“Bagel: My grandfather called New York bagels, which are known for their heft, “donuts dipped in cement.””
- the mensch chef by Mitchell Davis
“A man from Mars landed on Second Avenue and looked into a store window, fascinated. Finally, he entered the shop and asked the owner: “What are those little wheels in the window?”
“Wheels? What wheels?”
The Martian pointed.
“Those aren’t wheels,” smiled the baleboss. “They’re called bagels. We eat them… Here, try one.”
The Martian bit into a bagel and smacked his lips. “Man! This would go great with cream cheese and lox!”
- The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten
Reliving the years, edging my way cautiously back through time, I am flooded with food memories. Nothing surprising to any of my readers, yet they may be a bit surprised at what a tumultuous ride it has been. Cultures crashing into each other like bumper cars, each one trying to elbow its way towards the front like a teen at a rock concert. Yet the fondest memories are also the deepest, the special ones rooted down, generations deep. The fabulous Daube de Boeuf aux carottes that my husband welcomed me home from New York with or that utterly perfect meal at Anne de Bretagne on the French Atlantic coast, luscious spaghetti al astice eaten on a sunny day in Milan Da Leo or the kabobs dripping with tzatziki we savored together, in love, on our honeymoon in Cyprus, these meals each stir up something special. Every food memory is engraved in my mind, bringing a smile or a laugh, sometimes a tear, like the Red Velvet Cake I made for my brother on my most recent trip to New York. Flavors and odors, noisy restaurants, road trips, loud relatives always laughing, sharing giggles and private jokes with my sister or brother, romantic getaways and amazing discoveries, memories swirling through my head all evoked by food.
Yet the flavors of Jewish American cuisine tug at my tastebuds – and heartstrings - in a way that no other can. Summer afternoons at Aunt Millie’s eating kosher hot dogs hot off the grill, tucked into a bun and slathered in ketchup and brown mustard and served up with a side of Marci’s amazing homemade tangy, crispy coleslaw; or walking into her kitchen on a Sunday morning, rubbing sleep from my eyes, to be greeted by paper sacks overflowing with bakery-fresh, dense, chewy New York bagels to be smeared with scallion-studded cream cheese and piled high with thick slices of salty Nova lox. Summers in Albany eating Pastrami on rye with Grandma as presiding matron over our loud, joyous family or lunches at New York City’s Second Avenue Deli stuffing down huge turkey sandwiches and wedges of half-sour pickles.
Trips down to Miami Beach to visit Uncle Eli and Aunt Nancy, hazy memories of childhood, running down the street, ducking in and out of neighbors’ yards, searching for the Holy Grail of coconuts among the palm trees lining the street, taking our heavy burden home in the old green station wagon where we would spend an entire afternoon trying to crack it like a riddle: forcing it open with a screwdriver and sending it crashing down the driveway until it finally burst open offering us her sweet, sweet snow white meat. Miami Beach, the Holy Land of kosher delis, lunching at that most magical of places where Uncle Eli worked: Wolfie’s. Fat, crunchy kosher dills piled up in tiny dishes in the middle of the table free for the taking, sandwiches too thick to wrap my mouth around or plates piled high with golden, sizzling potato latkes or knishes while waiters dressed in immaculate white flew all around the vast diningroom.
From our family weekends eating smoked sable and lox or butter melting on warm cinnamon-raisin bagels, to family reunions in the Catskills where the food was kosher, abundant and amazingly delicious like any Jewish Mama’s table, American Jewish cuisine warms my heart, tickles my fancy and brings me home again.
I am sending these bagels over to imafoodblog.com who is hosting this month’s Bread Baking Day challenge, a fabulous monthly bread making event created by Zorra of Kochtopf.twoday.net. Imafoodblog has chosen “Something You’ve Never Made Before” as the theme for BBD #23. Wonderful, I say, as imafoodblog has pushed me over from the “I really want to try x, I have so been meaning to try x for ages!” side to the “Yay! Fabulous! I am so proud of myself, I finally made x (fill in bagels here) side of the railroad tracks.
