Week 3: Under Pressure

From my bed, as I attempted to sleep in this morning, I could hear my daughter in the kitchen. She opened cabinet doors and utensil drawers. I heard her depress the plunger on the toaster. Whole grain toast with creamy peanut butter, I thought.

One of my sons, Son Three, joined her at the dining room table as she ate her toast, and asked her questions I couldn’t quite hear. I could only hear her responses.

Factually: “No, we’re out of that.”

Somewhat apologetically: “No, I got the last two slices of bread.”

Then, brightly: “But Mom will be making bagels today!”

Every once in a while, in opposition to all the evidence, my children regard my intentions with a faithful confidence I cannot explain and do not deserve. Any sane, rational person would have given up on me now; many have. But for some reason this set of poor, naïve children still think I’m going to come through.

Mom is making bagels today.

No pressure.

Changes to last week’s recipe
I decided to add another teaspoon of yeast to the recipe because most of the yeasted bread recipes I’ve used call for a full tablespoon of yeast. It feels odd to use a different quantity. And, clearly, last week’s dough didn’t rise as it should have. One reason may have been too little yeast.
The other reason the dough didn’t rise last week could have been that the high quantity of whole wheat flour soaked up the honey-water like a sponge, giving the yeast no medium in which to grow. Whole wheat flour can make heavy bread unless adjustments are made, and changing this recipe to contain a mixture of whole wheat and white flour should certainly lighten it up. Any amount of whole wheat flour over half a cup in this recipe should give the bagels enough whole wheat “taste.”
No pressure.

I prepared the warm honey-water as I did last week, mixed the flours together before adding them to the bread machine pan, added the wheat gluten, sea salt, and yeast, and started the two-hour bagel dough cycle. Fifteen minutes into the first kneading, the bread machine was making scary mechanical noises that sounded like grinding gears.

Son One weighed in with his opinions: “Did you put popcorn kernels in there by any chance?” and “You have changed too many variables. The scientific method is angry!”

This week I didn’t add any books to my collection of food writing; I was too busy at home with sick kids, trying to get back to work after being sick myself, or going home early from work after trying too hard to recover from being sick.

I did, however, keep making progress in a wonderful book by Elizabeth Ehrlich titled Miriam’s Kitchen: A Memoir. It is organized by the Jewish year and tells many stories, one of which is Elizabeth’s gradual journey from being a casual ethnic Jew to a formally observant Jew through the influence and example of her mother-in-law Miriam, particularly in the kitchen. I have just finished the chapter for April (Passover), and may be able to finish it in time to give a midweek report. But it is not a book to be rushed — as I will explain after I’ve finished it — so I will not make any promises as to when that review (of a 1997 book!) will appear.

With 1 hour and 30 minutes left in the dough cycle, the grinding ceased and the dough was ready to rise for the remaining hour and a half. The household enjoyed a blissful almost-silence in which I could hear the gentle blip and bleep of video games.

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At 1:09pm, the dough cycle was complete. The dough looked almost fluffy in the pan but came out very cleanly. It was easy to divide into balls and work into ropes. I didn’t need to put any extra flour on the work surface. As I started making the ropes, I asked Son One to turn on the heat under the boiling pan; the oven was already preheating to 350°F.

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At 1:12, with all the bagels formed, I covered them with the other half of the kitchen towel to allow them to rest while the water in the big saucepan came up to the boil.

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At 1:23 the first batch of bagels went into the boiling water for a minute on each side (more or less).

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At 1:27 I put the bagels into the oven for 25 minutes. I think the second batch of bagels that went into the boil were the ones I formed first, which meant that they had more time to rise. They looked puffier and more bagel-like than the others when they went in. I beat one whole egg with a fork and gave each bagel an egg wash before they went into the oven. Here goes!

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1:44. Halfway through the baking time, the bagels were looking and smelling like bagels. Son Two, upon hearing that I will start adding custom ingredients next week if this batch turns out well, insisted on “Cheese on the top. First.

My daughter added, “I will try that.” Really, the part she’s looking forward to the most is when she gets to slice the bagels with a device called a bagel guillotine. She recently turned thirteen and is experimenting with rebelliousness by talking continually about the most grisly things she can imagine. She has told some of her classmates that I let her use a guillotine at home. Rather than make her look like an outlaw, this revelation has had the unintended result of a few thirteen-year-old boys thinking that I am a “really cool” mom. I can’t remember a time when any thirteen-year-old boys ever thought that I was cool — especially when I was thirteen — so this is an odd experience for me. Wait until one of them finds out that I own an eight-inch Chinese cleaver.

This time when I made the ropes of dough, I used a small amount of the workspace and only rolled the dough away from me.

One of my other recipes says to increase the bagel’s “chew” you should twist the rope by pulling towards yourself with one hand and pushing away with the other.

I might try that next time.

At 1:58 (having kept the bagels in the oven for an extra two minutes), the bagels looked like bagels as they cooled on the wire rack. A couple of them from the first batch didn’t make the greatest rings, but I hoped that the egg wash would keep them stuck together on their way to the French executioner’s blade.

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2:30 — It was now slicing time. The bagels were a little soft, and the guillotine smushed them down a bit into the holder. The more asymmetrical bagels couldn’t be sliced all the way through the first time, and needed to be carefully finished by hand with my long, serrated bread knife. I wrapped up the best-looking bagel to deliver to my best friend, selected the second-best bagel for toasting and tasting, and stacked the rest of the batch into a leftover bagel bag.

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After two passes through the toaster, my test bagel didn’t look browned on the inside, but three passes might have been fatal. It received a healthy schmear of cream cheese (whose container bragged that cream cheese contained 70 percent less of something than peanut butter).

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It looks like a bagel! It smells like a bagel! And it tastes like a bagel! Now I have a working recipe to play with for the next two Sundays, before I start using another master recipe.

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