A good friend of mine is moving to New York City next week. That got me thinking about what he’ll be giving up by leaving sunny SoCal and what he’ll be gaining by joining the ranks of the chic New Yorkers. I’ve visited the Big Apple just twice, both times for a meager few days, and I was left with the distinct impression that NYC is fabulous, for sure, but big and scary. If you’re not careful the City will swallow you up for breakfast and leave you bruised, broke, and begging for mercy.
I am jealous, however, that my friend will be able to enjoy New York bagels whenever he desires. There really is nothing like them. Puffy and moist on the outside, chewy and doughy on the inside, nothing beats a fresh baked New York bagel, especially if it’s from Ess-A-Bagel or Murray’s.
With New York on the brain and my recent success with gravlax, I decided to see if I could duplicate NYC bagel magic at home for a family brunch over the weekend. I turned to legendary bread baker Peter Reinhart for his bagel recipe, available with great instructions at the Smitten Kitchen blog.
For Sunday brunch, I was expecting 10 guests. I started my gravlax on Friday morning so it would be ready on Sunday morning. I started my bagels on Saturday evening so I could leave them overnight in the fridge to finish off Sunday morning and have them piping hot and smelling wonderful when the guests arrived. On Saturday, Big N asked me, “don’t you think it would be best to try out new recipes before it really counts? What if you mess up?” To which I responded, “what’s the fun in that? I thrive on pressure, baby.” Fake confidence aside, I was a bit worried since this would be my first attempt. Nobody but Big N knew in advance that I would be attempting bagels, so I had it on the back burner that I could call my dad and ask him to make a Western Bagel run before coming to my house, just in case disaster struck. In the end there was no need. My bagels turned out (almost) perfect.
First I made the sponge dough and let the yeast rise for 2 hours while I watched it nearly double in size. Then I added the rest of my bread flour and a bit more yeast and kneaded until I had a nice ball. I weighed out 3 oz. balls of dough (I yielded 18 from the recipe I used, 3 oz makes a perfect medium bagel, not too big, not too mini) and let them rest. Then I rolled them into a 8 inch long worm and wrapped them around into a bracelet, pinching the overlapped edges. I let them rest again and then tested one bagel in a bowl of cool water for the “float test” (when you know your yeast is done rising). Then I put my bagel rounds in the fridge overnight. The next morning I boiled them in water with a little baking soda and malt syrup (malt syrup is the key ingredient to getting them to taste truly deli-style) on each side for about 90 seconds. When I took them out of the water I quickly topped them. Some bagels I topped with a white and black sesame mix. Some with garlic granules, and most I kept plain. I then baked them in a 500 degree oven for 5 minutes, then at 450 for the rest of the time until they looked done. Last, I took about half of my plain bagels and brushed them with melted butter and dipped them in a cinnamon/sugar mix. Voila. A delicious assortment of homemade bagels.
How were they? Really, really, really good. I did achieve the chewy exterior but my bagels were ever-so-slightly undercooked (a little doughy) on the inside. Nobody complained though. They were light, tasty, and perfectly fresh and just about as good as I remember them in NYC (though homemade always ups the wow factor).
I made a dill and chive cream cheese to go with the gravlax, tomatoes, capers, and red onions I set out for toppings. I tell you there really is nothing like biting into a freshly baked homemade bagel topped with herbed cream cheese, homemade lox, and a juicy tomato. To round out my brunch spread, I served an egg scramble with spinach, onion, crimini mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and parmesan cheese, plus oro blanco grapefruit and cara cara orange supremes, and finally smoothies made with blueberries, strawberries, bananas, and yogurt.
Now that’s what I call Sunday brunch. Try to find that meal in NYC for less than $30 bucks a pop.