Monday, March 4, 2013

So You Want Bagels?

If you're like me you love bagels. Real bagels. Not the "Wonder Bread Doughnuts" that attempt to pass themselves off as bagels in the supermarket. Chewy crust, flavorful interior . . . like you used to be able to get in New York and may still be able to get (I haven't been there in eight years).

Here in Portland, America's Weirdest City, we had a small chain of bagel shops called Kettleman's. In keeping with the nature of this town, it was started using investors he solicited on Craigslist by a Taiwanese immigrant who learned bagel making in New York after he arrived from his homeland in the 1980s. Taiwanese boy makes bagels, go figure. The bagels weren't fabulous, but they were exellent and several notches above anything else you could buy with the exception of Tastebud's "Montreal" bagels which, while tasty and baked in a wood-fired oven, are SO chewy they'll pull your fillings out.

In true American immigrant fashion, one day our immigrant bagel-meister was offered the brass ring. The corporate behemoth Einstein Noah Restaurant Group (700+ stores) made him an offer he couldn't refuse and he accepted. Good for him, it's the American dream. Start a business, make it successful and cash in. Kinda sounds like Mark Zuckerberg in a way, but without the drama.

But where did that leave the bagel lovers of Portland? Stuck is where. I know there are a couple of small operations making bagels around town and I'd thought I'd try them, but getting to them is a hike and a pain so I thought, "Why not just try to make your own?"

I solicited recipe suggestions and experiences from my friends on Wineberserkers and the consensus was this recipe from Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread Baker's Apprentice. It's in his book but it was also published on the Epicurious site, so I offer it here to prevent you from having to buy the book.

There are no off-the-wall ingredients save the malt syrup, which you can find at health food stores or brewers' supply houses. I got mine at the local upscale granola supermarket and I understand you can find it at Whole Paycheck, but I try to avoid that place. It's the Aunt Patty's brand, so you might Google that. Other than that, it's bread flour, water, salt and yeast plus a little baking soda for the "boiling" (which is more like a simmer) stage.

Dear readers, these bagels are incredibly simple to make, they just take about 24 hours from start to finish, most of which is spent with the shaped bagels in the fridge. I should have taken step-by-step pictures instead of just the finished product, but I think you'll agree that -- despite needing to perfect my shaping technique to make them more symmetrical -- I made some damn fine-looking bagels that tasted really good. My Brooklyn-born Jewish neighbor agrees with me, for what it's worth.

So here's the pic, and by all means give these a try. You won't be sorry. Next up, real Jewish rye bread so I have something to put my corned beef on. I may even try curing my own brisket for the corned beef. We'll see.