Today's the day I'm making peach-berry shortcake for 30. The Writers' Colony is having a big shindig for donors and other grand poo-bahs tonight, and so I've got lots and lots of butter, buttermilk and half-and-half in the fridge, waiting to be turned into many, many star-shaped biscuits. And a trayful of Arkansas peaches, ready to be dropped into boiling water and slipped out of their fuzz-kissed skins.
But before that, I promised--on a whim--to make something tasty for the task-crazed office staff this morning. Not wanting to get them all sugar-hyped on such a busy day, I wracked my little muffin-inclined brains for something savory-ish but good for morning, and came up with...homemade bagels! After all, Brooklyn gots to represent.
For maximum chewiness, the flour should really be bread (meaning hard wheat, which has higher protein and gluten) flour; given that this is the South, land of biscuit-ready soft-wheat flour, the random zip-loc bag of extra flour in the kitchen probably wasn't exactly right for the job, but luckily, there was also a box of vital wheat gluten lying around the kitchen, too. So I threw a little in there and hoped for the best. The dough is rising now, waiting to be shaped, boiled, and baked. Boiling, by the way, is what gives bagels that special chewy crust. Many so-called bagel bakeries now skip this step, or do some freaky steam-injection thing. No, no, no. A real bagel is a boiled bagel. Accept no imitations!
And here they are, ready to eat. Turns out the convection option on the super-duper oven does a bang-up job of browning, so use it if you've got it. The last few bagels I baked--which got more rising time-- turned out the puffiest and prettiest, so I've added a final post-shape rising to the instructions below. Variations I made: black and white sesame seeds; granulated onion; "everything"--kosher salt, onion, and sesame seeds; egg-washed plain.
These made everyone in the office very happy.
Brooklyn Bagels in the Ozarks
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 packet dry yeast
1 TB brown sugar or 2 tsp malt syrup
4 cups bread flour, or 4 cups regular flour + 1 TB vital wheat gluten
1 TB coarse or kosher salt
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk mixed with 2 TB water
Cornmeal for sprinking on baking sheets, or baking parchment
Toppings: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, coarse salt, dehydrated onion or garlic, cinnamon sugar
Dissolve yeast and 1/2 TB brown sugar or malt in lukewarm water. Let stand for 5 minutes. Dump into a big bowl and add 1 cup flour. Stir together, then add salt and rest of sugar and flour. Tip out onto a lightly floured board and knead for at least 10 minutes, until smooth and stretchy. Drape a towel over the dough and let rest for 30 minutes.
Now, pull off an egg-sized lump of dough. Roll and stretch into a rope approximately 8-10 inches long. Wrap the rope around the widest part of your hand, forming a loop. Pinch the ends together. Looks like a bagel, doesn't it? Put the shaped bagel back onto the floured surface. Repeat with rest of dough, forming around a dozen bagels, depending on size. Drape with towel and let rise 20 minutes or so, until puffed up a bit.
Meanwhile, fill a big, wide pot with hot water. Add 1 TB of brown sugar or malt syrup and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a rolling boil.
Preheat oven to 425F, using convection option if possible. While water is boiling, set up your bagel-assembly line: Line a baking sheet or cover a cutting board with a clean towel. Sprinkle another baking sheet with cornmeal or line with parchment. Make egg wash, if using (it helps the toppings stick better and gives a shiny coating). Pour toppings into separate saucers.
When bagels are risen slightly, pick up 2 or 3 bagels with a spatula and drop into boiling water. Let cook about 45 seconds, then flip over if possible and boil on the other side for another 45 seconds or so. Boil only a few at a time, so they aren't crowded. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and deposit onto towel-lined sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining bagels.
While bagels are still moist, brush with egg wash, then dip rounded side into topping of choice. (The bagels can also be dipped directly into the toppings, without the egg wash.) Line up on cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. Let rise again for 10-15 minutes.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden-brown. Cool on a rack. Best when eaten while still warm, or within 2-3 hours of baking.