Here Bagel Bagel Bagel...

Bagels are one of my most favorite things to eat.  They are so versatile, so forgiving; they go with anything — from smoked white fish to jam — and never complain.  You can eat them by themselves just fine or slather with butter or cream cheese, and you’ve got yourself a meal.

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New York style bagels were completely novel idea to me after jumping over the pond.  Growing up, we had bagels that were slightly sweet, dense and dry, not chewy, and not crunchy, more pretzel-like. They also were thinner and had larger holes.  I loved our bagels (called boublick, BTW), fully convinced that they were the best and the greatest thing, that is, until I tried the New York style bagels in America.  Mmm… I was instantly hooked.  You can’t confuse NY style bagels with anything else, and those chilled bagels from the dairy aisle of your trusted supermarket don’t count as bagels, so please don’t even start, I am talking the REAL ones — the crunchy on the outside and distinctively chewy on the inside, plump and beautiful numbers, sprinkled with… well… anything in the world, from kosher salt to crunchy onion bits.

NY Style Bagels -- Wild Sourdough Version

For a long while, my Sunday lunch of choice was a toasted sesame bagel with plain cream cheese, topped with smoked white fish (chunk, not salad) from Goldberg’s Bagel & Deli.  It had a slice of tomato on it, a few green olives and a half sour pickle on the side… I am drooling just thinking about it.  Second favorite, of course, was a classic lox-n-bagel combo, with red onions, tomatoes and capers.

Imagine my despair when we moved to this cozy little town, only to find out there are no bagel shops within a hundred mile radius.  No, that dingy place downtown doesn’t count as bagel place, and no, Panera Bread isn’t an authoritative source of true bagels either.  Sure, they are freshly baked bagels, but they are not the right kind.  They are made with yeast only, impregnated with enhancers, conditioners, emulsifiers and flavor imitations, passed through a machine to shape them and then… and then… [chin quivering]… they are steamed [falling apart, wailing] before baking.

NY Style Bagels -- Wild Sourdough Version

So yeah, this is how we’ve been living for the past three years now, in this dark and bagel-less world. I’d rather not eat bagels at all than succumb to dubious charm of rubbery and sticky mass-produced imitations.  I learned to do without, but then I got into bread baking… So it was only a matter of time before I started dabbling in bagel-making.

At first, I tried to chase that unforgettable soviet bagel recipe.  I found a few good ones, and even though they did come quite close to my memory of them, they still weren’t exact replicas.  Then, I stumbled upon Peter Reinhart’s version of NY style bagels and tried it in its original form (yeast only).  I think I screwed something up the first time, and wasn’t very pleased with the outcome.  Bagels came out too dry and flat, possibly due to using the wrong kind of flour, or maybe because my yeast was old and lazy.

NY Style Bagels -- Wild Sourdough Version

Then I read a bit more and found that yeast sponge could be substituted happily with wild sourdough for added flavor, and I decided that this may be the way to go, since I keep sourdough starter in my kitchen at all times.  I did purchase a batch of white barley malt and a bag of bread flour, because I wanted to stay as true to the recipe as possible. The rest was history. It all came together very well and paid off tenfold. The bagels turned out perfect!  They had it all — the satisfying crunch, the just right amount of chewiness without pulling your dentures out, the distinctive malty flavor, and oh the looks, the gorgeous glossy looks!  They also keep quite well, can be frozen raw or baked, and the recipe is so simple that it will scale like a charm, if necessary.

NY Style Bagels -- Wild Sourdough Version

The recipe may seem lengthy, the process spawning two days. However, if you look closely, it’s quite plain to see that it will flow very well with your busy schedule.  Say, if you scale the bread starter on a Friday morning, you can go to work and forget all about it, then make the dough batch in the evening, refrigerate overnight, which is the proper way to deal with it, and boil and bake bagels on Saturday morning, which won’t take long at all.  The actual hands-on time is very minimal.  By the time your oven is fully heated, the boiling part will be done.  And after that, it only takes 20-25 minutes to bagel bliss…  It will all be worth it in the end, when you and yours will sit down in front of still warm heap of bagels, inhale the aroma, slice those bagels open, toast (or not, if you are a purist), slather with cream cheese and sink your teeth into the crunchy and chewy flesh. Ahhhhh….

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