The hole story

If you bake your own bagels, you'll get them fresh from the oven with the texture and flavor you like.

By FAYE LEVY
January 22, 2009 15:22
The hole story

bagel. (photo credit: )

 
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Quite a controversy has arisen around the question of how the bagel got its hole. Some say it's simply a matter of economics: with the hole, the bagel appears larger but the hole doesn't cost money. Others argue that the hole permits even baking and more crust, because a greater surface of the bagel is exposed to the heat. No matter who is right, fresh hot bagels with plenty of butter, or with the traditional accompaniments of lox and cream cheese, are one of the attractions of an American-Jewish deli meal and many bar mitzva celebrations. "Bagels are to New York what croissants are to France," wrote Arthur Schwartz in Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking. New York boasts 24-hour bagel bakeries, with hot bagels ready at any hour of the day or night. Schwartz claims that bagels are Polish, and that they originally hail from Galicia, a region now divided between Poland and Ukraine. He notes that the fact that a bagel bakers' union was founded in New York in 1910 is evidence that bagels probably arrived there fairly early in the Eastern European migration to the US. As with croissants, Schwartz laments the change in quality in bagels brought by commercialization. He notes that today they are huge puffy rings, while genuine ones were small and dense, with a chewy crust and an inside that "was soft and fragrant for about an hour after the bagel came from the oven." That's why in those days a sign "hot bagels" really had significance. Yet there is no need to wait for special occasions or travel far in order to enjoy hot bagels. If you bake your own bagels, you can get them fresh from your oven and give them the texture and flavor you like. They fill the kitchen with a wonderful aroma, and have the advantage of being one of the quickest breads to make. A special two-step cooking technique gives bagels their unique texture, and enables us to "cheat" a little on the rising time: Bagels are boiled before they are baked. Boiling gives the bagels a quick push so they puff in the water, complete their rising and begin to cook. Thus, they don't need to rise as long as other rolls do after being shaped. A little sugar added to the water helps give the bagels a crisp crust. Before they are baked, the drained bagels are brushed with beaten egg so the finished bagels have a shiny glaze. You can use one of two methods to make the hole: either shape the dough in balls and push out the center with your finger; or form it into thin ropes, and press the ends together. When I taught bagel-baking classes, my students found the ball technique easier, because bagels formed by the rope method may open when boiled. Both methods use up all the dough. For this reason "bagel holes," unlike doughnut holes, are not sold in bakeries. In contrast to the plain basic bagels that came to us with the Jews from Eastern Europe, many kinds of flavored bagels appear to be distinctly American. Schwartz calls bagels flavored with such items as blueberries or chocolate chips "an abomination." New flavors were created as bagels' popularity spread across the US and the ring-shaped rolls were no longer available only in cities with large Jewish populations. In fact, Bon Appetit magazine presented bagels as a top trend in American food in 1997. I'm pleased when I find old-fashioned chewy water bagels and poppy-seed bagels, but I enjoy creative new flavors too. As with other breads, it's fun to vary the basic bagel dough by the addition of cheese, herbs, garlic or nuts or with sweet ingredients like honey and raisins. I have to admit, however, I never got used to the neon green bagels sold in some American supermarkets in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Bagels are simple to make, though some formulas seem quite elusive. In a Jewish story about Chelm, the legendary town of fools, the baker of a neighboring town was said to have given Chelm's representatives the following recipe: "Take some round holes, put some dough around them, simmer them in a pot of boiling water, then pop them in the oven and out will come your bagels." It has been reported that there are no bagels in Chelm to this very day. TIPS: _ When baking bagels, it is best to use bread flour. Plain, all-purpose flour will work too, although the bagels will be softer. Do not use cake flour or self-rising flour. The dough will be too tender and the bagels may not hold together. _ In the following recipes, the basic dough is mixed and kneaded by hand. If you prefer to make the dough in a mixer with a dough hook, follow the procedure for mixing by hand but use the mixer instead; once the dough is mixed, let the machine beat it until the dough is very smooth. TO SHAPE BAGELS: 1. Make bagel dough and let it rise. If you prefer, you can make the dough one day ahead, let it rise 30 minutes and punch it down. Then cover it with a damp cloth or plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out, and refrigerate it overnight. Let it come to room temperature before shaping bagels. 2. Knead the risen dough lightly. Roll dough to a thick log. With a floured knife, cut dough in 12 pieces (if you have made dough with 4 cups of flour). 