IT IS HAPPENING.
Since three people read this blog and they all know that I moved to Glasgow for grad school, I will not update you about how I moved to Glasgow for grad school. But I did. And THEY DON’T HAVE BAGELS HERE. They have most other things that are necessary, but I am, for lack of bagel, starting to become a small, weak, WASPy white-bread of a former human being. So this shit is happening.
I am watching Master Chef Australia. It is Friday night, and I feel pretty good about that. Oh no, Master Chef Australia just stopped working. Pause. Never mind, it’s back. Anyway. I measured warm (???) water, barley malt (which I actually HAD IN MY POSSESSION ALREADY because the spirit of bagel is strong within me), yeast, and salt with my beautiful kitchen scale that came from home with me.
And it’s in my one and only pot (not even a bowl) because I just like didn’t buy cooking supplies when I moved here. And then I measured in the bread flour, and then I mixed it with my pink wooden spoon that is falling apart such that bits of things get stuck inside it and it’s disgusting. And now the dough is resting. Now it’s time to knead. Hold on.
Things are different now. When the dough was resting after the measuring, there were some stray flour bits; there were some sticking-out white flakes. The recipe told me to add a bit more water if not all the flour was hydrated. But I didn’t. I thought, it’ll work out when I knead it. I know my doughs are always too wet. So it rested, and I floured the counter a little: the counter next to the door, not the one where I usually work, next to the stove. (Electric is better. No fire.) And I turned out the dough ball and I stuck the dough shards into the dough and I started kneading. And my hands were warm with yeast and malt, and the dough clung to me and then lifted back into itself, and I turned and kneaded, turned and kneaded. The light color, color of me, color of my hair in the summer and my skin when I am happy, mingled and dispersed and turned creamy. I kneaded for three minutes and then I kneaded for another minute, and at the end it was soft, not too tacky, a little springy.
(OK we’re done with that weirdness now. The kneading was the most perfect bread process I have ever had. I think it was God’s way of giving me perfect bagels now so I’ll keep Passover. Um, sorry in advance, God.)
The bread is now resting, blanketed with my Free Range Chicken terrycloth towel, instead of cling wrap, because I don’t have cling wrap. (Oh, also, above I wrote “I needed for three minutes” and I thought that was delightful but I fixed it anyway.) I just checked on it and I am concerned about the situation vis-a-vis rising.
Update again, half an hour later: IT HATH RISEN. (That was a weird and incorrect reference.)
So. After the rising I took it out of the bowl and put it on the counter, slippery with oil and airy at the edges. The middle seemed denser. I divided them into equal segments (for some reason I ended up with seven segments of about 105 grams each—I have no idea how mandatory it is for them all to be equal, but I am doing everything I can that they not suck) and started shaping the first one: roll with a cupped hand against the counter into a bowl; roll with your hands into a snake about eight inches. This part felt weird. The dough was part solid, part air bubbles; it felt like when you’re running your hand over your wrist and you find the tendon. (Maybe it’s a bone. Don’t interrupt my poetry.) The bagel is inhabited by my life.
So. Rope of bagel dough. I ran my fingers under the tap as momentarily as I could and set the water drops on the rope’s ends. Then I wrapped it around my palm, pressed the ends together, rolled it against the counter, unstuck the dough from my hand, put it in an oiled pan. And that’s it so far. (Times seven. It was rather dull.)
OK. We’re on day two. I couldn’t tell how much they had grown overnight—it didn’t seem like very much, but they were all touching in their pans now. I tried the water test, where you put one in a bowl of cold water to see if it will float (if it does, it means it’s ready to boil/bake), and it floated immediately, even though it seemed like it was supposed to take at least an hour to get to that level of proofiness. So I left it for twenty minutes anyway and read about Russia’s skinheads. (These researchers all had emotional breakdowns over the fact that they had to befriend skinheads for several years, but also they wrote an awesome book at the end.)
And then I assembled my poaching liquid (baking soda, salt, malt: when I put them into the boiling water they FIZZED UP happily and excitedly because they knew they were about to receive bagels, and then my roommate realized I had turned down the heat on her burner instead of mine, so we frantically lifted the pot above the burner for a while to prevent massive baking soda/malt spillovers; it was very dramatic). The bagels went in, two by two: they absorbed and glowed and poofed and hardened, they bubbled on the bottoms, they golden-browned. The seams wanted to come apart but they held together. I put them back in their pans, nudged them around a bit; they hugged at the edges. And now they’re in the oven.
A brief side note: everything has not been difficult so far. The kneading was the easiest kneading I’ve ever done (maybe because it was bread flour?? so it’s less sticky? But I have no idea; usually I am terrible at kneading-type activities and this one just worked, it didn’t stick, I knew exactly what my hands should do and they did it, and it worked), and the boiling process was really easy too—just lower the bagels into the liquid, poach a bit, turn them over, poach a bit more, take them out. I just told my roommate that all this has been way too easy so far and something horrific will undoubtedly happen soon, but who knows. Anyway, all this is to say that if you live in a bagel-deprived place, you can probably do this. But if you don’t, just go to Absolute Bagels like a normal person. (Or Bagel Express. Marissa wrote a song about it once and it was lovely. She’s getting an MFA in writing now so you can probably imagine how glorious this song was.) (Or Bagel Hut. The gold standard.)
So they’re in the oven; I’m about to turn them; they smell good, I think? I don’t know. I’m very unsure. I just turned the pans and they look BEAUTIFUL. My hands are shaking. I think this is from coffee, though, not from bagel anticipation. I feel the spirits of three generations of New York Jews inhabiting me. Maybe four generations.
And now they are done. I don’t know what to say. They are Bagels. They did become bagels. The outside is crunchy; they are chewy, a little. They have a taste that is not quite the taste I want. It’s impossible for me to say, oh, I made food, it tastes like food, it came out well, it looks like what it should be. It’s not quite. It is stuck in my mind as something familiar but missing. I take a bite and it is briefly perfect. But what I wanted was Saturday afternoon with my family, or myself cranky and tired on Second Avenue, or breaking the fast with my grandparents and everyone surprising themselves by liking whitefish salad. It is something, but not that. It is just, I thought I could make home somewhere else, and I didn’t.
Recipe taken 100 percent from Peter Reinhart, here. It wasn’t hard. And they did come out really good—I really do think they really are bagels. Ignore my weird sad rambling.
I just ate another half plain and I think the texture is actually pretty perfect (which is something, I guess!)—it’s the flavor that is different from what I’m used to. It’s too sweet: maybe from the malt? There was also too much oil on the bottom of the pan so there’s a weird oily thing going on. So beware of that. But every so often I get a perfect bite and I’m like, hmmmmm, bagel.
(Also, this got sad at the end, but actually I like it here. I just ended up in the Valley of the Uncanny Bagel and it was mildly upsetting.)
YET ANOTHER UPDATE the next day: I had one with cream cheese (it was real Philadelphia cream cheese! only it was called “soft cheese” which was scary but it worked out in the end) and it was super bagely and now I feel better about the whole thing. Home is anywhere my bagel-magic-hands are, yo.