Time to make the bagels

November 16, 1997|By Rob Kasper

I THOUGHT I COULD hear the voices of New York's old bagel makers as I worked in my Baltimore kitchen, rolling strips of dough into a bagel. They were not pleased that a fella born in Dodge City, Kan., was attempting to make a New York bagel, the manna of Gotham. The old bagel guys were saying things like "Geddouta here!" and "Forgetaboutit!"

But like a hardened cabbie, I pushed ahead, ignoring the clamor around me. Besides, I had help, an inside source, a guy who knew a guy who had kibitzed with the old bagel guys.

My source was Charlie van Over, who attended Johns Hopkins University in the mid-'60s and who now is a baker and food consultant in Chester, Conn. The bagel recipe was in his new book, "The Best Bread Ever" (Broadway Books $27.50). I trust Charlie. He happens to be the guy who gave me the recipe for one of the best breads I have ever tasted. That is a baguette whose dough is mixed in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. I got Charlie's recipe about two years ago and have been using it to bake my family's weekly supply of bread ever since.

This trust was important, because if you are going to tackle something as daunting as bagel making -- the recipe runs two pages in the book and takes two days to complete -- you'd better have confidence in the guy giving you directions. Charlie knows his dough.

Moreover, Charlie's got connections. He got help on the bagel recipe from a buddy, Ray Frosti, a home baker who had made it his mission to conquer the bagel. Ray, Charlie told me, spent a lot of time talking with old bagel makers. He paid them respect, got them talking and got some of their secrets. The recipes and techniques were modified for home use and put in Charlie's book.

I got a copy of Charlie's book on a Monday morning. That night I started making the bagels. The work isn't especially hard, but the process of letting the dough sit, then waiting for it to proof is long. It took me two days to make six bagels.

On Wednesday morning, I fed them to my family. They were pretty good. They didn't have that rock-hard crust that you get in the big city. But they weren't those soft, suburban bagels that are sold in malls. My bagels had texture, a salty flavor and a good "bite."

They needed a little more attitude, a little flavor push, something to justify all the work.

The old bagel guys would probably say these bagels were not terrible. To which I would respond, "I work two days, and that's the thanks I get?"

New York bagels

Makes 6 bagels

1 pound (3 1/3 -4 cups) unbleached bread flour

4 teaspoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 teaspoon instant yeast or (1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast)

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon white sugar

cornmeal for baking sheets

Note: You will also need an instant-read thermometer. A baking stone is optional

Generously sprinkle baking sheet with cornmeal and set aside.

Place the flour, brown sugar, salt and yeast in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Using an instant-read thermometer, first measure the temperature of the flour mixture, then the water. Their combined temperatures should add up to 130 degrees if you are using a Cuisinart or KitchenAid food processor and 150 if you are using a Braun. Adjust the temperature of the water until you reach this sum.

With the machine running, pour all but 2 tablespoons of the water through the feed tube. Process for 20 seconds, adding the remaining water if the dough seems dry and does not form a ball.

Stop the machine and let the dough rest in the processor for 5 minutes. It will noticeably soften as it rests. Then process for 25 seconds longer, for a total mixing time of 45 seconds.

Stop the machine and take the temperature of the dough with the thermometer. It should be between 75 and 80 degrees. If lower than 75 degrees, process the dough once or twice for an additional 5 seconds each time, until the dough reaches the desired temperature. If higher than 80 degrees, scrape the dough from food processor into an ungreased bowl and refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it reaches 80.

Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Dough will be relatively firm. Divide the dough with knife or dough scraper into 6 equal pieces.

To form bagels, take each piece of dough and roll it into a ball. Flatten the ball, then fold it in half, sealing edges with your fingertips. Then fold again to form a tight cylinder. Roll dough into a tube about 9 inches long. Wrap the dough around the palm of your hand, overlapping the dough about 2 inches. Pinch the ends together to form a ring. Repeat with remaining balls, and transfer bagels to the baking sheet.

Rub a bit of flour on top of each bagel, then cover the bagels loosely with plastic wrap. Place bagels in refrigerator for 12 to 16 hours, preferably overnight.

The next day, an hour before baking, put the oven rack on the second shelf from the bottom of the oven and place a baking stone (if you have one) on the rack. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

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