Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bagels

Way back in 1927, Harry Lender founded one of the nation's first bagel bakeries in New Haven, Connecticut. This bakery would eventually include over 600 employees and would be largely responsible for the popularization of bagels in the United States. While most people were introduced to Lender's through their frozen, six in a bag, grocery store bagels, I was fortunate enough to live near one of the two Lender's Restaurants, which baked delicious, fresh, and chewy bagels every day. You could actually watch them boil the bagels before they were baked and they were so good that if you got a really fresh one, you wouldn't think of putting butter or cream cheese on it, it was perfect as is. Alas, the Lender's Restaurant is no more, and in it's place stands.....an Applebee's (within walking distance of a TGIF and a Chili's...blech). I can't drive by without getting all nostalgic, and more than a little upset. I've had other good bagels, but nothing lives up to the Lender's experience that is forever imprinted on my mind. Every bagel I eat makes me pine even more for what I can never have again. So it goes.

So of course, when I got my new bread book (get this book if you have any interest in bread baking), the bagel recipe was one of the first ones I wanted to try. As it turns out, it was the third recipe I tried, and probably the most successful so far. I was so excited to get up and bake them Sunday morning that I couldn't sleep. So consequently, I was boiling water and preheating my oven at 6 AM. I was in bagel heaven at approximately 7:30.

It began Saturday with a sponge starter that was allowed to ferment for about 3 hours, then mixed with the rest of the flour, yeast, salt, and barley malt syrup to make the dough.

I finished kneading the dough by hand, until it passed the "windowpane test," then formed it into a ball so it would be easy to divide into bagel-size pieces.

I divided the dough into 16 roughly equal pieces, shaped them into balls, and allowed the balls to sit under a damp towel for 20 minutes.

I then had to shape the bagels. This was achieved by poking a hole in the middle of the dough ball with my thumb, then working the dough into a bagel shape. At this point the bagels had to sit in the fridge overnight in order for the enzymes to go to work breaking down those starches into sugars. The following morning, I brought a pot of water to a boil, added some baking soda, and boiled my bagels for one minute per side.

The boiled bagels were placed on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. I sprinkled a few with sesame seeds and then it was into a 500 degree oven for about 12 minutes (Just in case you forget where you put the bagels, it can be useful to have a baby around to point them out).

When I took the bagels out of the oven, it was extremely hard to wait the suggested 15 minutes cooling time before eating. I managed to hold out and was rewarded with warm, chewy bagels, that were somewhat reminiscent of the old Lender's experience. Definitely as good or better than the best I've had since. The longer they sat around, the chewier they got, which was definitely a good thing. They were delicious plain, or with cream cheese, toasted or not toasted, with or without smoked salmon. The hardest thing about homemade bagels will be resisting the urge to make them every weekend!

3 comments:

ob said...

I can attest to the chewy deliciousness of the bagels. They were a timely precursor to a G-Men victory.

The Kid said...

Our basketball court is named Lender Court because Murray Lender, a QU alum, made a sizable contribution to the TD Banknorth Sports Center. One day this summer, I was walking out of the TDBNSC when who do I see, but Murray Lender himself. Murray had a stroke some time ago and now communicates by a series of inaudible noises. His "handling" quickly explained to me that Mr. Lender needed help getting a couple "fellas" out of the back of The Big Lend's car. Before you ask, I'll tell you - yes, they were two lifesize stuffed gorillas and yes they had mini-Lender's bagels around their necks. Murray then walked around the building for 45 minutes until he gathered everyone up, put "Bobcats" hats on them and had all of us take a group picture with the two gorillas. He then yelled something, which sounded a lot like a drunken Billy Madison tirade, and his handler grabbed both gorillas and sprinted out of the building. Murray "snatched" the hats off our heads, yelled something and then "left the building". I swear on my unborn likely-bastard of a child that all of this happened. I'll get the picture to you soon, I'm sure you can appreciate it.

Allen said...

These look great, Darron! I'm busting through my batch pretty quick. I should have the book this next week and can hardly wait. Thanks for swinging by my blog.