Wednesday, November 22, 2006

And Bagel-bom

I've never really been much of a baker, but since last weekend I've been wanting to try my hand at making bagels. Our local PBS station has been rebroadcasting "Baking With Julia", and last weekend the focus of the show was how to make bagels from scratch; the only problem was that the website for the show doesn't have any recipes posted, so I sort of had to wing it. Thank the goddess for the invention that is the bread machine! And it has a DOUGH setting! Mahvelous! The resulting bagels were not the bread with a hole found at the grocery store, but neither were they the perfectly formed bagels you probably find at good bakeries. They were a little bit crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and had just the faintest hint of maple which complemented the sesame seeds I put on top. Yum. Okay. Now that I've tooted my own horn a bit, here's the recipe. If you have a bread machine, take advantage of the DOUGH setting to eliminate some of the labor; it's not really cheating... is it?

1.25 cups warm water
1 tbsp corn oil (or whatever vegetable oil you have on hand)
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1.5 tsp salt
3 cups unbleached bread flour
2.25 tsp yeast
cornmeal for the bottoms (will explain in a bit)
3 to 5 quarts boiling water
3 tbsp sugar (in the boiling water.. will explain in a bit)
1 egg white
sesame seeds (or poppy, or whatever you have on hand)
375 degree oven for 25 minutes on the middle rack

Set the machine to DOUGH, with either the 1.5 lb or 2 lb setting. Add liquid ingredients, sugar, and salt first; put the flour on top of the liquid and make a little well in the top of the pile for the yeast, then put the yeast. Start the machine and let it do all the kneading/rise cycle for you. It takes a little over an hour. I usually keep an eye on it in case I need to adjust things like adding a bit more water or more flour.
The dough will be a bit sticky after it finishes rising. Don't panic! It's supposed to be that way because its nature is to be a bit elastic. This would probably be a good place to turn on that pot of water with the 3 tbsp of sugar, and while you're at it, put a clean dish towel or something on a cookie sheet.Take the dough out and knead it with just a little bit of flour, then let it rest on a floured surface for about 15 minutes. Divide it into 9 sections (mine weren't all the same size, but who cares?) and begin tucking the corners under the bottom as if you were making dinner rolls. Poke a hole in the ball of dough with your finger and stretch the ring of dough until it looks almost ridiculously stretched, then put it on to rest on the cookie sheet -- it'll spring back a little because it's so elastic, so it'll look less scary and more like a bagel when it finishes relaxing. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees!
By now that pot of water should be boiling away. Drop one or two of the bagels into it; give them a minute on each side, then use a spatula or something to remove them to the towel to drain; repeat with all of the bagels. They'll still be a bit soft and might have some air bubbles come to the surface, but that's okay. Spread some corn meal on the baking surface and plop the poached bagels on it; this gives them a nice crust on the bottom while it's baking. Spray the cookie sheet with vegetable spray and put the bagels on it, corn meal side down. Okay.. if you don't want seedy bagels, you can stop here and bake the bagels on the middle oven rack at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.
If you DO want seedy bagels, take that egg white and use a pastry brush to paint the tops of the unbaked bagels. Sprinkle your seeds on top of the egg wash -- that keeps them from falling off -- and THEN bake them as described above.
Now.. why is there sugar in the water and what's the corn meal for? The sugar helps the outside of the bagel caramelize just a little bit as it's baking, making it turn just a little bit brown and making it a bit crunchy. The corn meal also helps keep the bagels from sticking to the baking sheet, even though you've sprayed it with vegetable stuff; it also provides a nice crunchy underside and texture for the bottom side of the bagel... no seeds there, remember?
Anyway.. after the bagels come out of the oven, let them sit for about half an hour or so before you dig in -- hot bread gives people... flatus... or so I've been told -- and then have your pals over for a bagel party.

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