There are many wonderful benefits to living in our nation’s capital: free museums, cherry blossoms in the spring, two restaurants by Michel Richard.
But some days it feels like all of those pluses are offset by some of Washington’s big minuses: the constant presence of pompous politicians, the influx of protesters wreaking havoc for the sake of wreaking havoc, and — a personal peeve of mine — the lack of anything resembling what those of us who grew up in New York, New Jersey or Philadelphia call “bagels.”
Let it be known: doughnut-shaped bread does not a bagel make. This fact seems to have escaped most of the chains and grocery stores in the District. You may be able to fool a few folks with your “French Toast Bagels,” but not this girl.
To be fair, I have found one bagel shop in the District of Columbia that makes a decent bagel, but it’s closing next year to make room for a new restaurant. So like I said, I got nothin’. And to all of those who refer me to bagel shops in Maryland and Virginia, I say thank you, but I really don’t feel like trekking across state lines for a bagel and some schmear.
So what is a girl to do? Make her own bagels? Well, as it turns out, yes. I had seen a recipe in Sherry Yard’s “Desserts by the Yard” for New York bagels, which requires little more than whirring the dough in a food processor, letting it rest overnight and boiling and baking the bagels the next morning. That sounded perfectly doable on a Friday night, in preparation for fresh bagels Saturday morning.
Were the bagels Bronx-worthy? Mmmm…not quite, but close. And they were certainly better than the imposters being sold as bagels in these parts. In the future, I think I would add malt syrup instead of the brown sugar I had on hand, which would give them more of that characteristic bagel flavor.
But details, details… Bottom line — with minimal prep and little cleanup, I had fresh, hot, crusty bagels an hour after I’d woken up Saturday morning, about the same amount of time it would have taken me to get dressed, drive out to Bethesda, buy some bagels and get back home.
So now that I can make fuss-free bagels on my own, it looks like I can cross that off my “Washington peeves” list. Now, if only I could do something about those politicians…
New York Bagels
Adapted from Sherry Yard’s Desserts by the Yard
Note: You may need a little more water than Yard recommends in this recipe; I did. If you find that your dough isn’t coming together, just add a touch more warm water until it does. You want the dough to be soft and silky, but not sticky. Also, I found that the trick to getting the bagels to rise sufficiently is allowing them to come to room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour while the oven preheats.
For the dough:
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm (90F) water
2 teaspoons malt syrup (recommended) or 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
4 cups bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
For the simmering liquid:
2 quarts water
1/4 cup malt syrup or light brown sugar
Whisk together the yeast, water and malt syrup (or brown sugar) in a Pyrex measuring cup and let stand for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is cloudy and the yeast begins to foam. Place the bread flour and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and pulse a few times to combine. With the machine running, pour in the liquid in a steady stream. Process just until the dough comes together. If the dough isn’t coming together, add a touch more water.
(Alternatively, Yard says you can also do this using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Start with only 1 cup of flour and combine with the cloudy yeast mixture in the bowl of the stand mixer. Mix until combined, then mix in another cup of flour and mix. Add another cup and mix on medium speed for 4 minutes. Turn the speed to low and slowly add the last cup of flour. Change to the dough hook and mix for 8 minutes on medium-low.)
Remove the dough from the food processor (or mixer) and divide into 8 balls. Cover them with a damp kitchen towel and allow them to rest for 15 minutes.
One ball at a time, poke a hole in the middle of the ball and stretch the dough into a donut shape, about 3.5-4 inches in diameter. (Alternatively, as Yard recommends in her book, you can roll out the dough into 12-inch-long sausages and join the sausages at the end, overlapping the ends slightly. However, I found that the ends were difficult to seal, so I prefer the hole-poking method.)
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray the paper with non-stick cooking spray. Place the bagels on the pan, spray them lightly with cooking spray and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 10 to 12 hours, or overnight, until they double in volume (they may not fully double — no worries, just let them come to room temperature in the morning, and they’ll get there).
Remove the bagels from the refrigerator. Place a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 450ºF for at least 30 minutes. Sprinkle a baking peel or baking sheet generously with cornmeal.
Now it’s time to simmer the bagels. Bring the water to a simmer and add the malt syrup (or brown sugar). Cut the parchment between the bagels so that you have 8 squares for 8 bagels. You are going to boil 2 bagels at a time, so lift 2 bagels, one after the other, with their parchment and invert off the paper into the simmering water. Cook for 20 seconds, then flip the bagels over and cook for 20 seconds more. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and place on the baking peel or sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal. Repeat with another 2 bagels.
Quickly slide 4 bagels from the peel or sheet onto the baking stone and bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer the bagels to a rack to cool slightly. Repeat with the remaining bagels, 2 at a time in the water, 4 at a time on the baking stone.
Yield: 8 bagels