It’s tough out there for English muffins.
Sure, they’re reliable, versatile, and a go-to foundation for everything from egg and cheese sandwiches to toaster pizzas, but it’s the more glamorous breakfast breads that earn spots on trendy brunch menus and likes on Instagram. In a world of golden brown brioche, savory scones, and seeded bagels, nobody’s taking a second glance at the humble English muffin.
However, an upcoming Union Square bakery and cafe plans to shine a spotlight on the oft-overlooked baked good. Sarah Murphy’s Vinal Bakery—due to open in early spring at the former Pizza Palace space at 222 Somerville Ave.—will focus on English muffins, slinging breakfast and lunch sandwiches along with New England-inspired pastries and coffee.
Murphy is no stranger to the neighborhood. She has lived in Union Square for 12 years, and her bakery takes its name from the street where she lives, Vinal Avenue. If you recognize the name, you’ve probably seen Murphy’s baked goods at one of her pop-ups—she has been baking English muffins at Bagelsaurus twice a week for the past year, and she sporadically peddles her pastries at Longfellows.
Vinal will operate as an independent bakery for the first time once it moves into the Somerville Avenue space, fulfilling a dream Murphy has chased for years.
“Vinal Bakery was born from my love of baking, and my love of the seasons and traditions of New England,” Murphy says in a video on Vinal’s Kickstarter page. “My dream for Vinal is to share my love of food and baking and New England with all of you.”
A New Hampshire native, Murphy’s childhood was a quintessentially New England one, flavored with maple syrup and homemade preserves. “I was sugaring in the spring, picking blueberries in the summer, and picking apples in the fall,” she tells Scout.
While she spent plenty of time in the kitchen growing up, Murphy didn’t initially pursue baking professionally. When she was furloughed from a desk job after college, however, she was forced to find a new source of income and wound up spending a summer working in the bakery at Morning Glory Farm in Martha’s Vineyard.
“That motivated me when I got back to be like, ‘OK, let’s switch things up,’” she remembers.
Murphy quit her desk job permanently and started working full time at Flour Bakery + Cafe, graduating from working the register to management to, finally, the bakery.
“It was like culinary school times a thousand,” Murphy says.
In her seven years at Flour, Murphy learned the fundamentals of pastry, and also discovered that her personality was a good match for a life of baking: Baking is active and chaotic, yet precise, and Murphy describes herself as a “good rule follower” who is “not very good at sitting still.”
While she managed to sit still enough to stay at Flour for seven years, Murphy eventually decided that she needed to see other kitchens to fully prepare herself to open a business of her own. After brief stints at Sarma and 3 Little Figs, she ended up baking bagels at Bagelsaurus—then a newer and smaller operation than it is today—and experimenting with other baked goods at home.
“I was testing English muffins as I was dreaming up Vinal because I wanted to offer a really great breakfast sandwich,” she says.
For Murphy, the English muffin is anything but boring. She baked batch after batch, bringing in samples to get feedback from her Bagelsaurus co-workers, and spending her days off work testing and re-testing her recipe. Finally, she baked the perfect muffin: “tall and fluffy and tender with a slight chew, and big enough for a hearty breakfast sandwich.”
Eventually, Bagelsaurus owner Mary Ting Hyatt suggested that Murphy try selling the muffins at the bagel shop, and the pop-up version of Vinal was born.
Not all English muffins are created equal. If you’re used to the pre-sliced, plastic-bagged variety from your grocery store, Murphy’s muffins might take you by surprise.
“I feel like they’re a little bit richer than the muffins you’d find in the store,” Murphy says. “Simple, quality ingredients—King Arthur flour, Cabot butter, Kate’s Buttermilk from Maine—and no additives make them really stand out from anything you would buy at the supermarket.”
Murphy’s muffins come in a variety of flavors, five of which she plans to feature at Vinal: classic, multigrain, anadama (a traditional New England flavor featuring molasses and cornmeal), oat sesame, and a rotating flavor that will change monthly. Some flavors from the Vinal pop-ups may make appearances in the rotating lineup, including the French toast muffin, the beer and cheddar muffin, or the stuffin’ muffin, a Thanksgiving stuffing-inspired muffin with herbs and shallots.
While the rest of the menu details are still being ironed out, Murphy can promise that the lineup will reflect the community through nods to traditional New England flavors and enhance it by providing a fresh gathering space for Union Square residents.
“I just set out to do the thing that I love and share that with other people,” Murphy says. “I hope we bring a little life to that end of Union.”