Although I’ve never come up short in the crazy category, there are some gastronomical indulgences that even I refuse to make at home. You see, a lot of what drags me into the kitchen is a complaint: I find something dissatisfying in its availability, quality or it brings me ennui. But items on my list of cooking refusals fall into none of these categories, and that’s why I’ll gladly leave the sausage, sushi and bagel making to others in this great city.
Oh, except that last one. Because you see, there is one thing that bothers me about bagels is that they’re too big. There’s just no reason to eat 7 ounces of bread for breakfast. I end up glutted and then hungry three hours later. Yes, yes, yes, I know, just eat half of one, and while that’s a bright-minded suggestion, there is also the fact that Peter Reinhart’s bagel recipe has been calling my name since I bought the book last winter, which just about brings us to last Friday.
I followed the recipe to the letter, beginning the process on Friday night and finishing it on Saturday, yet although the bagels were gorgeous and smelled wonderful, I was a bit disappointed. They were so chewy, crispy and tough on the outside and soft on the inside and a bit unlike the bagels I was used to. And this is where SantaDad steps in, who sent me this email on Sunday, after trying one of my bagels the night before.
The memories are fuzzy, but it was back in the mid ’40’s and early 50’s. We (my Dad and I) used to go to the local bakery on Sunday mornings for bagels and Jewish rye/corn bread. It was right around the corner … the first of what would ultimately be a chain: Zaro’s. In fact, Phil Zaro, one of the two brothers that owned the bakery was our upstairs neighbor in our apartment building.
I always wondered why we couldn’t get bagels during the week. My father explained that there was only one bagel bakery in NY (probably the nation). It was located on an island in the East River. I imagine it was the island where the Queensborough Bridge crosses. Anyway, the bakery only made bagels on Saturday nights after Shabbat. The local retail bakeries would go to the bagel “factory” early on Sunday mornings and pick up their weekly orders.
There was real consistency in bagels then … no surprise since they all came from the same place. There were only two kinds of bagels, plain and egg. None of this cranberry, raisin, chocolate chip stuff. The bagels were more chewy than bagels today (which are very bready.) They were sort of crisp on the outside, and soft but chewy on the inside. More like an intermediate between today’s bagels and bialys. Bialys then were like rubber. The bialys sold today are more like what we then called “onion rolls.”
Then, sometime in the 50’s people started opening bagel shops and bagels became available 365 days a year. ….and the decline started. I imagine it was like the proliferation of pizza joints. Everyone thought they knew how to make bagels (pizza) and no one had the memory of what they really were like originally. One who was old enough, would probably say that bagels from THE East River bagel bakery had no resemblance to the bagels in eastern Europe where they probably originated. (An aside: I think “bialys” are named after the town Bialistok (sp?) in Poland.)
Since Phil Zaro was about 25 years older than I am, it is likely that his stores are now run by his children or grandchildren. He didn’t have children back then as well as I can remember, so his children would also be about 10 years younger than I am. If this is true, it’s possible that the memory of what bagels were was lost in that generation … a reason why Zaro’s bagels today are nothing like the East River bagels of yesterday.
I do remember having bagels in Israel on one of my trips, but they were nothing like the bagels in 1940’s NYC. The Israeli bagels were large and bready … good, but just not bagels.
Having said all this, I just want you to know that your bagels last night were the closest thing I have ever had to the original bagels of my childhood. It’s a good thing that they are so much work to make, since otherwise they could easily be the undoing of my Atkins program.
And that, my friends, is the final word.
Peter Reinhart’s Bagels
Adpated from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Hoo boy, there are a lot of notes for this one, so you might want to skim ahead to the end first. Otherwise, these are utterly glorious as-is, chewy with a crispy and tough exterior and a soft, flavorful interior. I have it on good authority that these are as good as, if not better, than the Old School variety.
Yield: 12 extremely large, 16 regularly large or 24 miniature bagels
1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (see note below)
2 1/2 cups water, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons malt powder or 1 tablespoon dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar (see note below)
1 tablespoon baking soda
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, rehydrated dried minced garlic or onions (Deb note: this was what I chose, and found the taste very authentic), or chopped onions that have been tossed in oil (optional)
1. Day one: To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.
2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt. Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients for a ball, slowly working in the remaining 3/4 cup flour to stiffen the dough.
3. Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6 minutes by machine). The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all ingredients should be hydrated. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 to 71 degrees F. If the dough seems to dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.
4. Immediately divide the dough into 4 1/2 ounce pieces for standard bagels, or smaller if desired (Deb note: I used 2.25 ounce pieces, and yes, I weighed them because I wanted them to bake evenly). Form the pieces into rolls.
5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.
6. Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Proceed with one of the following shaping methods:
Method 1: Poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough and gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter (half of this for a mini-bagel). The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots.)
Method 2: Roll out the dough into an 8-inch long rope. (This may require rolling part of the way and resting if the pieces are too elastic and snap back, in which case, allow them to rest for 3 minutes and then extend them again to bring to full length. Wrap the dough around the palm and back of your hand, between the thumb and forefinger, overlapping the ends by several inches. Press the overlapping ends on the counter with the palm of your hand, rocking back and forth to seal.
7. Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pans (Deb note: I got away with 1-inch space for the minis). Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and slip each pan into a food-grade plastic bag, or cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the “float test”. Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). If the bagel does not float. Return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.
9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda (and optionally, a few tablespoons of barley syrup, see Note at the end). Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.
10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). After 1 minutes flip them over rand boil for another minute. If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side (Deb note: I used the 2 minute option). While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. (If you decide to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface.) If you want to top (see note below) the bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water. You can use any of the suggestions in the ingredients list or a combination.
11. When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450 degrees F and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown. You may bake them darker if you prefer. (Deb note: I actually baked them quite a bit longer, often almost five extra minutes. I judge by color, not internal temperature, in this case. I did not lower the oven temperature because I had multiple batches to bake.)
12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.
Cinnamon Raisin Bagels: For cinnamon raisin bagels, increase the yeast in the final dough to 1 teaspoon, and add 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the final dough. Rinse 2 cups of loosely packed raisins with warm water to wash off surface sugar, acid, and natural wild yeast. Add the raisins during the final 2 minutes of mixing. Proceed as directed, but do not top the bagels with any garnishes. When they come out of the oven and are still hot, you can brush the tops with melted butter and dip them in cinnamon sugar to create a cinnamon-sugar crust, if desired.
- In his introduction to bagels, Reinhart mentions two ingredients that are not exactly ordinary, but completely essential to the bagel texture and flavor. The first is barley malt powder or syrup, more for that typical bagel shop flavor than anything else, and something that was readily available at Whole Foods and a bunch of other stores. Sadly, I cannot tell you if this ingredient is as essential as he said because I woke up with a startle at 7 a.m. the next morning, “Oh my god I forgot to add the barley syrup!” Don’t you hate it when that happens? Later, I read a recipe that suggested you add the barley syrup to the boiling water bath, and I did so in my later batches, figuring it wouldn’t hurt to get the flavor in somewhere. I ended up feeling that these bagels had a slightly darker, and more stereotypically-bagel color than the earlier batches, so I am adding this as an optional step.
- The second is high gluten flour, a step above the extra gluten in bread flour. (Though he says regular bread flour will work in a jam, I’m used to getting top-notch bagels, and was convinced I’d be able to tell the difference.) This can be ordered online or available in a specialty store (though I couldn’t come up with one in NYC that had it). Or, you can beg your local bagel shop for some of theirs, and given that the other two options would take time and energy, I turned to our beloved Murray’s on 8th Avenue. They came through, and then some, and I am now the proud own of some ten pounds of super-high gluten flour, and a sinking feeling that I’ll be making bagels again or some very tough cookies (bah!) this winter. The crazy, it keeps coming.
- I had difficulties getting my seeds and onion bits to stick to the top of the bagels. Though the recipe does not call for an egg wash, I would definitely use one next time to get them to stick, after the boiling and before the baking.
- These pictures were taken with a film camera! Our camera had a mishap (we’ll call it) last Friday and was out for repair when I made these bagels. Instead, I used Alex’s old manual Canon Rebel, replete with my macro lens and our Speedlite flash. How cool is it that everything works together? On Saturday, my dad was kind enough to lend us his Rebel XTi until ours came out of the shop, which is supposed to be today. (Pictures taken with his camera can be seen in the previous post.) Hooray for SantaDad, and camera repair shops that work quickly!
- Although Alex may have been the cause of the camera’s injury, he deserves a hearty round of applause for typing this entire recipe for us. 1,999 words!