Week 17: Unleavened bagel

I hadn’t planned to make bagels last week. Instead, I was packing away my yeast and flour for the week, cleaning the house, and reading about Passover. Then, in Seasons of Our Joy: A Modern Guide to the Jewish Holidays by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, I noticed a recipe titled simply, “Unleavened bagel.”

Nobody I knew was expecting to get bagels from me last week, so I had nothing to lose by trying out the recipe. One of my testers, however, familiar with what ‘unleavened’ might be code for, was prepared to lose a tooth on the test bagels. (I’m pleased to report that he still has the same number of teeth post-Passover that he had before the holiday.)

This recipe may be the oddest recipe I have ever seen for bread. The ingredient list is a puzzler in its own right, but by the time I got to the instructions I was thinking, “You want me to do what? And then I’m supposed to do WHAT?”

You begin by combining water, butter (or chicken fat!), sugar, and salt on the stovetop, then bringing the mixture to a boil. Then you add matzo meal and “continue to boil” for a bit. Off-heat, you add in four eggs.

This is all easier said than done, especially the part about boiling what you have just turned into a paste, but I did the best that I could. And even after you add four eggs, you still have a substance reminiscent of wallpaper paste (though gently and pleasantly fragrant).

After coating your hands with water — or shortening — you’re supposed to roll 2-inch balls of the batter and drop them onto a greased baking sheet. Again, this is easier said than done. I ended up using a silicon spatula to scoop out a quantity of batter that looked as if it might roll into a 2-inch ball. The amount of batter I had was enough for 9 balls, and I could only hope I had them spaced on the baking sheet so that they wouldn’t interfere with each other. And just before baking, I was to poke a hole in the center of each ball with a wet or greased finger, “or omit and use as rolls.”

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What the heck. I poked them.

The baking stage was no less unusual. First, you bake the bagels for 20 minutes in a preheated 425°F oven. Then you reduce the heat to 375°F and bake them for another 25 minutes. Then you turn off the heat, leave the oven door ajar, and let the bagels cool in the oven.

I sure am glad that I did not have to work out the details of the baking stage for myself!

When the baking was done, I was worried that the bagels would be bricks that were mortared to the baking sheet. I took a spatula to one, and was happy to find that not only did it release readily from the baking sheet, it was light and airy.

In fact, the texture of the bagels was similar to that of a particularly light English muffin. I had been planning to use the bagel guillotine for slicing them, but I felt now that the blade would crush these delicate baked goods. Instead, I sliced them by hand using a steak knife.

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My taster was very pleasantly surprised with his bagels, and when I left them out at work to share, they disappeared quickly. I enjoyed mine, everyone else seemed to enjoy theirs, and I will definitely make them next year at Passover.

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