Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Daring Bakers Do Bagels (and they sure aren't Lenders)

(Cue Soundtrack: Rolling Stones - Under My Thumb)
(Scene opens on helicopter fly-over shot of mountain top as a horde of black masked women and one man wielding rolling pins, egg beaters, and wooden spoons spill over the peak)

When we last saw our intrepid Daring Bakers they were celebrating victory over the puffed pastry, pate a choux, diplomat cream, and caramelized sugar of the St. Honore Cake....

(Scene fades to black as the fifty or so Daring Bakers dance the dance of joy in the setting sun)

(Cue Soundtrack: The Strokes - The Modern Age)
(Scene opens in a 1960's modern office filled with scrambling workers and banks of tape based computers)

In true Daring Baker style almost as soon as we had conquered that mountain of pastry, we knew we couldn't rest on our laurels for very long and there being no rest for the weary, wicked, and whisked we immediately started clamoring for our next challenge. Thankfully, we did not have to wait for long, because almost within hours of finishing the last delectable morsel and crumb of cream filled pastry, the new class of Daring Bakers was announced meaning the June Challenge could be released to the now over sixty strong Daring Bakers....

(Cue Soundtrack: Richard Strauss - Also Sprach Zarathustra [yea, I know...obvious])
(Computer monitor blinks to life on a dozing secertary's desk and letters begin to appear on the green screen)


Viewers, we are whipping a "one-eighty" and abandoning the sweet stuff to try our hands at making honest to goodness, no messing around, chewy and dense Kosher bagels!! This month's challenge recipe, a deceptively simple recipe at that, comes to us from two of my favourite people in all of blog world Queilla of the scrumptious All Things Edible and Freya, the feminine half of the dynamic duo behind Writing At The Kitchen Table. We were required to follow the recipe, which produced a plain bagel. Our only modification to the recipe could be what was on the outside of the bagel; with a preference to the savory toppings. OH BOY BAGELS!!!

(Cue Soundtrack: Margot Leverett and The Klezmer Mountain Boys: Liebes Tanz)

onion bagel

As soon as the challenge was announced, I knew exactly how I was going to approach this challenge. I was going for the more variety on the toppings the better. I was going as Bri at Jumbo Empanadas loves to say "BIG" and off to my jam packed spice cabinet I went in search of the most savory and interesting spices and toppings I could find.

Now, I need to take a little detour in this long post (Hey Lis! I'm going after your title for longest run-on sentence here!! HE-HE) because I have to tell you something about my spice cabinet and how MBH just doesn't get my spice cabinet. One the of the most memorable "discussions" MBH and I ever had in a grocery store was in the spice aisle. I was getting more cinnamon when MBH saw me grab a big jar and piped up, "You don't need that! You have enough brown spices. Can't you just use one of the other spices you have?" I proceeded to try to explain that just because a spice was the same colour as another spice it wasn't a substitute. If a recipe called for cinnamon and I was out of cinnamon I just couldn't grab any old brown spice and dump it in there, it wouldn't taste right. I got the look and the following was uttered (I swear to God. I am not making this up) "Well I don't know why the hell not! You need to use all the spices you have before you buy anymore" and he put his iPod earbuds in and continued on down the aisle. I just rolled my eyes, put the jar of cinnamon in the shopping buggy and gave the lady standing next me that other knowing look exasperated women all over the world get from time to time. She giggled, grabbed a big bottle of vanilla and we both walked away.

Anyways, back to bagels...

So I opened my spice cabinet and started pulling out jars, containers, boxes, and packets. I spread them all out on the table and two counters and after a few minutes a spice theme for my bagels began to form. I would tour the world's great cuisines; all on top of a bagel!

Along with the plain bagel the recipe made and the traditional onion and poppy seed (bought from Beacon Kosher in Brookline, MA; that sadly recently closed), I would span the world of spices in my cabinet. I would do France (Herbs Provence). I would do India (Tandoori seasoning). I would do Spain (paella seasoning packet).I would do China (five spice powder). I would do Africa (cumin, coriander, and saffron). I would do Mexico with cinnamon (the infamous brown jar from the spice aisle). Finally, I would do North America using a super special package of Maui sea salt that one of my best friends, Sara of I Like to Cook sent me after her vacation to Hawaii.

I would make the International House of Bagels! If there can't be peace in the world, at least there can be peace on the bagel sheet.