I am also sending it on to Susan of Wild Yeast for this week’s Yeastspotting event as I wanted to share a bagel and cup of coffee with the woman who has so encouraged me in my yeast baking.
From Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
1 tsp (.11 oz/3.3 g) instant yeast
4 cups (18 oz/540 g) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I used type 80)
2 ½ cups (20 oz/625 ml) water at room temperature
½ tsp (.055 oz/1.65 g) instant yeast
3 ¾ cups (17 oz/500 g) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I used type 80)
2 ¾ tsp salt
1 Tbs honey or brown sugar
1 Tbs baking soda
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting (I used Polenta)
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt for topping, or as you like
To make the sponge:
In a large mixing bowl, stir the yeast into the flour then add the water, stirring until it forms a smooth, sticky batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for about 2 hours. The mixture should become foamy and bubbly and swell to maybe double the size (mine didn’t quite double).
To make the dough:
In the same mixing bowl, add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Add 3 cups of the flour, the salt and the honey to the bowl and stir until blended and the dough starts to pull together into a ball. Scrape out on a floured work surface and work in the remaining flour.
Knead the dough, working in the remaining flour, for at least 10 minutes. The dough should be firm but smooth and pliable. If the dough is too sticky or tacky, simply knead in more flour, a bit at a time. If too dry and it rips, sprinkle on little amounts of water as you knead.
To make the bagels:
Divide the dough into even pieces (he suggests 4 ½-oz/125 g pieces, I made them a bit smaller, but next time I’ll make less, slightly larger bagels). Form the pieces into balls, lay them on the lightly floured work surface, cover with a damp towel and allow them to rest for about 20 minutes. They will rise a bit more.
Line 2 sheet pans with parchment or oven paper and either mist lightly with spray oil or, as I did, lightly brush the paper with vegetable oil. Shape the bagels by poking a hole in the center of each dough ball and pushing through, widening the hole by gently pulling and rotating to about 2 ½-inches in diameter. Place the shaped dough on the baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Mist the bagels very lightly with spray oil or dab them with an oiled paper towel. Cover the pans lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Check to make sure that the bagels are ready to go in the refrigerator overnight for their slow rising by filling a bowl halfway with cool or room-temperature water and dropping one bagel in. The bagel should pop up to the surface and float within max 10 seconds. If it doesn’t, pat the test bagel dry and return to the plastic-covered baking sheet for another 1à to 20 minutes until it does float.
Once your test bagel floats, pat it dry, return it to the baking sheet and slide both sheets of bagels into the fridge for the night.
The following day:
Remove the bagels from the oven. The recipe seems to indicate that these can be boiled and baked immediately, but they can also sit. I did my first batch right out of the fridge, the second much later in the day and the second batch seemed to rise a bit more.
Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C).
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the tablespoon of baking soda. Have a slotted spoon at the ready.
Gently lift the bagels off the parchment and drop into the boiling water, only as many as comfortably fit and can be flipped without problems. After 1 minute (slightly more for very chewy bagels), flip the bagels over and continue boiling for another minute. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment paper on the baking sheets with the cornmeal or semolina.
Using the slotted spoon, lift each bagel out of the water allowing the excess water to run off, place on the cornmeal, and start the next batch boiling. If you are topping the bagels with seeds, do so now.
When all of the bagels have been boiled and topped, place the baking pans on racks placed in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then, working quickly, open the oven, turn the pans back to front (180° turn), close the oven, lower the heat to 450°F (230°C) and bake for an additional 5 minutes until the tops of the bagels are golden brown.
Remove bagels from the oven and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before serving.
The following day, the bagels were still wonderful and the third day after just a few minutes warmed up in a hot oven, they were like freshly baked. Perfect!
My husband who, on a good day, hates bagels, hates the heft and the chewiness, simply adored these bagels. When I told him I was thinking of wrapping up half the batch and freezing them, he said "Wait! These are too good to hide away in the freezer!" Proof enough!
Next batch will be cinnamon-raisin.