Week 14: Plain and Seedy Bagels

Over spring break I was able to make a trip to Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield, Ohio. If you’ve ever been to Jungle Jim’s, you already know that “trip” is an inadequate word to describe the experience. And if you’ve never been there, no words will be adequate — but this might help.

Jungle Jim’s played a huge role in my pre-awakening as a foodie. Sometime around 1987 or 1988, before I could cook or even really bake, I was exposed to the existence of fascinating ingredients from around the world. Jungle Jim’s is where I saw blue potatoes for the first time, as well as blood oranges and fifty-pound bags of rice. (Fifty pounds of what kind of rice? Basmati, jasmine, long-grain, short-grain, brown… probably everything but sushi rice, which was surely sold in smaller bags.) Each trip, no matter who drove me there, was highlighted by a passage through the meat section, in search of the most exotic (or disturbing) meat available. The first time I was there, a package of rattlesnake meat caught my eye. This time, we found ground camel meat in the freezer case. (NOTE for anyone who was wondering: camel meat is not kosher.)

I only get a few chances each year to visit Jungle Jim’s, so I’m usually looking not for a week’s worth of groceries but for the kind of treats I can’t find anywhere else. Each of my kids has their favorite, even if they’ve never been there: Daughter likes the bottled water from Wales, while Sons Two and Three request the energy drink in video-game themed cans. Son One assists me in my often-fruitless quest for Jelly Babies. And personally, I am amused by the availability of small tins of absinthe candy. This time I had bagels in my sights, though I wasn’t sure that I’d find anything particularly exotic.

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However, I did walk away with a five-pound bag of Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached Enriched Artisan Bread Flour. One side of the bag does have the word “bagels” on it, so I guess it will be okay. I also picked up a bag of four Asiago bagels in the day-old/over-the-hill section tucked away back in the corner of produce. The cheese-topped bagels were consumed within a couple of days by myself and Son Two; the flour came home with me. I concede that a 1,000-mile round trip is a bit extreme for what may prove to be merely a slightly different kind of flour. But as long as I was there anyway to look for Jelly Babies, it was worth it.

This week I examined two bread-oriented books while choosing this month’s new base recipe. The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book is one of my favorites, but its recipe called for malt syrup a couple of different ways (in the dough and in the boil water), and I was looking for a recipe that was a bit closer to those I had just used. So I’ll try that one some other month.

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That left me with two recipes from Uprisings: The Whole Grain Bakers’ Book. My edition is the revised one from 1990 — technically the third edition, though you have to read closely to discover this. I’ve made several of the recipes in this book, which come from independent, whole-grain bakeries across the United States. It’s an especially good book for the “crunchy” cook who has on hand ingredients like safflower oil or wheat sprouts. If you’re relatively mainstream, you might have to hunt down some unusual foodstuffs or skip a lot of recipes. On the other hand, it has a marvelous index that lets you search recipes y their primary ingredient (say, barley malt or carob chips), or find all the recipes that fall into a certain category (no eggs or dairy, no wheat, no sweetener, etc.), so it’s a handy book if you’re baking for someone with special restrictions. And, truth be told, many of the ingredients that were a bit obscure in 1990 are much easier to find these days.

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Here’s an Amazon review from “A Customer” that sums it up for me:

Uprisings would have earned 5 stars from me, but I do recommend this with a caveat that not all of the recipes work out all of the time. Most do, however, and those ingredients that may have seemed exotic back when are now available in most supermarkets or your local health food emporium. I continue to bake out of Uprisings, but I also love to read it because it’s a great way to revisit the 1960s and 70s–a “you are there” type of experience. It is so very earnest.

Its first bagel recipe, though, called for “2 pounds of bread dough” and simply called for me to bagelize it by boiling before baking. I do plan to try a version of that process sometime this year, but for now I want to try the recipes that treat bagels as a different kind of bread.

The second bagel recipe fit that description. It also called for 7 cups of hard whole wheat flour, which I found rather daring. But it also called for two eggs, so I was willing to give it a try.

This would have been easier if I’d actually had 7 cups of whole wheat flour, and I didn’t realize that I didn’t have it until Monday night, when it was too late to think about spending an hour just to go get a bag of flour when I already had so much flour in the house….

…including five pounds of Unbleached Enriched Artisan Bread Flour. Well, allons-y!

I ended up using about 6 cups of flour plus 2 tablespoons of the artisan bread flour. The dough might have been able to take on a bit more flour, but I didn’t see a reason to force it.

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After 10 minutes of hand kneading.
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And now, after a 30 minute rest.

The recipe directs the baker to form 18 bagels, but I decided to make 12 instead. The size seemed right as I formed them and after I boiled them (for about 2 minutes on each side).

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And because the recipe suggested topping the bagels with poppy seeds or sesame seeds, I decided to try that, too. Three bagels have white sesame seeds, three bagels have black poppy seeds, and six are plain (though I did add about a tablespoon of honey to the boil-water, which the recipe promised would take the place of a glaze).

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From the options of baking bagels for 20 minutes at 425°F or 30 minutes at 350°F, I chose the latter (and more familiar) temperature. But since my oven couldn’t hold two half-sheet pans on the same rack, I decided to shift and rotate the pans halfway through the baking time.

Oh, and I also bought the bagels a new skimmer when I was at Jungle Jim’s. To flip and remove the bagels from the boiling water I had been using a Chinese strainer I’ve had for I-don’t-know-how-long, and I was starting to worry that it was poking and tearing the dough. This new skimmer doesn’t have any sharp points, and it looks and feels elegant. I also bought it for half price (I still probably paid too much, but I love it and I’ll probably never need to buy another one).

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I baked the plain bagels for 3 minutes, but the topped ones still looked a bit pale at that point so I kept them in the oven for a total of 33 minutes.

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These bagels got good reviews from my tasters, but I had to throw out the last two because I couldn’t get them to my topping-loving taster in time. I think that, after two days have passed, I will just need to slice and freeze them to keep them from getting moldy, especially now that it’s finally becoming warm and sunny out. Conditions will start to change in the kitchen, too, and I may have to adjust some procedures as the humidity eventually increases enough to become a factor in rising times.

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