Few things are more rewarding than being able to have something you made from scratch with your very own hands, and to have turn out better than if you’d gone out and just bought it.
This is the feeling I had this morning when eating a bagel I’d made. It wasn’t just that I’d made it, it was that it was far better than any other bagel I’d ever had, ever.
Bagels turn out to be the best or easiest type of bread to prepare for the weekend. I started by making a sponge around 4:30 yesterday afternoon. It took about two (mine took two and a half) hours to ferment at room temp, which I’d timed so that we’d be done with dinner and Nate would be in bed before I needed to do anything else to it. At 7:00 I added more flour, yeast, salt and honey (I couldn’t find malt powder) to the sponge and kneaded for 10 or so minutes, scaled the dough to 4.5 ounces, shaped and then let proof at room temp for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes I did the “dunk” test in which a bagel dropped in water should float within 10 seconds. Mine failed and sunk like a lead weight, so I added 20 more minutes to the timer and heated the room up a bit, then went back to watching tv. After the additional 20 minutes and an episode of The Office, my bagel passed with flying colors, so I was able to put them in the fridge to retard them, a term which refers to slowing the rate at which yeast do their business by placing them in a retarder – in this case my refrigerator (cooler temperatures slow the rate at which yeast do their work, since they prefer a pretty warm, but not too hot nor too cold a climate). Retarding also has an effect on the flavor that’s extracted from the flour because it takes longer to achieve enough rise in the dough (Reinhart even suggest that you cannot have a good bagel without retarding the dough overnight).
The other great thing about retarding the dough is that it will hang out for up to two days in the fridge, which means that if you make your dough on a Friday – like I did – then you have fresh bagels for Saturday and Sunday mornings!
So, this morning we woke up, brought a pot of water to a boil and heated the oven to 500. Once the water came to a boil, I should have dumped 1 tbsp of baking soda in, but in my excitement I forgot and dumped in the three bagels. Not to worry though, a minute in and I’d remembered my error. In his instructions Reinhart says that if you want a chewier bagel then add another minute to the boiling time for each side. Why have a bagel that isn’t chewy? So I added another minute to each side, then gently scooped them out of the water, sprinkled with salt and sesame seeds and placed in the oven. 10 minutes later and a reduction of temp to 450 after five of those minutes, and we had bagels, except we had to wait for 10 or so minutes for them to cool.
When I eventually did bite into my bagel, I noticed that it had an excellent crust, something that’s clearly missing from most commercially made bagels. Wanting to understand the process of boiling bagels prior to baking them, I pulled out my trusty copy of On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and came to a fuller if not still incomplete understanding.
It would seem that most commercially produced bagels these days are initially cooked with steam versus being dunked into boiling water like I had done (and like Reinhart instructs). And it is steaming bagels that results in the lack of a crust, and is one large reason the bagel I ate this morning was considerably better than any other in my life (that is until tomorrow morning).
We ate our bagels with several different accoutrements – St. Andres cheese, regular old vegetable cream cheese, salted Irish butter, and Nate enjoyed his with some peanut butter.