2 weeks ago
Sunday, June 14, 2009
It is no exaggeration to say that I was probably more excited to make bagels out of the Bread Baker's Apprentice than I've ever been to make anything ever. More excited that the Cover Cake? More excited than sticky buns? Yes, because I know that somewhere in my town, I can find great chocolate cake and fabulous sticky buns even if I choose to never make them again. But I know that I can't find a truly great water bagel. [NOTE to my local friends: please correct me if there are in fact great bagels to be had here in town. I currently go to Panera when I want a bagel.]
When I think of great bagels, I think of New York style water bagels, like the kind I used to get at H&H Bagels when I lived in New York, or at Bodo's Bagels when I lived in Charlottesville. In fact, I still wear my threadbare Bodo's t-shirt to bed at least three nights a week - that's how devoted I am to the water bagel. Hubs and I ate at Bodo's so much when we were in school that to this day when I walk in there, muscle memory takes over and "my sandwich" (smoked turkey on everything with provolone and lettuce heated) rolls off my tongue as soon as the guy at the counter asks for my order.
So given how much I love water bagels, and how frustrated I've been by my inability to find them locally, I was prepared to do whatever it took to make my own at home. Even if it meant braving an 8 page recipe and mail-ordering specialty flour. You know you've crossed some kind of invisible sanity line when your doorbell rings and you run to the front door singing "it's my high-gluten flour!"
The bagels start out with a sponge made from yeast, high-gluten flour and water. Mix it all together in a bowl and let it sit for a couple of hours until it's foamy and bubbly, doubles in size and "collapses" when the bowl is tapped on the countertop. To me "collapse" is a pretty dramatic word, much more so than "recede," which is what my sponge did. Fortunately, several of us were making the bagels "together" via Twitter, so I got instant reassurance that receding was probably good enough. Once the sponge is ready, add more yeast, more flour, salt, and malt powder.
It became clear pretty quickly that my Kitchen Aid was not going to handle this thick, heavy dough, so I had to knead it by hand. It was my first time hand kneading, I think, and while I don't have anything to compare it to, this seemed like a nice dough to handle. Once it passed the windowpane test and the temperature test, Elizabeth and I began dividing the dough.
Peter Reinhart recommends 4.5 oz bagels, but several people said they were enormous, and having just dealt with huge bread last time, I decided to go with a more manageable 3.5 ounce size. They seemed perfect to me.
After the bagels are shaped, rest for 20 minutes, and pass the "float test," they get refrigerated overnight.
I woke up like a kid on Christmas on bagel baking day. I brought a huge pot of water (with baking soda in it) to a boil and started boiling the bagels, one to two minutes per side:
Then baked them:
The verdict? There is plenty of room for improvement in my bagelmaking. My bagels were on the flat side, and I don't know why. They were also on the outer limits of the acceptably chewy spectrum - I'd probably limit boiling to one minute per side next time to achieve optimal chewiness. But oh. my. gosh. This is it! This is the bagel that I crave but cannot buy here, the bagel that I thought I would only get to experience every 10 years at class reunions. I never in a million years would have thought that I could make these at home. I'm still sort of in shock.
Now, I got the feeling that I liked these more than anyone else who tried them. That could be just because I just like chewy water bagels more than most people, or because I'm so utterly bagel-deprived, or because I sweated these bagels for two days. But in any event, I loved them, and I plan to work these into my baking schedule at least once every couple of months.
Bagels are the third recipe in Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice, which a couple of hundred of us are baking through as part of the BBA Challenge. Next up: brioche!