I don’t bake much anymore. Partly because where we live now, a very good 100% whole-wheat and naturally fermented bread is actually available to buy at the store. When I do bake, I use sprouted wheat flour: great flavor, excellent nutrition, what more is there to ask for? So the first and only time I made bagels before this batch I used sprouted wheat flour and followed the Peter Reinhart recipe that the New York Times had published a year and a half ago. The bagels turned out very nicely. At least the Man thought so but I was dissatisfied. I thought they lacked the oomph that I had become accustomed and attached to after three decades of eating New York bagels.
So when the Washington Post published a bagel recipe a couple of weeks ago, I posted it on Farine’s facebook page and said I would give it a try. But before I got around to it, I got an message from Martin Philip, head bread baker at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont, with an offer to share the bagel formula he was working on. Having had the pleasure and the privilege of taking a class with Martin at the Grain Gathering in 2013, I was only to happy to accept. Martin is writing a book (which I am very much looking forward to) and meanwhile he has started maintaining on Facebook a lovely page which he considers his personal blog: Breadwright. His pictures are mouth-watering and his bagels were simply too tempting to resist. I went for them.
As I said, I haven’t baked very much in the past couple of years. The fact that we have access to tasty and nutritious bread is one reason. Another, perhaps more compelling, is that while I still love bread-baking, it doesn’t center me the way it used to. My world has gone off-kilter since Noah was killed. I don’t know that it will ever straighten itself out. To be frank, I don’t even know that I want it to. It might feel like starting to come to terms with what happened.
Although it is hard to say. All I know is that grief and loss lead. I follow. Bread baking used to be a huge part of my life but there is a before and an after. And in the after, not much has remained the same.
I have tried blowing on the embers to get the baking flame going again. I didn’t have much luck. Somehow it didn’t seem worth the effort. Admiring other bakers’ loaves on Instagram or Facebook was enough.
But a dear friend sent me a stack of New York bagels for my birthday and we had them for Mother’s Day breakfast with lox and cream cheese. Just like in the old days. And suddenly I felt a yearning for regular access to real bagels. I can’t call bagels the things they sell under that name around here. They don’t look right and they don’t taste right. In fact, they mostly look and taste like junk.
Martin’s bagels looked wonderful and I really, really wanted bagels. Sometimes all you need is motivation.
I mixed the poolish on the morning of Day One, let it become good and bubbly (it took about six hours,) made the dough, let it proof with one good fold after one hour, and placed it in the fridge when it was ready. Then I went on with the rest of the day. I had mixed dough. It had grown. Expectations met. Nothing to write home about. Yes, I took a picture. But then I whip out my phone to take pictures of almost everything. Big deal…
On the morning of Day Two though, I woke up to the idea of the dough in the fridge and I felt a twinge I hadn’t felt in a long time. A mixture of awe and excitement. Of serenity too. Just a twinge, mind you.
But still. As I said, all I can do is follow.
Twelve tasty seeded bagels, a grandchild’s college graduation and a couple of weeks later, the sense of wonder is still there. You know the feeling one gets when walking bare feet in the surf? A flash of what eternity might be like maybe? Or of things being right with the world just at this exact moment?
After losing Noah it took over two years and the ebb and flow of the sea for me to start walking for any length of time without earbuds in my ears, hooked on podcasts or books certain to keep me in worlds that weren’t mine. Worlds I yearned to inhabit precisely because they were not mine.
Walking along the ocean I learned that grief too has its tides. That serenity comes and goes. Just like sorrow. And that there is healing in the ebb and flow.
When I took the dough out of the fridge it was very cold but under my fingers I felt something was waiting. Expecting. Counting on me to do whatever was needed to bring it back to the world of the living. I set it on the counter. Covered the bowl again. Waited. Two hours later it was bubbling. As if it was trying to laugh or dance. The smell was exhilarating. Recalling the world of before. My old world.
I divided the dough and let it rest.
Then I shaped the bagels and set them to rest again.
Then came the boiling. Undoubtedly the fun part. But for once I completely forgot to take pics… Sorry!
Finally the baking. The kitchen filled with another smell. One that never fails to enchant me. A smell that told me we had come full circle, the bagels and I, and now only the eating was left.
And the eating was good. I will make these bagels again and again. With different toppings. And I will try the formula using 50% sprouted wheat. In the off chance that it will produce a true bagel that would also be virtuous. Wouldn’t that be something?
Thank you for the formula, Martin! The recipe is lovely from start to finish. The only thing I did differently is that I used bread flour (14% protein) in the poolish and you used all-purpose throughout. The reason I used bread flour (which I don’t keep usually) is that I had bought some to make the WaPo recipe. Which I may still try one day too. Just for the heck of it.
Now I have an inkling of how it feels to be cast a lifeline. Only in my case it looks more like a web of gluten strands, doesn’t it?
Pre-ferment (Day one, morning or afternoon)
- Combine flour, water and yeast (1 t of yeast is 3 grams). Use tepid water (~95-100F).
- Mix thoroughly and set aside, covered for 2 to 8 hours.
Mix (Day one, evening)
- Calculate water temperature by subtracting air, flour and preferment temperature from 304, make no adjustment for friction.
- Combine preferment, water and malt, stir to combine.
- Add flour, salt and yeast and mix until homogenous. If necessary, knead for a minute to incorporate any dry bits.
- Proof for two hours, covered, with one strong fold (one minute of kneading) at 60 minutes.
- After the two hours place in the refrigerator overnight (8-12 hours).
Day Two (morning)
- Pull the dough from the fridge and set for 1-2 hours at room temperature.
- Divide into 115 g pieces and round tightly.
- Preheat oven to 475F.
- Add four inches of water to a 6 quart stock pot then, add 2 T of barley malt and 1 t of salt and bring to a medium boil.
- Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly dusted surface. Divide into 115g pieces and round tightly.
- Rest on a floured surface for 15-30 minutes, covered.
- To shape, poke a hole in the exact middle with a finger and gently, slowly expand the opening to 2-3 inches. They will retract some.
- Place the shaped pieces back on the floured surface to rest for 20-30 minutes, covered, before boiling.*
- While the shaped bagels rest and proof prepare the toppings (a tray with sesame or poppy seeds and a small container of coarse salt). Rehydrated dry onion or garlic are also excellent.
- Bagels may be baked on a baking tray or, a piece of parchment slid directly onto a baking stone.
If using a tray, dust it with semolina or cornmeal or lightly oil to prevent sticking.
- Add the bagels three at a time to the boiling liquid, flipping them after 30 seconds and removing them at 1 to 1.5 minutes with a slotted spoon.
- For seeded bagels, allow them to drain for just a moment above the pot then set on the seed tray before placing seed-side-up onto your baking sheet or parchment. Bake immediately.
- Bake the bagels for 15-20 minutes, rotate as necessary.
*If you would rather bake the next day, they may be refrigerated, covered, on a sheet tray dusted with cornmeal or semolina.