Wednesday, May 19, 2010

(Alleged) New York Style Bagels

I call them Alleged New York Style Bagels, not because I found them lacking in some sense (in fact, they were probably the best bagels I've ever had)... but because neither am I a New Yorker, nor am I bagel connoisseur, and I don't want to get in trouble with the bagel police. Whatever characteristics they share with classic New York City bagels of someone's youth is purely coincidental as far as I'm concerned... but "New York Style" does imply a certain level of chewiness not present in the vast majority of mediocre doughy messes out there masquerading as bagels. So no matter whether you think it's courting disaster to boil a bagel in something other than New York City water, I think anyone who makes these bagels will find something... at least on the "chewiness" scale... pretty NYC.

While I'm not particularly obsessed with finding the perfect bagel, I've been wanting to make this recipe ever since I got Bread Baker's Apprentice... and I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe because it's just something I never really would have thought of making at home. The problem, however, is that Peter Reinhart's recipe calls for some fairly exotic ingredients: a very high gluten flour and malt powder. The flour is available on the internet, at natural foods stores (seitan is wheat gluten after all), or perhaps even from your favorite baker... but it's not in your regular Supermarket (well at least not mine). So I've put it off.

Then uber-political blogger Matt Yglesias went and made Bittman's bagels (no exotic ingredients there), and I felt like I needed to spring into action... immediately placing an order with King Arthur Flour for a bag of 14.2% gluten flour and some non-diastatic malt powder. Since we had friends coming from out of town who didn't mind being guinea pigs, I had the perfect occasion to offer a bagel brunch.

The recipe is at Smitten Kitchen, so I won't reproduce it here... and instead just provide some pictures with reactions to making it.

Before I continue, I should note that SK's recipe for Reinhart's bagels (as well as the others I've seen online) omits weights... which is a terrible thing. I'm a huge believer measuring everything by weight when baking, and thus wouldn't even bother with a recipe that doesn't include them. So what to do? Well, Peter Reinhart goes by a cup of flour equaling 4.5 ounces... so just multiply that out to get your weights. Water is always 8 ounces to the cup, and don't worry about weights for the yeast or salt (as long as you are not using kosher!). Alternatively: just buy the damn book (or get it out of the library). If you have any interest in bread baking it's totally worth it... it might even be my favorite cookbook at this point, despite it's specialized content... mainly because it's probably the most educational cookbook I own.

The main unique thing about the Reinhart recipe for the initial dough making stage is that he has you start with a sponge... which develops more flavor, but might result in a little more time in the kitchen. But then, if you're going through the trouble of making your own bagels, is time in the kitchen something you're really trying to avoid?

A lot of people seem to be into the "poking a whole into the center of the bagel" thing to shape. I hate it. It makes some damn ugly and mishapen bagels IMHO. Doing it the snake way is not hard at all, and results in much more uniform and aesthetically pleasing offerings.

Boiling a giant pot of water takes a long time (30 minutes?). Do not forget this if you are on a tight schedule.

I used two tablespoons of malt powder and one tablespoon of sugar in the water (suggested on the malt powder bag by King Arthur), and not the baking soda called for by Reinhart. He suggests few people will really notice the effects, but that the alkalinity will produce better carmelization in the oven... which would have been welcome. Can you do both at the same time? Unknown.

I boiled them for one and a half minutes per side... to split the difference for normal (one minute) and chewy (two minutes) bagels. We could all have done chewier, so it'll be two minutes per side next time.

I don't think you'll have any trouble getting toppings to stick as long as you put them on as soon as they come out of the water... they won't stay on when you pick them up... but, eh, isn't that what bagels do? Rain seeds everywhere?

I did equal proportions coarse sea salt, poppyseed, and sesame seeds for my "everything" bagels... and found the salt to overwhelm everything too much. Next time I'll mix equal parts of the seeds, and salt each bagel individually.

I left them in the oven five minutes longer than Reinhart suggested, but still wasn't 100% percent satisfied with the browning. They were perfectly done and wonderful, but I thought they ended up a little pale. What's the solution? Baking soda in the water? An egg wash? I think I'd lean towards the egg wash as likely to provide the most consistent results while also helping the toppings stay on... but of course Anna is weirded out by egg washes still, and it feels a little wrong to make bread non-vegan simply for aesthetics. So maybe we'll try the baking soda next.

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