Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Peter Reinhart's Bagels

Back in January this year, when fireworks lit up the midnight sky with sparks of color to ring in the New Year, I was staying at the Hilton by Niagara Falls with my parents and a girlfriend. We had a huge dinner at the hotel, stuffing our faces with pastas and pizzas and garlic bread. Then we spent the rest of the night in our suite playing poker and drinking ice wine, and when sleepiness set in, we bid each other good night and crawled into our plush king sized beds. 

I was just slipping into REM sleep when I was startled by eardrum-blasting fire alarms. My eyes flew open in panic, I jumped out of bed, pulled on my jeans and wool coat, zipped up my boots with my friend just one shoe behind me. My parents awoke, still in their pajamas, blearily eyed and irritated. Finally, a voice boomed over the PA system advising guests to stay put while the fire department investigated the situation. We paced the room, poked our heads into the hallway, to see what other guests were up to, but they seemed just as oblivious as we were. At this point, the alarms were still ringing at full blast and continued to do so for twenty painful minutes.

Before long, the same voice announced it was just a false alarm. What a lovely way to spend the New Year’s, sitting at the foot my bed, arms crossed over my chest, fuming at my disturbed sleep because some retard drunk moron asswipe decided it would be fun to wake up the entire hotel.

So you can imagine my utter dislike for smoke alarms. In fact, when I made these bagels, they set off the smoke alarm leading me to call them a whole slew of nasty names. The moment I opened the oven to rotate the baking sheet, the alarm burst at full force, I dashed to unlock the balcony door which thankfully, helped dissipate the smoke (my gut told me not to set the oven at 500°F, but I was adamant about following this recipe) and the alarm shut off. 

Minor cardiac arrest aside, these are ridiculously good bagels. They are crispy and golden on the outside, dense and sesamey on the inside. They are what perfection tastes like. It was an epiphany for me, the simplicity of only five ingredients and the magical thing that time does to create crusty, chewy bagels. They sit comfortably in the fridge overnight to stretch out the fermentation process and help bring out the subtle flavours in wheat, so I was excited, exhilarated even, to start my day baking. The smells of warm flour and yeast comingled, filling my home with an aroma not unlike a boulangerie. 

They are not as good as Fairmount Bagels (which are seriously life changing bagels, hello? It’s open 24 hours! And nothing can compare to a 2am post-party bagel feast spent with friends to help soak up the liquor running through my veins). These bagels are not even close, but they bring back such dear memories of me hugging a paper bag filled with a dozen fresh sesame bagels so warm, they are not only smelled amazing, but doubled as a furnace which is quite handy, since the Montreal winters can be brutal. 

I ate two bagels in one sitting and fought the urge to inhale another. They need nothing else but salted butter smeared on top, they might even be worth setting off the smoke alarm (but try not to call them names, this one bagel gave me the finger).

Peter Reinhart’s Bagels
From Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef
Makes 6 to 8 bagels

Read the recipe several times before getting started so you are familiar with the work flow. The bagels need to be shaped and then left in the fridge overnight to proof before they are baked, so if you want fresh bagels for lunch, start preparing the dough the night before. And if you’re like me and petrified of the smoke alarm, I set my oven to 450°C and baked them for about 20 minutes, or until golden. 

3 1/2 cups (1 pound) unbleached flour (bread or all-purpose)
3 teaspoons salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey or barley malt syrup, if you've got it
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon baking soda
Poppy or sesame seeds

1. By hand, mix the flour, 2 teaspoons salt, the yeast, honey and the water until the ingredients form a stiff, coarse ball of dough (about 3 minutes). If necessary, add a little more water. Let the dough rest 5 minutes.

2. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough feels stiff yet supple, with a satiny, slightly tacky feel, 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough seems too soft or too tacky, sprinkle over just enough flour as needed.

3. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to several hours. Keep in mind that the bagels must be shaped before proofing overnight.

4. When ready to shape the bagels, line a baking sheet with lightly greased parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 6 to 8 equal pieces. Form each piece into a loose, round ball by rolling it on a clean, dry work surface with a cupped hand; do not use any flour on the surface. If the dough slides around and won't ball up, wipe the work surface with a damp paper towel and try again - the slight amount of moisture will provide enough "bite" for the dough to form a ball. When each piece has been formed into a ball, you are ready to shape the bagels.

6. Using your hands and a fair amount of pressure, roll each dough ball into a "rope" 8 to 10 inches long. (Moisten the work surface with a damp paper towel, if necessary, to get the necessary bite or friction). Slightly taper the rope at the ends so that they are thinner than the middle. Place one end of the dough between your thumb and forefinger and wrap it around your hand until the ends overlap in your palm; they should overlap by about 2 inches. Squeeze the overlapping ends together and then press the joined ends into the work surface, rolling them back and forth a few times until they are completely sealed.

7. Remove the dough from your hand and squeeze as necessary to even out the thickness so that there is a 2-inch hole in the center. Place the bagel on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the other pieces. Lightly wipe the bagels with oil, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

8. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator 90 minutes before you plan to bake them. Fill a large stockpot with 3 quarts of water (be sure the water is at least 4 inches deep), cover with a lid, and slowly bring the water to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on.
9. Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven to 500 degrees.

10. Test the bagels by placing one in a bowl of cold water. If it sinks and doesn't float to the surface, return it to the sheet, wait 15 minutes and then test it again. When one bagel passes the float test, they are ready for the pot.

11. Gently lift each bagel and drop it into the simmering water. Add as many as will comfortably fit in the pot. After 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to flip each bagel over. Poach for an extra 30 seconds. Using the slotted spoon, remove each bagel and return it to the lined baking sheet. Continue until all the bagels have been poached. Generously sprinkle each bagel with a topping.

12. Place the baking sheet in the oven and reduce the heat to 450 degrees. Bake for 8 minutes and then rotate the sheet (if using two sheets, also switch their positions). Check the underside of the bagels. If they are getting too dark, place another sheet under the baking sheet. Bake until the bagels are golden brown, an additional 8 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the bagels to a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Recipe here!

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