Beginning Bagelogy [by Katy]

For two weeks, Josh & Katy blogsit.

I have a confession to make: I’m not Jewish. When I was thirteen, I wanted to be Jewish. I read lots of books, scored lots of bar/bat mitzvah invitations, and watched Woody Allen movies, but it didn’t work. I’m still not Jewish. I’m still just Catholic.

Moreover, I’m also not from New York. I’m from Missouri and Georgia.

But despite this background working against me, I am a woman with a firm commitment to bagelogy. I think it is safe to say that in the spirit of this blog, I am an AMATEUR BAGELOLOGIST.

My love for bagels started young. I was a bagelogical baby. Back when I was sans teeth, I used to gum the enormous bagels my parents bought me from the old man in Soulard’s market in St. Louis. I’d sit in my stroller and work on one of those, my dad recalls fondly, until it was entirely slimy all over, and eventually even liquid. Then my parents would put it in a bottle, and let me suck it down. Yum.

See? Here I am in my pink leisure suit. CLEARLY I’m scheming about ways to get bagels, little devil that I am:

bagel_katy

Now before we EVEN get started on this, kids, let me say this: there is no question that the best bagels I’ve ever eaten have come from Manhattan. That’s that. No question. Would anyone question that? No. No one would. Best bagels = New York.

And yet, while living in San Francisco, I took it upon myself to learn how to make my own. Dare I admit it? I hoped — nay, DREAMED — that I could come close to replicating H&H’s bagels, or some of the other greats. Mock me if you will, but I would not be deterred.

Tonight I channeled that original excitement, and decided to make my bagel recipe for Josh, who is always appreciative of freshly baked carbohydrates in general, and my bagels in particular.

And more importantly, I thought it might be interesting for you all. Might you make these bagels? I think you might. Here’s how.

First, mix together 3 cups warm water with a package of yeast, and 2 tablespoons sugar. You’re just doing that dissolve-the-yeast step familiar to anyone who does much baking:

bagel_first

After that’s dissolved for five minutes or so, stir in 4 teaspoons malt syrup, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 cups unbleached bread flour, and 4 teaspoons salt:

bagel_second

If you all are like me, at this point you might be saying: WAIT. What is this malt syrup crap?

In San Francisco, I went to, like, four different stores looking for it, including some fancy-pants gourmet cooking shop in Laurel Heights. I never found it. Instead, I found this:

bagel_syrup

Brown rice syrup? Is that even close to the same thing as malt syrup?

Here’s the truth, folks: I have no idea. I do know that I’ve used the brown rice syrup now every time I’ve made bagels, and they’ve turned out pretty well. It may be superstition, but now I insist that I need this particular kind of syrup. Who knows?

This is where your KitchenAid comes in handy. Add about 7-8 more cups of unbleached bread flour, making a nice stiff dough.

This is not stiff. This is sticky. See how it forms ominous stalagmites off the bread hook?

bagel_toosticky

Once your dough is sincerely stiff, knead it for ten minutes (or let your bread hook do the hard work for you) and let it rise, but only for 15-20 minutes or so.

Next, divide your dough into 12-16 sections and form each section into a bagel shape. You can roll them into 10-inch strips and roll the ends together, which is what my original recipe suggested. Or you can do it the easy way, like me — make round balls which you then puncture with your thumb like this:

bagel_shaping

Make them a little smaller than you would expect, because boy howdy, can they puff up sometimes!

Once you’ve formed your bagels, let them sit and rise for another 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 450 degrees Farenheit. Also, get out a large pot and fill that sucker with six quarts water, one teaspoon salt, and three tablespoons malt (um, brown rice) syrup. Get the pot boiling on your stovetop.

Now this is where it gets fun! Bagels are bagels because they are BOILED before they are baked. Boiling the bagel gives it that shiny skin, the one that your teeth tear into before they reach the delicious chewy inside.

Reduce your boiling water to a simmer, and plop two raw bagels in the water. Simmer those bagels for 45 seconds, and then flip over for another 45 seconds.

bagel_boiling

With a slotted spatula, place the boiled bagels on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with cornmeal.

You can add toppings, if you want. I didn’t mention this before, but you can also gussy up the dough with fancy flavors, if you choose.

