24 March 2011

Bagels Are Surprisingly Easy (An Ode)

Just sayin. Also, as the recipe was straight from a book and I don't feel completely comfortable just pasting that recipe here, this post will be more opining and bagel porn than anything else. Hopefully you've eaten recently, or you may find yourself getting very hungry. For reference, I cooked the bagels from my go-to bread book.
Just a disclaimer: I've never been to New York. I spent a few hours in the Newark airport for a layover. I've only had fresh-ish direct-from-New York bagels once in my life. But I did have the great luck to live near a monument to all that is crisp and moist and bagel-y in life, for the short time it was open - Roland's Bagels. I still have cravings for this place and it has been closed for over a year now. But nothing, and I mean nothing, can come close to it. I have, truthfully, had a dream about those bagels. Not a metaphorical dream, but a real one from which I awakened to realize my cravings could not be satisfied.
A good bagel is crisp and a brown on the outside and chewy on the inside. You don't toast them, because they are still warm from the oven. Maybe you put cream cheese on it but its really quite optional. The toppings are sparse - some poppy or sesame, maybe some sea salt, maybe a little bit of flavor inside (like olive, or pumpernickel dough). Definitely not one of those "everything" abominations. Preferably not onion, unless its a few days old and toasted. But, really, if its a few days old and toasted its not worth dreaming about. It is merely an object for conveying cream cheese into ones mouth, and an inferior one at that. I may be something of a bagel elitist, thinking on this now.
Also, there is a secret ingredient, at least one that I was unaware of. Barley malt syrup is a few things - somewhat hard to find (check bulk food stores or home brewing supply shops), delightful in odor, and a horrible substance that has the stickiness of maple syrup and the thickness of... well, barley malt syrup. Maybe melted sugar as it begins to thicken would be a good approximation. It is stringy and sticky and doesn't flow, until you've taken a spoonful of it and are waiting for the dripping tendril to stop dripping so you don't track it over the counter. Heres a tip: it won't. Cut your losses, twirl that spoon, and hope for the best.
Here the bagels boil after shaping. In the liquid are the three things pictured above - a dash of salt, some baking soda, and a spoonful of barely malt. Its a fun process - you drop them in. After 10 seconds or so, they bob to the top, merrily floating in liquid. You let them swim for a while, on both sides. Then you take them out and coat them in your toppings of choice. Then they bake. Simple. Delicious. There is a moment I haven't mentioned, when you've dropped them in but before they have bobbed to the surface. It is then you begin worrying - will they float? Have a I failed? Is it stuck to the bottom? Put your neuroses aside for a moment and let the bagels grow. Or poke them with a spoon because, yeah, one of them was stuck to the bottom.
The shaping was fun. I made one the "easy" way, by making a ball and working a hole through it. It sucked, don't do it. The rest I made the "real" way, according to my book, by rolling out a bagel's worth of dough and tapering both ends. One then wraps the cylinder around the palm of a hand, making sure the tapered ends meet in the palm and not on the back. And you roll on a dry surface, bagel wrapped around the hand, slowly working sideways so the entire circumference of the bagel has spent some time under the palm getting shaped.
These bagels were delicious, the second best I've ever had. I'm beginning to doubt anything will ever top Roland's, but these will do in his absence. And they are quick. 10 minutes of mixing dough, an hour of resting, a bit of shaping, fridge over night. In the morning another hour of resting, a quick 2 minute bath, and 15 or so minutes in the oven. I woke up at 7 and was in the office with warm bagels by 9. I was the hero of the moment.

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