New York style Brunch: fresh baked bagels

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.

Brunch spread 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.

Brunch spread

 

Nothing finer: fresh baked baguettes

Kneading dough

Other than your basic quick breads (zucchini, banana nut, etc.), never in my life have I attempted to bake real fresh bread.  And though my kitchen is stocked with nearly every useful and useless gadget invented, I do not have a bread machine.  I’d love to blame this deficiency on the whole “low carb” trend, but the fact is that is carbs and I get along quite well.  I’d rather carry a pound or two of extra love around the middle than to banish rice, sweets, and dinner rolls from my life.   Plain old laziness could be the real reason why I never attempted to bake bread, or maybe it’s fear, perhaps both.  Suffice it to say I was pretty excited and a little intimidated when baguette and sourdough day arrived in baking class.

Baguettes pre-baking

Determined to get this one right, I watched the chef’s demonstration, carefully taking notes about the various kinds of yeasts, how they react, rich dough vs. lean dough, and the “right” and “wrong” ways to knead my dough.  When it was our turn to bake, I dove right in, weighing and sifting my flours with expert precision and dissolving my fresh yeast slowly in perfect room temperature water.  The chef allowed us the option to cut our kneading time in half by using the dough hooks on our commercial Kitchenaids, but I scoffed loudly at the thought of taking any short cuts and kneaded my dough by hand for the full 10 minutes (the “right” way, of course: left heel of the hand, right heel of the hand, turn back, again).  After letting the dough ferment to allow the yeast to work its magic overnight, we scaled (divided) our baguette dough and shaped it into 2 baguettes and one “epi,” which is meant to resemble wheat.  Baguette recipe below.

Baxter oven

The shaped dough then went into the proofer (a warm humid box) so it could rise, then it was  slashed and given an egg wash to promote browning.  Next we baked our baguettes in the colossal Baxter oven.  For a first attempt, my baguettes weren’t too bad.  My epi colored nicely, but I skimped a little on the egg wash on the baguettes and they didn’t brown as well as I would have liked.  My baguettes did achieve a crumbly exterior and a somewhat bland but soft white interior.  We’ll be tested on baguettes for our first practical exam so I have one more chance to get them perfect.

Next we attempted sourdough, using a starter (a sludgy yeast mixture that gives sourdough its signature flavor) that’s been around LCB for at least 5 years.  Yeast is alive, so if you feed it flour and water it will survive indefinitely.  I decided to make a whole wheat sourdough as opposed to a generic white sourdough.  This was probably a mistake because the wheat versions didn’t respond well to overnight refrigeration and most of them ended up resembling small UFOs.  My bread tasted nice, but not as “sour” as I’d hoped.  I think the recipe on which we relied might need some tweaking.  Sourdough and dinner rolls

All in all I was pleased with my first attempts.  I’m pretty sure this won’t be my last foray into the world of artisan breads, but I doubt I’ll be the Suzy Homemaker of breads every Sunday either.

Baguettes anyone?

Fresh baguettes

French Baguettes

Prep time 2 hours, 30 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 3 hours
Meal type Bread

Ingredients

  • 14 oz Water (Room temperature)
  • 3/4 oz Fresh yeast (or 3 tsp active dry yeast)
  • 24 oz Bread flour
  • 1/2 oz Salt
  • 1 Egg

Note

Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu's recipe

These baguettes have no preservatives so will only stay fresh for 1-2 days max.

Directions

1. Add yeast to water, stir slowly to dissolve, about 5 minutes.
2. Sift the salt and bread flour onto parchment paper.
3. Add your sifted flour/salt to the yeast/water one third at a time, using a wooden spoon and then your hands to work it in. Once the flour is mixed in, turn it out on a floured surface and knead gently for 1 minute to incorporate.
4. Using a mixer on the 2nd speed with the dough hook, knead dough for 3 minutes. Rest for 2 minutes, then again for 3 minutes. If you’re kneading by hand, knead for 10 full minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. It should pass the “window” test: tear off a 1 ounce piece of dough and gently stretch it into a 2 inch square- the glutens should hold the strands together and not break apart in the middle of your “window”. If they break apart, keep kneading.
5. Place dough in very loose plastic wrap and let rise overnight in the refrigerator, or place it in a lightly oiled deep bowl loosely covered with plastic wrap, in a warm spot in the kitchen until it doubles, about 90 minutes.
6. Separate dough into 3 11-12 ounce portions. With each of the 3 portions, roll into a ball, pinching the bottom of the ball together and let it rest for 3 minutes with the pinched bottom facing down. Then using both hands on a lightly floured surface, roll into a long caterpillar shape about 20 inches long, keeping the pinched seam down. Place your 3 long rolls into the oven (without the heat running) and let them rise again. Your unheated oven should be about 80 degrees. If the air is really dry, spritz some water in the over before adding the bread. The bread needs a moist warm area to “proof.” The loaves will rise and soften and look a little like marshmallows after about 10-12 minutes.
7. Take the loaves out, then preheat oven to 450 degrees.
8. Using scissors or a sharp knife, make 5 diagonal slashes across the top of each loaf, evenly spaced. In a small bowl, whisk the egg thoroughly, and brush the tops and sides of each loaf.
9. Bake until golden brown in the center of the oven, about 30 minutes. To ensure proper texture, put a baking dish filled with water in the oven as it preheats, then remove to bake the bread.