Lawrence Modern, a group whose mission is to raise awareness of midcentury and modern architecture. You will find him posting frequently on Instagram under @lawrencemodern, sharing his daily observations of his favorite place on earth: Lawrence, Kansas. Read more of Tom’s writing for The Lawrence Times here.

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