Week 2: Rocky Road to Brooklyn

For this week’s bagels I turned to the book Smart Bread Machine Recipes by Sandra Woodruff, which contains three bagel recipes. I turned to this book for a couple of reasons: first, because I have baked successful loaves of regular bread from it in the last few months (Honey Whole Wheat Bread and the delicious Applesauce Oat Bread); second, because it did include three recipes for bagels, suggesting that the author has some experience in this area and bagels are not out of her comfort zone. Perhaps this second reason is a bit naïve of me, but in a few hours I should find out if my trust has been misplaced (as it has occasionally been in other situations, so that’s nothing new).

Last week I noticed that I didn’t seem to get all of the small quantity of honey out of the measuring spoon and into the dough, so this week I decided to try getting the honey in solution with the water before putting it in the bread machine pan. I measured the water first into my Pyrex measuring cup, then squeezed the honey directly into the water, stirred it with a chopstick, and warmed it in the microwave for 15 seconds. The water didn’t feel warm to the touch, so I gave it another stir and another 15 seconds in the microwave. This time the water felt warm but not hot, indicating that it might work better with the yeast. The honey was fully dissolved in the water and didn’t stick to the measuring cup when I poured the honey-water into the bread machine pan. So yes, the amount of honey I used was an experienced guess rather than strictly accurate, but there was no waste and no mess.

“Eyeballing” a measurement, especially when you’re baking rather than cooking, might seem like too much of a risk to take. But if you have been baking for a while you tend to measure the same quantities of the same ingredients over and over — say, a teaspoon of salt. After a while you get a sense of how long it takes to pour that much salt.

I used to watch the late Justin Wilson measure dry ingredients into his hand, and on one particular episode of his show he paused and challenged his audience: “You don’t think that’s a teaspoon of salt?” He proceeded to pour salt into his cupped hand and then pour it into a measuring spoon. It was exactly a level teaspoon of salt. My mind was blown when I realized that if you could “see” the volume you needed, you didn’t have to press it into a measuring cup and then try to get it all back out again — a true blessing when it comes to ingredients like vegetable shortening, peanut butter, or… honey.

This technique also comes in handy when you need a fractional measurement you probably don’t have a dedicated measuring spoon for, such as ground cloves for a spice cake or a pumpkin pie. A recipe will sometimes call for 1/8 teaspoon. Now, trying to measure 1/2 of 1/4 teaspoon requires calculus if you’re trying to measure it from the bottom to the top of the spoon’s bowl, but it’s simple to turn the spoon 90 degrees degrees and let the measurement go from side to side. And if you get your 1/8 teaspoon this way, take a moment to level the measuring spoon and see what it does look like from above. Or, like Justin Wilson, pour it into your hand and see what it looks like there. (This is not necessarily recommended practice for spicy spices.)

If you’re not into this kind of guesswork, there are special sets of measuring spoons that can do the work for you. Try your favorite source for cooking or baking tools and search for “spice measuring spoons” or “odd size measuring spoons.”

On to the bagels!

Week 2 recipe
whole wheat flour
wheat gluten
yeast
sea salt
water
honey

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This dough was wildly different from last week’s dough (as it should have been, using 100% whole wheat flour). Thick and stuff, it sat heavily in the bottom of the bread machine pan. It did not look as if it had risen. According to the recipe, I was supposed to be able to form it into eight balls and then roll each ball into an eight-inch rope. There was no way that was going to happen — the whole wheat dough just wouldn’t move like that without breaking into chunks. I decided to press the balls into patties and use the handle of a wooden spoon to make a hole in the middle. If I made a bigger hole, the bagel was likely to fall apart.

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When I put the bagels in for the boil, I decided to boil them for 1 minute on each side instead of 1 minute total. (Just to be fair to both sides, I guess.) The bagels sank to the bottom of the pan, and I had to urge them up again with a spatula in order to turn them.

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I didn’t give the bagels an egg-white glaze at this point or add anything else to the tops. I don’t plan to do that to any batch until I’ve gotten the right kind of dough to work with. I suspect that this batch will be tough enough on the outside without any extra help.

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Well, they look more like bagels than the ones from last week.

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The taste was that of very dense bread, but without the gluten development that the reference bagel had (ironically, as I had added gluten to the flour). I did manage to eat it, so I hereby pronounce this week’s batch of baked goods to be edible! (We’ll see what my volunteer taste-testers have to say. If you turn out to be one of them, just remember: this is for science, so be honest.)

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I already have a few ideas about changes I’d like to make to this recipe for next week. I’ll have to be careful not to change too many things, so I’ll try to do a little research this week to figure out which changes might make the biggest difference. (To that end, I just ordered a copy of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, by Maria Balinska.) Shall I use a different type of flour? A blend of flours? More yeast? More liquid? We’ll see which direction looks the most promising. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment.

 

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