Making bagels is actually not any harder than making a loaf of bread (ok, I may have small advantage on the whole "making bread" thing). The only ingredient that the recipe Queilla and Freya had picked that is not commonly found in most cabinets is the malt syrup (you can order online or find it a some organic grocers/health food store or home brewing supply stores). This recipe also called for high gluten flour, like a bread flour (12% gluten or more) or if you are really lucky (or just have a ton of flour like me) you finally can use some of that high protein, super high gluten flour (15%) that you bought because the label was cool and you just had to have some in your cupboard (I've always had a thing for Sir Lancelot)

The dough came together fast and before I knew it, my dough had doubled (in about 25 minutes) and I was ready to make bagel balls (what I called the pre-formed mounds of dough on my counter). The recipe calls for you to prepare the water while the dough is rising, but my dough rose so fast (I'm serious, 25 minutes!), I was still cleaning up. So, I had to let my little bagel balls rest while I scurried around putting the malt syrup and gallon of water on to boil. Remember when I said my dough rose fast? Well look how big these dough balls are!

I mentioned that I was going big and the dough rose fast right?!

One other choice we were given for the challenge was the way we formed the bagels, we could either use the rope/form a circle method or the poke and spin method. Have you ever tried to roll really high gluten dough out? It springs back, won't hold its rope shape, is hard to get to behave (even after letting it rest). I tried a few with the rope method but I ended up with these logs that looked like the Pecan Log from Stuckey's. Besides, I've always liked poking at things.

After you form your bagel, you let it rest for a few minutes to "half proof" (start to rise again).

We were warned in the recipe that real homemade bagels aren't uniform in shape and size. Boy I'd say they aren't. My group looked like lopsided, poofy inner tubes.

By now, my kitchen had this unique smell; a cross between a German brewery (the malt syrup in the boiling water) and a really good bakery( all that flour and yeast). There was steam in the air from the boiling water and I was ready to give my bagels a bath. Boiling bagels is what gives them that smooth and shiny outside and this was the most time consuming part of making these bagels because they were so big, I could only boil two or three at a time.

According to our recipe, they should have sank to the bottom and floated up top. But mine all floated; not a single sinker. Floating bagels means a more bready bagel. Sinking bagels means the traditional dense and chewy bagel we were looking for from this challenge. Thankfully, I wasn't the only Daring Baker who had the same problem. The emails, IMs, and messages flying around our board all reported floating bagels. A few of us made second batches that included more kneading, less rising time, and other dough techniques, but even my second batch resulted in 12 floaters and two sinkers. After their bath, the bagels sit on a dish towel for a few minutes

(notice the shine?!)

And then they are transferred to a corn meal lined baking tray for topping!

Look at all those spices! (See Honey!! I really DO use all those spices!!! Now if I just had a way of knowing when I was almost out of one them...) On this tray is a Tandoori, poppy seed, Maui salt, onion, herb Provence, and Chinese Five Spice bagel. There were two more trays for a total of sixteen huge bagels.

Into a pre-heated 400 degree oven they went. The recipe called for them to bake for twenty-five minutes on one side and then flip them over for ten more minutes, but after about eighteen minutes mine were almost too done on one side and starting to get flat on the other. So, I flipped them and let them brown on the other side. Total baking time about twenty-five minutes. Out of the oven came my United Nations of funny shaped bagels.

So, how did the spices do?

The Tandoori, Mexican cinnamon, and African spice bagels didn't hold up their flavours very well after the baking. They were lovely smelling but, disappointingly, the spices got lost in the chew of the bagel. Plain, onion, and poppy seed were exactly as expected.

The hit of the flavours you ask? I liked the herb Provence and Maui salt topped ones the best; especially the Maui salt. It took on this lovely deep gray colour when it was baked and had this equally smoky taste. I ate it plain and with some smoked salmon. Yum!

Chinese Five Spice (as tested by Weedhopper) was another hit. I liked it too but I can't put my finger on why. The spice wasn't forward like with the herb Provence or Maui salted ones but had a pleasant taste and went really well with plain cream cheese.

Everyone at work who tried them agreed they were more bready than dense but still much better than anything they could have bought at most places. I work near NYC with a bunch of folks who live in NYC. You know, the home of bagels; so sinkers or floaters, I was pretty thrilled with that compliment let me tell you!

I definitely want to make these again and see if I can get some sinkers this time. But, before I do I'm going to Zabar's fish counter for the sturgeon!!

Yippee!! Another Daring Baker Challenge notched in my belt!

Now, YOU, go visit that scrolling side bar over there under the Daring Baker logo to see how the rest of the wrecking crew did on the Bagel challenge. If you want to find the recipe for these bagels visit our hostesses sites: All Things Edible and Writing At The Kitchen Table. And don't forget to bring the lox!!!

(Cue soundtrack: David Bowie - Shake It, roll closing credits)

p.s. You can listen to my bagel sound track, or at least snippets of it, by clicking on the song links. I actually own all this music and I did the batch of bagels featured in this post with Margo Leverett and The Klezmer Mountain Boys blasting on the stereo; the perfect mood music to make bagels.