Recently I’ve received some requests (okay, one request) to blog about my favorite soapbox topic . . . organic gardening/food. I’ll save the gardening for another day, though. My significant other has decided to plant wine and table grapes in our yard and, if you have ever seen a real grape operation, you’d know that they are planted on high, industrial-looking trellises. Not so pretty when you live on 1/3 of an acre in a sidewalk neighborhood. I’m still trying to pretend the monstrosities are not in my front yard. Amazing what denial can do. So I can’t talk about the gardening right now
So, instead I thought I’d write about bagels.
Yes, those little cousins to the sweeter, smoother bakery treat, the donut. Who in the U.S. has not had a bagel? If you’re lucky, you’ve had a true, wait-in-line-and-get-confused-by-all-the-options NYC bagel. But if not, if all you’ve been privy to are the somewhat bland renditions available at supermarket chains and certain coffee shops, that’s okay – once you’ve piled them with cream cheese, lox, butter, pick your poison, they’re pretty decent, too.
So why am I writing about bagels?
Because that same significant other and I recently realized we could make our own bagels. And guess what? They’re so much better. And organic. And, unlike many of their purchased counterparts, low in sodium and free of preservatives. And the whole family can join in the fun. Seriously, who knew?
I’d love to take credit for the discovery but, alas, it’s all Ben. To me, bagels may as well have grown on trees. Those yummy South Beach-unfriendly balls of carbs seemed as difficult to make from scratch as say, a toaster. But with his typical dogged cat-ness, Ben tried a few recipes until he mastered one that produced something with just the right amount of flavor, internal softness and chewy crust. Lovely.
That’s not to say he makes them alone. Bagel-making has become a rainy Sunday afternoon (East Coast anyone?) family adventure. This past Sunday, we made sesame, oat and cinnamon raisin bagels.
During this process, I'm given three jobs:
1. Come up with flavor ideas.
2. Help to make the rings of dough.
3. Brush the boiled bagels with egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds or oats.
Ben is a bit of a micromanager when it comes to bagel making, but he’s learning to let go. Sometimes I’m told that my rings of dough are too flat, skinny, have too much hole, not enough hole, etc. But that’s okay – after 20 years of marriage, I have become as adept at tuning him out as he is at not listening to me (learned from the best!). (Did I mention the marital therapy aspects of bagel making?) The kids help, too – though taste testing is their favorite part of the process. We shoot for about two dozen at a time. After they cool, they can be sliced and frozen. They’re just as good (okay, almost as good) defrosted and toasted.
It was an awakening to realize we could make something so basic ourselves. We, as members of a busy, fast-paced society, are obsessed with the end result. Spend $12 at Whole Foods and we’d have ourselves a dozen decent bagels with no mess or hassle. But, as with many things, we’ve come to see that the process is just as important as the end result. Bagel-making slowed things down. As a family, we get to enjoy something that we made. The bagels taste better, the kids think it’s cool, and, frankly, the time spent together in the kitchen is worth it (nit-picky husband and all).
But it’s that process – that focus on the present – that is the real lesson for me. As a writer, there is always the push to get something done, see the finished product. Something as simple as bagel making is a reminder, though, that the brainstorming and kneading and rolling and boiling are just as important – and enjoyable.
So for those of you who are intrigued enough to try your hand at this, below is the recipe and some pictures of the process.
RECIPE (for about 10-15 basic bagels)
4 cups white, all purpose flour (we like Bob's Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills organic)
1 cup stone ground whole wheat flour (Arrowhead Mills organic)
1/4 cup sugar (we use organic turbinado)
1 tsp salt
water (90-115 degrees)
1 egg white
1 packet yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (between 90-115 degrees)
Ahead of time: Mix the yeast, water and 1 tsp sugar. Stir with fork to dissolve and let sit for about 5 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl (we use a stand mixer), combine flour, sugar, salt. After combined, add the yeast water solution. You will need to add additional water (between 90-115 degrees) to get the dough to the right consistency (the amount of water will vary based on humidity, etc. -- you'll need to eyeball this, so add water slowly -- should be softer than Playdough, but if the dough gets sticky, there is too much water -- and if it looks like pancake batter, throw it away).
Cover the dough with a wet towel inside the bowl. Let it rise until it's doubled in size. Take the dough out, knead it on a floured surface, When smooth, slice off chunks (about the size of your palm for large bagels). Roll these between your palms (like you're making a Playdough snake! - see picture below) and attach the ends with a little bit of brushed-on water. Place on a cookie sheet (a little semolina flour will keep the bagels from sticking). When all of the dough has been rolled and shaped, let the bagels rise for 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add about 1/3 cup of sugar to the water,
When the bagels are ready to be boiled, add them a few at a time, top-side down. Let them boil 1-1 1/2 minutes per side (you'll need to flip them). They will rise significantly in the water! Place the boiled bagels on a cookie rack. When cooled slightly, brush lightly with egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.
Transfer bagels to a cookie sheet (with a bit of semolina sprinkled on) and place in a pre-heated 440 degree oven (oven temps may vary). Cook until slightly brown, about 10-15 minutes (time may vary also -- watch the bagels closely so they don't burn).
As anyone who knows me will attest, I have a love-hate relationship (at best) with structure. Because of that, I won't promise specific blog entries on specific days. Instead, I'll try to share thoughts and ideas on some of my favorite topics (writing, parenting, food, organic gardening, inspirational stories and food (did I say that already? it bears repeating)) as the mood strikes. Catch me here three or four days a week, though. And I would love to hear from you!