Some will argue chocolate chips, brown sugar, cranberries, orange zest or blueberries are bagelogical sacrilege, a HORRIBLE departure from authentic eastern European bagels, which date back to early 17th century Poland. But back in those days, bagels were a food given to pregnant Polish women — and now you don’t have to be Polish or pregnant to eat them. Plus, I will say those flavored bagels are always the first to go when you present a group with a plate of bagels.

Still, tonight I stuck with a classic topping: poppy seeds. You might add an egg white glaze to plain bagels, were you so inclined. I’m told a sugar water glaze is even more authentic:

bagel_raw

Place your cookie sheets in the hot oven, reduce the heat to 425 degrees, and bake 17-25 minutes. You will find they puff up pleasantly in the oven.

And they smell delish when they come out:

bagel_baked

Do my bagels match New York bagels? Not exactly. They could be chewier, which is something I’m working on. (Any suggestions?) Maybe the malt syrup IS the secret. Maybe my recipe leaves out some critical step. Or maybe it’s true what they say, that there is something in the water in New York that gives the bagels there their special quality.

But my bagels ARE delicious. Certainly better than most chain bagel shops’ bagels, if I do say so myself. I mean, they taste phenomenal when sliced up hot from the oven, spread with a little cream cheese or butter:

bagel_dressed

And they are SO much easier to eat now that I have teeth. It’s amazing how we take our teeth for granted.

–katy

13 comments

  1. I just had to post to brag that I’m a New York Jew-who’s Polish! Bagels are one of my favorite foods, I had one yesterday in fact.

  2. Hey girl,

    Aren’t bagels cool to make? I’ve made them before (cinnamon raisin actually) and I didn’t use malt syrup either! Now I see your picture there and it’s just screaming for some of the peach/raspberry marmalade I made this weekend.. I think we should share…

    Mia.

  3. Hey girl,

    Aren’t bagels cool to make? I’ve made them before (cinnamon raisin actually) and I didn’t use malt syrup either! Now I see your picture there and it’s just screaming for some of the peach/raspberry marmalade I made this weekend.. I think we should share…

    Mia.

  4. No, no, no,

    Montreal, Canada has the best bagels! Here’s a quote from Fat Guy (aka Steven Shaw of eGullet):

    “The European Jewish influence on Montreal’s culinary scene is evident in bagels, smoked meat and the whole culture of the delicatessen. Many American Jews – me included – express disbelief when they first learn of Montreal’s Jewish community (“Do they speak French?” “Do they say ‘eh’?” “Do they know about bagels and lox?”).

    But the big surprise is that Montreal has the world’s best bagels. As painful as it is for me as a New Yorker to admit, we have nothing back home that can compete with the wood-oven-baked, sweet, dense, chewy, crusty specimens produced by St. Viateur and its rival, Fairmount Bagel.”

    http://www.canada.com/national/features/fatguy/story.html?id=EFFA372A-3D8B-49DC-9001-BA558CDF530C

    You haven’t eaten really good bagels until you’ve eaten Montreal bagels!

  5. As someone who is about to move from New York to the land of bagels-oh-yes-we-have-those-at-dunkin-donuts-they’re-like-donuts-but-like-chewier-or-something (aka New Hampshire), I salute you.

    Now can you teach us to make bialys? Please? I’m getting desperate.

  6. As someone who is about to move from New York to the land of bagels-oh-yes-we-have-those-at-dunkin-donuts-they’re-like-donuts-but-like-chewier-or-something (aka New Hampshire), I salute you.

    Now can you teach us to make bialys? Please? I’m getting desperate.

  7. I have to agree with Matlida, and not just cuz I’m a canuk. Montreal Canada has the best bagels on earth. None of those fancy schmancy faux-foodie bagel flavors like asiago or spinach tomato– but wholesome, chewy, textured, eat-em-with-karnotzel (sp?) poppy seed and sesame seed bagels. And they’re THE BEST.

  8. Montreal bagels?

    Color me intrigued. I’m sold. I’ve got to go try them for myself. Thanks for the tip.

  9. Thanks for the bagelology essay! Vote for best bagels: House of Bagels in San Fran, on Geary St. by Park Presidio. especially when you pick them up on your way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

  10. Delilah, funny you should mention House of Bagels on Geary and 14th; I first tasted Katy’s bagels at 5th and Balboa, not too far away. Having tasted both several times, I will affirm that House of Bagels does very well, but not as well as Katy.

  11. The absolute best bagels in the world are Montreal bagels and I’m not saying that because I live a few blocks away from St. Viateur Bagels. They can be ordered on line apparently.

    Terry

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