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BBA Challenge Bread #3: Bagels - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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BBA Challenge Bread #3: Bagels [Dec. 17th, 2011|03:57 pm]

Many moons ago, when I was a young pup of 26 or so, living in Alaska, I made bagels a few times, mostly to take on camping trips. They were whole wheat, cinnamon-raisin bagels, which we ate with peanut butter, apple slices, and cheddar cheese, an amazingly tasty lunch that could fuel many hours of hiking or paddling.

But the bagels themselves? They were awful: sad, misshapen lumps of vaguely ring-shaped bread. They didn't rise well, they didn't have anything in common with any bagel you'd find in a store, and we only enjoyed them because we were engaged in activities that burned about 700 calories an hour. Anything would have tasted good.

So given my sad history with bagels - arguably the best bread of all - I was anticipating this week's bread challenge with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. This bagel recipe was certainly more sophisticated than the one I used 25 years ago, and I wasn't going to try it with whole wheat flour the first time out, so I figured that I had a decent shot at making a food substance that didn't require climbing a mountain to enjoy.

The bagels in Reinhart's book are a two-day process--something I've gotten quite used to in bread baking. The process was a bit different than most, though, and there was no long rise of the dough prior to shaping. I had to read the instructions several times to make certain that I actually comprehended the process.

It was also the first recipe to call for an ingredient that I would consider to be a bit "exotic" (the definition of exotic ingredient is, of course, one that you've never cooked with before), malt syrup. The information about the recipe conceded that a different sweetener could be substituted, but that the result would just not be quite the same. So when I saw that Earth Fare carried malt syrup, I bought some, just for bagels. We call this, "dedication."

The recipe also suggested using special, high-gluten flour in order to get that extra-chewy bagel flavor. This I chose not to do. King Arthur's bread flour has a relatively high gluten percentage, and Ferrett is a little hesitant to bite into really chewy bagels because of his dental work. So less-chewy was quite acceptable.

The first step for bagels is a sponge, a very wet preferment (it contained all the liquid for the recipe) that sits for a couple hours getting bubbly and yeasty. (The book mentioned that sourdough can be used for bagels, but suggested not using it the first time, so I didn't.) I mixed up the preferment and left it to get all bubbly:

As I was also making dinner in the midst of all this, and as our house is quite cool and stuff rises at a leisurely pace, the preferment actually sat for about three hours. At that point, the instructions are to stir in the other ingredients and then knead until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is silky and smooth. I measured in additional yeast and salt, and then cracked open the barley syrup.

And wondered why, in his suggestions for alternatives, Reinhart didn't suggest molasses. Because it looked, smelled and tasted very much like molasses. Ah, well. It will no doubt come in handy at some point....

I began stirring in the flour, and it quickly became apparent that this whole mess had to be transferred to the countertop and the kneading had to begin. It was the weirdest feeling dough I've ever worked with. Because of the amount of flour suspended in the sponge, it felt at first like a non-Newtonian fluid.

The sensation of handling it was both freaky and fun. Eventually it started absorbing the rest of the flour, but for a long time was strangely lumpy. After 10 minutes of kneading, though, it was quite smooth and easily workable - in fact, almost rubbery.

This was good, because the next step was to divide the dough into 4-1/2 ounce segments and round it into little balls:

I understood better why there isn't a rising period first. The gluten was still quite flexible throughout the dough, so it was sturdy enough to be torn into little bits and then mashed back together without much resistance from the gluten skin. The balls all had to rest for about 20 minutes, to let the gluten relax, and then shaping began.

Now, the traditional way to shape bagels is to roll each ball out into a tube, wrap the tube around your hand, and then roll the two ends together. To keep with tradition, I shaped one bagel in that way;

The final result shows why this method is a pain in the butt:

Not very even. The "cheaters" method is to flatten your ball of dough, poke your thumb through the middle, and then turn the circle in your hand until it's the right size. That worked okay, but was kind of boring. So I developed a modification. I poked through the middle with thumb and pointer finger, then twirled the bagel on my pointer finger until it was a little bigger than the perfect size (the elasticity of the dough means there will be some bounce-back). This method was so easy, and so fun, that I called my husband into the kitchen to make some bagels with me.

Once they are formed, the trays of bagels go into the refrigerator overnight. Two large jellyroll trays of bagels. Once again, I am glad for the auxiliary fridge:

In the morning comes the boiling and baking steps. The recipe said that the raw bagels could be held for two days, so I decided to cook only one tray of them this morning. Our friend Angie is here visiting, so I took orders for what kind of bagels people wanted. I could do this because I had ordered the King Arthur Everything Bagel topping mix. Once again, I made sure everything was on hand for the next step in the process:

One giant pot of boiling water, one oven preheated to 500(!) degrees, toppings to go on the wet bagels.

When I started boiling them, I was kind of disappointed with how flat they were.

I was careful to place them back on the tray with the same side up, because the bottoms were very flat. Then after sprinkling with toppings, into the oven they went.

12 minutes later, they came back out:

I couldn't believe how gorgeous they were! They had sprung beautifully in the oven, puffing up and browning perfectly:

Once they were marginally cooled, I sliced them and we slathered them with the cream cheese Ferrett and Angie had generously braved the snow to acquire. Ferrett was also a total sweetheart and bought my some lox (the best part is I don't have to share them because no one else likes them!) and I spooned a few capers into my sandwich:

These bagels were delicious! We all devoured them, moaning with flavor ecstasy the entire time. Our only complaint is that we are all still too full to eat the second ones.

