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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.

Happy Tuesday!

Inspiration from The Happiness Project

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It’s not the typical book that I read, a sort of an upbeat self-improvement book. Ms Rubin tells the tale of her year-long quest to become happier. Her baseline was already pretty happy, but through a set of monthly resolutions, she becomes more mindful of habits and strategies for maximizing her daily happiness.

My own baseline is also pretty happy. Of course, I welcome extra happiness in my life. Yet, I’m not the kind of person who is remotely organized enough to set up, let alone follow through on, my own happiness project. Nevertheless, I found a lot of inspiration in this book.

Month by month, Ms Rubin found happiness in the little things. I embrace that wholeheartedly. I’ve always tried to fill my days with little things that make me happy. For example:

  • Reading in bed for 15 minutes when I first wake up
  • Starting the day with a cup of my favorite Earl Grey tea
  • Checking the garden for the tips of spring bulbs popping up (now that the snow melted!)
  • Taking my dog Bella for a walk in the woods
  • A steaming hot latte as an afternoon treat
  • Spotting a hawk soaring above
  • Falling asleep holding hands with my honey

Another thing the author mentions is being nicer. Since last week, I’ve been more conscious of trying to be nice to people, at home, at work, just out and around. It’s easier to do than I would have thought, and it’s a great mood lifter.

I am often overwhelmed by all the things I don’t have time to do. The author reminded me to try breaking things down into smaller tasks and attacking them as time allows. It’s only been a week, but five minutes spent here and there has yielded some progress.

If you want to check out more about The Happiness Project, you can check the website.

Lots of little food-related things make me happy. One is weekend breakfast. At our house, this is a weekly treat, sometimes on both Saturday and Sunday. With St Patrick’s Day last week and a 5-pound corned beef to work through, a natural choice for the weekend was some corned beef hash, topped with poached eggs. It’s not a fast breakfast, but we like weekend breakfast to be more leisurely. That includes the process of preparing the meal.

Corned Beef Hash
Serves 4
Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Russo & Sheila Lukins

2 boiling potatoes (about 1 lb), unpeeled, diced into ¼ inch pieces
4 Tbsp butter
½ green pepper, diced into ¼ inch pieces
½ red pepper, diced into ¼ inch pieces
1 onion, diced into ¼ inch pieces
¼ lb corned beef, diced into ¼ inch pieces
¼ cup + 1 Tbsp chopped Italian (flat) parsley, divided
1 tsp dried thyme
Salt & pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside in a large bowl. (You can do this the night before.)

Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a large skillet. Add the onions and peppers. Cook over medium heat until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add to the potatoes in the bowl. Add the diced corned beef, ¼ cup parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir gently to combine ingredients.

In the large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp butter with the olive oil. Add the hash and spread evenly in the skillet. Place a heavy lid or plate slightly smaller than the skillet on top of the hash, to weight it down. Cook over medium heat until it starts to brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and turn it over as best you can (it will remain loose). Cook the other side until it is slightly browned, about 5 more minutes.

Divide the hash onto plates. Top each portion with one or two poached eggs. Sprinkle with scallions and the remaining chopped parsley.

If you want to serve with poached eggs, cook the eggs during the last 5 minutes that the hash is cooking.