Thank you, Peter Reinhart.
Prior to this weekend -- the first time I made bagels at home, from scratch -- I generally did not waste my time on bagels. They were always just a big mass of dough, requiring a lot of chewing and not a ton of payoff. The possible exceptions being cinnamon-sugar bagels, which are almost a dessert, and bagels from Husband's New York hometown, loaded high with egg salad. But other than that, yeah. Give me a doughnut, an egg, even an English muffin. I'll pass on the bagels.
But then this weekend happened: week three of The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge, which brought us bagels. As with all his recipes, Peter Reinhart shares with us the reasons behind the choices he makes with his bread formulas -- we get to learn exactly what makes an incredible bagel incredible. In this case, it is a handful of specialty ingredients and a day or so of patient proofing that allow the home baker to replicate that quality bagel-shop taste.
The handful specialty ingredients: high-gluten flour and diastatic malt powder. A quick trip over to King Arthur Flour's Web site and a few days later, I had nine pounds of the high-gluten, hard-to-find-in-regular-groceries flour sitting right on my front porch, along with a bag of malt powder and hell, why not, a dough whisk.
The day or so of patient proofing: Peter's recipe involves a stretchy, bubbly sponge that requires a two-hour rest, which is then used to make a stiff dough that must be kneaded diligently to develop the gluten. After the bagels are shaped, they head off into the refrigerator for a chilly overnight stay, which allows enzymes in the dough to release their flavors. Trust Peter on this one: a long cold fermentation engenders amazing bagels, bagels that are good enough to turn a person with tepid feelings about bagels into a person who has to eat the entire batch, like, now.
Husband helped me with the boiling and the addition of the toppings -- we made four plain, two poppy seed, two with a mixture of poppy seeds and kosher salt, two sesame seed and two garlic.
I called Mom and informed her that there were freshly-baked bagels cooling in the kitchen and this was her response: "I will be right over. I am five minutes away. I was going to do something else but I am hungry." Husband dug right into his garlic bagel while Mom and I went for the sesame seed. The bagels were chewy, with a perfect crust and a faintly nutty, vaguely sweet, complex bready flavor. Within moments my batch of 12 bagels was down to five.
And I had become a bagel person.
The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not share the recipes from Reinhart's book. But if you want to become a bagel person, procure a copy of the book and turn to page 115.