Okay, well maybe Ferrett had one more complaint. He gently chided me that I've been baking too much bread lately. We've had some go stale simply because we had more of it than we could eat, and he suggested that maybe I should slow down a little.

I began to get defensive about this accusation, then I glanced at the counter, and took this picture:

The bowl next to the bagels? Not some dirty dishes needing to go into the dishwasher. No, that's a sourdough bread that I'd mixed up and was letting rest before I kneaded it. With another tray of bagels waiting in the basement, there's a chance that Ferrett might have a bit of a point.

Crossposting from Dreamwidth now. Sigh. If LJ won't let you comment, you can comment here: http://zoethe.dreamwidth.org/787766.html?mode=reply:

[User Picture]From: metachaos
2011-12-17 09:07 pm (UTC)
This looks so amazingly good.

I only skimmed the text (will definitely read later), but I'd share the lox with you.

I mean, if you'd be willing to share. I totally understand not wanting to.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-17 09:10 pm (UTC)
I would share. If I had to. ;-)
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[User Picture]From: cynic51
2011-12-17 09:49 pm (UTC)
>>So given my sad history with bagels - arguably the best bread of all
The best bread of all? It's not even the best Jewish soul food bread; Challah wins that contest more often than the Globetrotters beat the Generals.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-17 09:51 pm (UTC)
No bagels for you, dude.
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[User Picture]From: ba1126
2011-12-17 10:00 pm (UTC)
I love bagels! I'll have to get hubby to try making them!

You can always freeze bread if you really need to. Hubby often makes two loaves of bread at a time, and we freeze one for a few days until the first is near the end.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-18 03:41 am (UTC)
I should do that, true.
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[User Picture]From: tylik
2011-12-17 11:13 pm (UTC)

Excuse me, I think I'm going to move on to your front porch.

(BTW - I must commend to your attention bread salads. Bread puddings. Dressings. Mm.)

Edited at 2011-12-17 11:14 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-18 03:43 am (UTC)
L! Alas, I only have a stoop - one of the few regrets about this house.
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[User Picture]From: zarhooie
2011-12-17 11:25 pm (UTC)
I recommend bread pudding for stale bread. Contrary to popular opinion, you can make a savory bread pudding as well as sweet.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-18 03:50 am (UTC)
That's got to be a development in my cooking.
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[User Picture]From: inaurolillium
2011-12-17 11:57 pm (UTC)
No such thing. If you start having leftovers you can't eat, you dice it and freeze it and make bread pudding!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-18 03:51 am (UTC)
That's gonna be the future plan.
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[User Picture]From: tormentedartist
2011-12-18 12:23 am (UTC)
Those look so damn good !
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-18 03:52 am (UTC)
They are!
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From: anonymousalex
2011-12-18 01:53 am (UTC)
Wow, bagels. I'm sure some of the breads you made or will make will be more tricky, but coming out with a good bagel? That impresses me.

Also, did I understand you right that Ferrett doesn't eat lox? If that's true, all his east coast cred just went out the window with me. Philistine.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-18 03:54 am (UTC)
He doesn't like fish. I know a Hew York raised Jewish woman who doesn't like lox, either. It happens.

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[User Picture]From: merle_
2011-12-18 03:12 am (UTC)
Whoa. Not only does it look very tasty, it looks like you are doing an excellent juggling act between cooking, cleaning, and camera. Kudos.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-18 03:56 am (UTC)
The camera part is tough, but I am getting a bit better.
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[User Picture]From: carlamlee
2011-12-18 07:08 am (UTC)
So I know what I'm having for breakfast in the morning. With cream cheese and lox and god, those look amazing.

Also, I've been meaning to say how much I enjoy these posts of yours.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-18 12:51 pm (UTC)
Aww, thanks. Good to know people like them!

I have the other tray of bagels left to bake, so breakfast is on the agenda here, too!
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[User Picture]From: peterchayward
2011-12-18 11:16 am (UTC)
When you first said you were turning this into more of a food blog, I was worried that I would be bored. But your obvious passion for it and skilled writing have actually made these posts a highlight on my feed!

Thank you!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-18 12:52 pm (UTC)
Wow, thank you! That makes my day!
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[User Picture]From: pachamama
2011-12-20 01:38 pm (UTC)
Wow, gorgeous! And lox, cream cheese, capers... heaven! Sadly a heaven I'm forbidden on my low-salt diet, but I'm enjoying it vicariously. You go girl!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-20 02:29 pm (UTC)
I am very grateful that I don't have blood pressure issues and so don't have to worry about sodium!
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[User Picture]From: fitfool
2012-08-07 01:17 am (UTC)
Loving your Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge! You have me swooning over here looking at your bagels. My only complaint is the lack of a photo of the inside of the bagels. Just a tiny peek of the inside in one of the photos. Looks delicious. I'm tempted to go get that book out of the library and give that recipe a try. I had lined up several dishes that used up stale bread because I was running into the same problem. My boyfriend liked this one a lot: link. And I used a fair bit of stale bread up making this Breakfast Sausage Casserole though I don't think that one's very healthy. Love your bagels! Swooning, I say!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2012-08-07 01:28 am (UTC)
They are awesome! I made them again for a July 4 breakfast event and people were amazed that they were homemade.
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