Sunday, July 26, 2009

Happy Birthday America, have some bagels.

The fourth of July here this year was miserable. It was cloudy and rainy all day, which left me in no mood to go to a picnic or barbeque. I figured it was a great day to do some cooking, I just wasn't sure what. I have been doing some major food blog browsing in the recent weeks and I came across the same recipe and rave reviews in more than one of said blogs and decided I needed to try it. Only one problem. It was a recipe for bagels.

Although I have watched multitudes of celebrity chefs, not to mention my Mom, bake all kinds of breads and mix up all kinds of doughs on the food network, (this was way back in the day when I had cable tv and tio...okay it was only a month ago, but it feels like decades) I have never actually done this myself. Somehow I got it into my head that it would be a great idea to skip regular sandwich bread, or artisan bread, or french bread and just jump straight into the two day long process of making fresh, chewy, new york style bagels.

No kitchenaid mixer, just me, my big beefy arm muscles (ha!), a Saturday afternoon, and a giant ball of bagel dough.

After reading one of my favorite blogs, the Smitten Kitchen, I decided to use Peter Reinhart's Bagel recipe. It seemed basic enough, and the author of Smitten Kitchen laid out some pretty detailed instructions to go along with the recipe. So I laid out my battle scene and away I went.

After two trips to Dominick's, and one to Whole Foods, I was fully equipped with the right kind of flour mixture (or close enough), yeast, and last but not least: malt syrup, of which now I have an entire jar and will have to find something else to make with it.

I started this crazy process on a Saturday early afternoon, and by noon on Sunday I had fresh bagels.

Peter Reinhart’s Bagels
Adpated from The Bread Bakers Apprentice - My notes in green

So the recipe says that it makes 12 bagels, but I ended up with about 35 baby ones. They are perfect size for a light breakfast and don't leave you wanting a nap ten minutes later.

1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I could not find bread flour, let alone high gluten bread flour, but I did find Vital Wheat Gluten Flour which I swapped one tablespoon of all purpose flour for the vital wheat gluten PER CUP of flour. So I ended up with 4 tablespoons of vital wheat gluten and 4 cups minus 4 Tablespoons of All Purpose flour)
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)

To Finish
1 tablespoon baking soda
Cornmeal for dusting baking sheets

I made plain, sesame seed, and salt bagels, but you can try garlic, onions, poppy seeds, parmesan cheese, herbs, or whatever else floats your boat.

1. Day 1: 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 - mine did not fall, and it wasn't super foamy or bubbly... but they still worked out just fine. During this wait period I decided it would be a good idea to make fresh pasta, that will be the subject of another post, though I would recommend just relaxing instead of tiring out my arm muscles kneading the pasta, before trying to tackle the bagel dough. But that's just me.

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 - again, mine did not go quite so smoothly, I had to skip to the next step way before I was able to incorporate the 3/4 cup of flour in the bowl. Its okay, you can just work it in as you are kneading.

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. Form the pieces into rolls - I pretty much just kept cutting the dough in half until the pieces looked like a good size.

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 (I used sil-pats, but parchment works as well) and mist lightly with spray oil. Poke a hole in each 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.)

7. Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pans. Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and 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. Day 2: 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. 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 . While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. If you want to top the bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water.

11. When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5-7 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. 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 - Mine took quite a bit longer, almost 15-17 minutes to cook through, judge by look and if you need to, you can apply the same culinary expert trick that I used on my burgers: cut one open and see if its done.

12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving - or very carefully cut one open while its steaming hot and enjoy. I have no patience.

And after two longs days, PRESTO you have bagels. They are delicious, chewy, moist and were way cheaper than buying 35 bagels at Einstein's. I froze most of mine, and when I am in need of some yummy carbs, I pop one in the microwave for 20 seconds and then into the toaster. Try it sometime, I promise its worth it, even though everyone I told that I made bagels thinks I am crazy. But I am okay with that.

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