Why do seagulls fly by the sea?
‘Cause if they flew by the bay they’d be bagels!
Ok, so it’s not funny, but it’s a fitting introduction to this week’s bread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. When I was younger, I was a huge bagel fanatic: I got introduced to good ones at the Chesapeake Bagel Bakery when I was a teenager living in Yorktown, Virginia, and once I discovered them I ate them all the time: for breakfast, for snacks after swim practice and during meets, and most especially as the outer layer of sandwiches. One of my most potent high school cafeteria memories is the day I brought a green bagel in my lunch on St Paddy’s day – that got quite the reaction, and I think someone even wrote about that event in my yearbook.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and when I was fifteen we left Virginia for the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t take easily to the uprooting, and one of the items on the list of why Vancouver/Portland Was Far Inferior To The East Coast was the lack of good bagels (I’ve since done a 180 in my opinion of the Pacific Northwest, but I still maintain that the bagels were inferior). So, really, it’s been about 12 years since I’ve been all “yay bagels!” so I wasn’t super excited to try them out this week. But I’m committed to the cause, so I rolled up some sleeves, bought some malt powder, and looked at this as an opportunity to try something that I wouldn’t have made otherwise.
The recipe was very straightforward: sponge, final dough, resting, shaping, retarding, boiling, baking. There is no critically-timed rise, no fingers to poke into fermenting dough, and perhaps best of all, this bread won’t tie you to your kitchen all day! So I got started in the late afternoon, not really thinking about how I needed to cook dinner too (oops) and as a result, I don’t have any pictures of the first day: nothing of the sponge that I got really attached too, no evidence of the stiff but amazingly smooth and supple dough, not a shred of evidence of the cute little rolls, and nada of me shaping the bagels themselves. And, thankfully, nothing to show of my near temper-tantrums as I attempted to wrap the baking pans in plastic so I could refrigerate them. Me and plastic wrap, we’re not such good friends. I suspect that it knows about my tree-hugger tendencies.
So this morning, I set a stockpot to boil, readied some toppings, and finished up my first batch of bagels. I decided on four plain (really a tragic misnomer, for they were quite delicious!), four sea salt and black sesame seed, and four cinnamon sugar. Aside from their refusal to brown, I’m quite pleased with the result: they’re chewy the way I remember from the CBB (and now I know why the later bagels I tried were inferior: they weren’t boiled!), flavorful thanks to the sponge and malt powder, and fairly tender and open on the inside. Now I’m looking for a New Yorker to test them out on, to see how they compare to those epic bagels, since in my infinite wisdom, I tried to eat healthily during my 36 hours in NYC two months ago and opted for a low-fat buckwheat veggie quiche instead of more stereotypical fare.
Will I make these again? Probably, especially since there are so many ways that you can dress these up. Aside from the marathon kneading (like I said, this dough was really, really stiff – so stiff it broke my paddle attachment – not the solid metal one, but a third-party scraper paddle that I loved), this recipe was really quite simple and would be great for a brunch party, since all you have to do the day of is boil and bake. Who knows – I might even make some green ones!