tuesdays with dorie / baking with julia: bagels
Oh, memories of the bagels of my childhood! The big event of every Sunday morning was to be the lucky one to take a ride with my dad in his convertible, top down when weather permitted, to the BagelMaster in Wheaton, Maryland. We waited in line and ordered our selection. Then, my dad allowed the one exception to his otherwise inviolable rule about eating in a car, which applied not only to his convertible but even to the family station wagon. On the ride home, you could eat a bagel, but only if that bagel was hot. If the bagel wasn’t hot out of the bakery’s oven, no eating allowed. Best of all was when the hot bagel was a salt bagel!
Over the past couple of decades, “real” bagels have become a distant memory. In the olden days, bagel flavors were limited to plain, seeded (poppy or sesame), pumpernickel, garlic, onion, salt, or egg. There was no such thing as a blueberry bagel, cinnamon raisin, or anything that made a bagel resemble a baked donut.With bagels’ popularity has come a serious decline in their quality. Most bagels I find now are simply “rolls with holes”, puffy and soft, not at all crusty. The Montreal-style bagels from Iggy’s are acceptable, but still not quite the ideal I’m always searching for.
When I saw that the crowd for Tuesdays with Dorie / Baking with Julia was making bagels this week, I knew I had to try it out for myself. How would Lauren Groveman’s recipe for homemade bagels compare to the ones in my memory? Or would they be like the ones from the supermarket that I disdain?
The recipe was imposing, taking up several pages to explain the steps. There was the usual mixing, kneading, and rising as for any bread, but what makes a bagel a bagel is the shape and the boiling before the baking.
The ingredient list caused me a little bit of angst as it called for a few tablespoons of vegetable shortening. I asked the other bakers about substitutions. Butter seemed acceptable, but someone mentioned that she’d seen recipes without any added fat. I did my own search through various cookbooks, and, in the end, just left it out, without any substitute.
I used my stand mixer to mix and knead because it’s so easy to do. I added the full 6 cups of bread flour. The dough was still soft and sticky, though also seemed smooth and elastic. I decided not to add more, but I think I should have. The dough was very sticky, and the liberal flour on my hands ended up adding more flour to the dough anyway. The dough rose once, and then went into the refrigerator overnight to rise again. The second rise resulted in a lofty rise with a few big air bubbles on the surface.
Bagels were made in two batches, I assume because it’s best to bake only one sheet at a time. First, you form the dough into bagels. The hole is supposed to be extra big because it shrinks as it boils and bakes. Though I had a huge hole in my hands, it seemed to shrink immediately when I placed the shaped dough on the baking sheet. It deformed again when I transferred each bagel into the pot of boiling water. I’m not sure whether this was something I need to practice, or whether it was because the dough was a little too soft.
The bagels were boiled on both sides, then brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with toppings. The bagels are baked in a very hot oven, with ice cubes thrown on the oven floor to create steam.
I made a few different varieties. The first batch was seeded. I used an artisan seed mix from King Arthur with poppy, sesame, caraway, flax, and sunflower seeds. The first batch of bagels had topping on both sides because I mixed the seeds with the cornmeal when dusting the baking sheet, so seeds stuck to the bottom too. For the second batch, I topped half of them with rehydrated garlic chips and the other half with kosher salt.
Verdict? These bagels put a big smile on my face! They had the remembered crust and were appropriately chewy. They were great hot and also good toasted. I thought they were pretty close to what I remembered. Husband Howard says they aren’t quite what he remembers from his New Jersey childhood, but closer than most of what we get today. I used bread flour, but I wonder whether high-gluten flour would bring it even closer to what used to be, so I’ll try that in the future.
The homemade bagels were worth the effort, and I would make them again. The steps are less work in execution than they seemed on the page. Because of the overnight rise, I could make hot bagels for a weekend breakfast by getting up an hour earlier than usual.
If you want to make these yourself, this week’s host, Heather of Heather’s Bites, shares the recipe in her post. The recipe can also be found in Dorie Greenspan’s book, written with Julia Child, Baking with Julia.
And to see how the other bakers made out, you can follow their links here to read all about it.