3. Roll each piece of dough to a very smooth ball by holding it under your cupped palm on an unfloured surface, and rolling it over and over while pressing it firmly on the surface. The more the dough is rolled, the more evenly shaped the final bagel will be. 4. Flatten one ball slightly. Make a hole by flouring your index finger and pushing it through the center of the dough ball. Twirl the dough around your finger to stretch the hole; then insert 2 fingers and continue twirling. 5. Gently pull the edges to even out shape of bagel. Transfer the bagels to a floured board. Cover and let rise 15 minutes. Boil and bake them as directed in each recipe. EGG BAGELS These are traditional bagels, for serving hot with butter or with lox and cream cheese. Makes 12 bagels 4 4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour 4 3⁄4 cup lukewarm water 4 21⁄2 tsp. or 7 gr. dry yeast 4 2 tsp. sugar 4 1⁄4 cup vegetable oil 4 2 eggs 4 13⁄4 tsp. salt For boiling and for glaze: 4 2 liters water 4 11⁄2 Tbsp. sugar 4 1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (for glaze) Sift the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in 1⁄4 cup lukewarm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top and add 1 teaspoon sugar. Leave for 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy. Add the remaining sugar, oil, eggs, remaining water and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until the ingredients begin to come together to a dough. When mixing with a spoon becomes difficult, mix in the remaining flour by hand. Knead the dough vigorously on a work surface until very smooth and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes. Put the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until light but not doubled in volume. The dough can be made 1 day ahead; it should be left to rise 1⁄2 hour, then should be punched down and refrigerated overnight. Be sure it is covered with a damp cloth so it doesn't dry out; let it come to room temperature before continuing. Shape bagels (according to instructions above). Cover and let rise on a floured board for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Lightly flour or grease 2 baking sheets. To boil the bagels, bring the water and sugar to a boil in a large, wide saucepan. Add 3 or 4 bagels and boil 1 minute. Turn them over and boil 1 minute. If the holes begin to close, force them open with the handle of a wooden spoon. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a cloth or to paper towels. Repeat with the remaining bagels. Put the bagels on prepared baking sheets. Brush with egg glaze. Bake about 20 minutes or until browned; if both baking sheets don't fit on the center oven rack, bake them one above the other and switch their positions after 10 minutes. If not serving them right away, cool them on a rack and wrap them. They keep 2 days at room temperature. They can also be frozen and reheated before serving. WHOLE-WHEAT WALNUT BAGELS Unlike many whole-wheat bagels, these are not very sweet, so they are good with both savory and sweet accompaniments. I like them with mozzarella or goat cheese and with sliced red onions, tomatoes and roasted red peppers. Makes 12 bagels 4 2 cups whole-wheat flour 4 2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour 4 3⁄4 cup lukewarm water 4 21⁄2 tsp. or 7 gr. dry yeast 4 2 tsp. brown sugar or honey 4 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil 4 2 large eggs 4 1 3⁄4 tsp. salt 4 1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts For boiling and for glaze: 4 2 liters water 4 11⁄2 Tbsp. sugar 4 1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (for glaze) Sift both types flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in 1⁄4 cup lukewarm water. Sprinkle yeast on top and add 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Leave for 10 minutes until yeast is foamy. Add remaining brown sugar, oil, 2 eggs, remaining water and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until ingredients begin to come together to a dough. When mixing with a spoon becomes difficult, mix in remaining flour by hand. Knead dough vigorously on a work surface until very smooth and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle dough with walnuts and knead dough to mix them in. Put dough in a clean, oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place about 11⁄2 hours or until light but not doubled in volume. Shape bagels (according to instructions above). Cover and let rise on a floured board for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 200ºC. Lightly flour or grease 2 baking sheets. To boil the bagels, bring the water and sugar to a boil in a large, wide saucepan. Add 3 or 4 bagels and boil 1 minute. Turn them over and boil 1 minute. If holes begin to close, force them open with handle of a wooden spoon. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a cloth or to paper towels. Repeat with remaining bagels. Put bagels on prepared baking sheets. Beat remaining egg with a pinch of salt. Brush egg over bagels. Bake about 20 minutes or until browned. Serve warm; or cool them on a rack and wrap them.n Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home and 1,000 Jewish Recipes.

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