Sunday, November 10, 2013

Make Your Own Water Bagels

I spent about a year and a half of my time at college learning in the culinary arts. There were four units you could complete: front of the house (dining room service), back of the house (working in the kitchen), baking and pastry, and beverage service (usually wine and beer, etc). I decided that baking and pastry was my bread and butter *cough* and signed up for all the needed courses for the year and half to two years or so that it took to get the certificate.

Two classes were very memorable, both for the way I had to struggle in them, but also for the amount of knowledge and information I came away with after passing them. Both Production Baking and the Bread Making classes were hard slogs, but they provided me the opportunity to find my center, so to speak, in where I wanted to be (for a while, at least).

Now that I know I prefer a life of gardening, agriculture and self reliance, I no longer feel the desire to be an early morning bread baker rising at 3am to punch dough in the wee hours, but I did come away with some great recipes in the progress.

Back before I realized that I was gluten-intolerant, I loved a good bagel. Plain with cream cheese, with cream cheese, smoked salmon and avocado, with cream cheese and potato chips (yes, I went there), cinnamon and raisin bagels or blueberry bagels slathered with butter and served piping hot, chocolate bagels, herbed bagels.

I liked them because they were chewy, and had a flavor and texture that differed from regular bread, or English muffins. You had so many options to choose from, both when making the bagels and when using them for meals.

The bagel was invented in Poland as a food for Lent, and then remained a staple in the Polish diet (and the Slavic diet in general) for the 16th and early 17th century. They were popular with the Jewish community, and were brought to the United States by immigrant Polish Jews. Bagels were traditionally made by hand, and they used to be displayed in shop windows, freshly baked, threaded on vertical wooden dowels almost a meter in length.

The particularly toothsome texture of a traditional water bagel is achieved by poaching the slightly risen rings of dough in hot water into order to par cook the dough. They are allowed to drain until tacky, before they are loaded on pans and baked until golden. High gluten bread flours are preferred to achieve the right texture, and recipes usually call for a sweetener, such as malt, honey or sugar. Eggs, milk or butter can also be used, and they can be made with either commercial yeast or a sourdough starter. Traditionally, bagels are poached in hot water, but commercial production has introduced the the steaming method instead. The steamed bagels are considered inferior by bagel purists.

Bagels now comes in all shapes and sizes, toppings, textures and preparation and cooking techniques. They are popular across the world, with every region sporting it's own unique take on this tasty bread.

If you are a bagel enthusiast, and you are anxious to try a new recipe, give this version a spin and have fun making your very own version of water bagels.

Water Bagels

3 1/4 tsp dry yeast
1 1/2 c warm water
1 T sugar
2 tsp malt powder (or liquid malt) (or you can use honey)
1 T vegetable oil or melted butter
3-4 c bread flour (although I find all-purpose works just fine)
1 T kosher salt or sea salt

Cornmeal for sprinkling on the baking sheets
Your choice of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, coarse salt or dried herbs for sprinkling on bagels

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water in a large bowl, and give it a few minutes to activate (it will get foamy on top of the water). Add the sugar, malt (or honey) and oil. Stir in 2 cups of the flour, then add the salt. Stir in about 1 1/2 cups more flour, or enough to make a soft dough.

2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead, gradually incorporating more flour, until the dough is smooth and quite firm, 10-12 minutes.

3. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10-15 minutes.

4. Divide the dough into 12 pieces for large bagels, and 16 pieces for mini bagels. Roll each piece into a rope (10 inches long for big bagels, and about 5-6 inches long for mini bagels). Form bagels by overlapping the ends by 1 inch. Pinch together firmly. Set the bagels aside, uncovered, to rise until slightly puffy, about 20 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 450F. Sprinkle a copious bed of cornmeal onto two half sheet pans (or cookies sheets).

6. Bring water to boil in a pot large enough to poach several bagels at once. You can add 2 tablespoons malt and 1 teaspoon of salt to the water, but I don't think that's necessary. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.

7. Slip several risen bagels at a time into the pot. Cook for 45 seconds, turn them over with a slotted spoon or tongs and cook for 45 more seconds. Drain the boiled bagels on a clean dish towel and immediately sprinkle with any toppings of seeds, salt or herbs.

8. Transfer bagels to conrmeal-dusted baking sheets.

9. Place the bagels in the oven, reduce heat to 425F and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the bagels over and bake for about 5 more minutes, or until golden brown.

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