As many a foodblogger will tell you, blogging about food ain’t easy. Behind the scenes of every published post lie a slew of preparatory stages, from selecting a recipe, to making the dish, to photographing it. Things get even more complex if you’re adapting said recipe or, better yet, creating one of your own. Yet above each of these challenges one task reigns supreme: photographing the finished product before interested parties can get their hands on – or their mouths around – it. Usually I’m fairly successful in this, snapping a few pictures as everyone seats themselves at the table or waits expectantly, just beyond the camera’s view. But this past weekend, as the featured image will attest, I failed. I cut the bagel, spread the cream cheese with flair, then went to fetch my camera. And in those brief moments, like a scene from Marty Stouffer’s “Wild America,” my husband sprung from the couch and attacked the bagel, chomping into it with a grin of feline satisfaction. I returned just as the second bite was descending, causing him to pause, mouth open, bagel ready, as I asked: “What on earth are you doing? I haven’t taken a photo yet!” A few moments of silence ensued as the bagel was slowly placed back on its plate. “Oh. Sorry. I… I couldn’t resist the siren call of the bagel!”
Being a just wife who understands the powerful allure of homemade goodies, I generously forgave him. However, I will confess that my magnanimity was helped in no small measure by the fact that I’d made a dozen bagels and, therefore, had several backups in the kitchen. I would have gotten over it even if this hadn’t been the case – but the backup bagels helped.
Making bagels is perhaps my biggest Jewish baking thrill since I made that first loaf of challah a year and a half ago. Like many Americans I grew up eating bagels, and when I lived in Brooklyn during graduate school I loved to visit the bagel bakery down the street on my way to classes. The bagels from this tiny, family-owned bakery were so satisfying that some twenty people were often waiting in line for them by 7:30AM, but no matter. Especially during the depths of winter, there was nothing like holding a warm bagel in one hand, hot coffee in the other, as I made my way to that first, unbearably early class. When we moved to Connecticut two years ago that was the last I saw of freshly baked bagels, hence my delight at having recreated the experience in my own kitchen. Yet in addition to this I got such a kick out of making something that was so traditionally Jewish. Can you blame me?
The Jewish-Bagel connection is a somewhat convoluted one, with the most popular bagel myth attributing their creation to a Jewish baker living in 1683 Vienna. According to folklore, this unnamed man invented the bagel as a tribute to King John III Sobieski of Poland, who had saved the city from Turkish invaders with a daring cavalry charge. Some have taken this ‘fact’ to mean that bagels were originally U shaped like stirrups. However, other food historians have argued that the Yiddish word ‘beygal’ has been traced to 17th century Crackow, and that as early as 1610 bagels were given as gifts to women in childbirth, or to midwives. These bagels were circular like our modern version and the shape was thought to symbolize the eternal cycle of life, which has no beginning and no end. Whatever their origin, what we do know for certain is that bagels were brought to North America by Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants in the late 1800′s where they quickly gained popularity in New York City. Yet the bagel appreciation that is so much a part of American culture today didn’t begin to take shape until the 1950′s, when Lender’s began selling bagels to supermarkets. Hard to believe America’s love affair with bagels and cream cheese is only some fifty odd years old, but there it is!
This was the first time I’ve made bagels and I loved how they turned out: with thin, crisp crusts and fluffy interiors. I plan to make another batch as soon as I return from the Conference I’m currently attending in Vermont. Next time, however, I think I’ll venture into the realm of cinnamon raisin bagels… or maybe sesame seed bagels. Hmmm. What is your favorite kind of bagel?
Poppy Seed Bagels
Reprinted with permission from Secrets of a Jewish Baker: Recipes for 125 Breads from Around the World, by George Greenstein.
Ingredients: Makes 12 bagels
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 heaping teaspoon active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons malt syrup or sugar (I used sugar)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil)
- 6 to 8 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose flour because that’s all I had on hand and I really wanted to make bagels!)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Poppy seeds. (You could also use sesame seeds, coarse salt, minced onion flakes, or chopped garlic for topping.)
In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and allow a few minutes to soften. Add 2 tablespoons of the malt syrup or sugar, the oil, 6 cups of the flour, and the salt. Mix thoroughly until the dough forms up and comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead, adding small amounts of flour 1/4 cup at a time as necessary. Bagel dough should be stiff. Work in as much extra flour as you can comfortably knead. The dough will soften slightly as the gluten develops. Knead until smooth and elastic (12 to 15 minutes).
Rising: Roll the dough into a ball, place in a large oiled bowl (grease the bowl with 1 tsp of oil), and turn to coat. Cover loosely with saran wrap and let rise fully, until an impression made with your finger remains and does not sink into the dough. About 1 hour. (Mine rose for 1 1/2 hours).
Shaping: Punch down, cut into thirds, and roll each piece into a rope between your palms. Cut each rope into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope 2 inches longer than the width of your hand. Flip the rope around your fingers to form a ring, with the ends overlapping about 1/2 inch. Seal the ends by rolling your palms on the work surface. If the dough slides and resists rolling, dab on a drop of water with your fingers. Evenly space the bagels on 2 nonstick baking pans or very lightly oiled baking sheets (Greenstein applies a thin film of oil with his fingers, I used parchment paper instead). Cover and let stand until puffy, 10 to 20 minutes.
Boiling: Bagels are boiled before they are baked. While they are proofing, fill a 4-quart pan two-thirds full with water, add the 1 remaining tablespoon of malt syrup or sugar, and bring to a boil. Spread whichever toppings you desire in individual plates or pans.
Carefully lower 2 or 3 bagels at a time into the boiling water and wait until they rise to the top. If they float, cook for about 1 minute on each side, turning once. If they have proofed too long, they will float instead of sinking, but this won’t affect the final product.
Carefully lift out each bagel with a slotted spoon or skimmer. Drain momentarily, then turn into one of the dishes of toppings, if desired. Flip over if you prefer both sides to be covered. You may prefer to leave some plain. Evenly space 6 bagels on each baking sheet, topping side up. Save about 3 cups of the boiling water, see below.
Baking: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Bake with steam by placing an oven safe dish half-filled with the reserved water on the bottom rack of the oven. Place the baking sheets on the middle or top rack, then bake, turning once when the tops begin to brown, until well browned on both sides. About 15 to 20 minutes.
To make these bagels with a stand mixer: In the mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and allow a few minutes to soften. add 2 tablespoons of the malt syrup or sugar, the oil, 6 cups of the flour, and the salt. Using the flat attachment pulse with the on/off switch until the flour is incorporated enough that it won’t be thrown out of the bowl, then mix at first speed until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. More flour can be added 1/4 cup at a time.
Remove the flat attachment, scrape down the sides of the bowl and attach the dough hook. Run at first speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 12 to 15 minutes. Bagel dough should be stiff. Add flour cautiously, and do not exceed the capacity of the machine. Because the dough is so stiff, it is especially important not to leave the mixer running while unattended. The dough will soften slightly as the gluten develops. Proceed as instructed in the rising, shaping, boiling and baking sections above.