Week Three: Breakfast Breads
Oh, the bagel. Where would our nation-wide breakfast buffets be without you? Sliced in half, arranged in neat rows between the heavy-yet-somehow-insubstantial blueberry muffins and the icing-coated flat danishes of various coagulated fillings. If you’re lucky, there may be a toaster conveniently nearby, maybe next to the iced-down bowls of single-serving cream cheese and the always inadequate plastic knives. Even if they’ve gone a bit stale, you’re still best off with the bagel. This is part of the reason I don’t like breakfast buffets. (The other part: they’re so early!)
The name bagel is from the Yiddish word “beygl”, from Old High German “boug”, which means “ring”. Once a firm stalwart only of the New York (and surrounding areas, why not) culinary scene, bagel emporiums have sprung up across the nation. You can find not only good bagels, but great bagels in just about every large American city. This emigration from NYC occurred in the 60’s, when a bagel mass-production machine was finally perfected by Daniel Thompson. Coupled with Harry Lender’s new frozen bagel business, they took America by storm.
You may, however notice a difference between these mass-produced, frozen bagels and the ones produced at your local bagelry. The frozen ones are softer, and lack the characteristic chewy crust. This is because mass-produced bagels are steamed, not boiled, before baking. Heresy! Heresy, I say! Some bagel company or another used as its slogan the phrase: “If it ain’t boiled, it’s just a roll with a hole.” And boy, is that ever true. Boiling the doughnut-shaped dough isn’t just for kicks, it “reduces starch, which, in combination with the high-gluten flour and absence of fat, gives bagels their characteristic chewy texture”, says Bo Friberg, author of our recipe. It also gives bagels that wonderful glossy sheen, often enhanced with an egg wash before baking. New York style bagels are boiled in plain water, whereas Montreal style bagels are boiled in water sweetened with honey or sugar, and usually contain egg. Today’s recipe is a blend of the two: no egg in the dough, and boiled in sweet water. Bagels also often contain malt, but I didn’t have any, so I had to find a recipe that didn’t use it. Apologies for historical inaccuracy. But, then, if we’re getting into technicalities, you don’t actually boil the dough; you poach it. So there.
But no matter how you boil it, steam it, or slice it, bagels are now just about as American as apple pie. Try having a bagel-making brunch party: make the dough the night before, stick in the refrigerator overnight, and let people shape and top their own the next day. The recipe will double if you want people to take leftovers as a party favor. Set out bowls of cream cheese (at least reduced-fat, please – that nonfat rubbery stuff would be an affront to your hard work) and butter, get someone to bring smoked salmon and champagne for mimosas, and have a blast! Can you even imagine a better way to spend a cold winter’s Sunday?
Makes 16 bagels
From The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg
1/2 ounce active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 ounce sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 pounds 2 ounces bread flour
Poaching liquid (recipe follows)
Poppy, sesame, or caraway seeds, kosher salt, or chopped onion (see note)
1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Mixing with the dough hook, add the honey, sugar, salt, and enough of the flour to make a stiff, smooth dough.
2. Cover tightly to prevent a skin from forming, then let the dough rest in a warm place for about an hour.
3. Punch down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces, approximately 1 pound 2 ounces each. Roll each piece into an 8-inch rope. Do not use any flour while forming the ropes. The dough should be stiff and elastic enough to form without flour.
4. Cut 6 equal pieces from each rope. Form and roll each of the smaller pieces into ropes about 9 inches long. Overlap the ends of the ropes about 1/2 inch and press them together firmly against the table, rocking the dough back and forth with your palm to seal the edges together. Try to make the rings a uniform thickness throughout.
5. Place the bagels on a sheet pan lined with cloth; canvas is ideal. Let the bagels rise until they have slightly less than doubled in volume.
6. Bring the poaching liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, then carefully drop the bagels into the liquid and poach for about 2 minutes. They will sink in the liquid and then slowly rise to the surface. Once the bagels float to the top, remove them with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Place them 1 1/2 inches apart on sheet pans lined with baking paper. If desired, brush with egg wash and top with poppy, sesame, or caraway seeds; kosher salt; or chopped onion.
7. Bake at 450 degrees F until the bagels are light brown, approximately 12 minutes. Flip the bagels over and continue baking about 10 minutes longer, until baked through and browned on the second side.
Poaching Liquid for Bagels
1 gallon water
1 1/2 cups or 1 pound 2 ounces honey
1. Combine the water and honey in a large pan and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat to a simmer to use for poaching.
1. I found it easiest to seal the edges together with a few drops of water, when forming the rings.
2. I mistakenly added way too much yeast, which meant that while I was shaping the bagels, and boiling the water, they overproofed. Long story short, they didn’t sink in the water (too much air in the dough) when poaching. But I flipped them over after 1 minute on each side, and they came out just fine.
3. I proofed my bagels on parchment, not cloth. It worked beautifully.
4. An egg wash is just a little egg (white, yolk, or both), beaten with a little water to thin it out.
5. From Bo Friberg, about the onion topping: Chop the onion finely, blanch in boiling water for about 1 minute, then pat dry with paper towels before topping bagel.
6. As a variation, you can replace 1/3 of the flour with whole-wheat or rye flour. I used whole-wheat, and ended up with a little extra flour left over. Caraway seeds would be a perfect topping if you use rye flour.
7. It does get a little tricky to shape the dough into rings as specified in the recipe, so if you have problems with it, it’s perfectly fine to shape the pieces into little balls, then poke holes through the middles. Just know that the crust won’t come out quite as smooth, nor will it be very thick.
8. For the poaching liquid, I didn’t have that much honey. Who does? And I didn’t measure the amount of water, but I just filled up my biggest stockpot, and added about 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar. They turned out a little sweet in the crust, but not unpleasantly so. Next time, I might reduce the amount of sugar a bit, or even just use plain water. And yes, you do need about that much water. Otherwise, the bagels waiting their turn will overproof. You can store and re-use it if you think you’ll be making that many bagels; in which case, I’m coming over for breakfast.