My favorite part of living in New York City is the food. Maybe this isn’t surprising, since my favorite part of many things is the food, but you have to admit that NYC really is one of the best places to eat in the world. There’s the variety: just about every type of cuisine under the sun is represented in its five boroughs. There are the swanky places: if you’re a famous chef you just have to have a New York restaurant. And there’s even delicious classic NYC dishes: hotdogs, reuben sandwiches, cheesecake, and bagels which are emulated throughout the rest of the country.
There’s so much food in NYC that it almost seems strange that we started a blog based primarily on cooking our own food. Why bother to cook if we can find any kind of food, often as good as and sometimes even better than can be made at home, no more than a subway ride away? To begin with, we’re a couple of poor students and can’t always afford those better-than-at-home restaurant items. But even if money wasn’t an issue, we would still cook. We make food because we enjoy the process. And so sometimes we cook or bake an item that can be bought easily and cheaply in our own neighborhood, just because it sounds like fun.
On a recent Sunday morning we were enjoying a standard New York breakfast, bagels. The bagels were soft inside and just barely crisp on the edges from the toaster. We topped them with cream cheese or white fish salad, just like on other mornings. The only difference from all the other mornings on which we’ve enjoyed bagels was that the bagels were homemade, as was the white fish salad.
We found the bagels surprisingly easy to make. The secrets seem to be an overnight rise (a bread baking tip that I adore) and a slightly hard-to-find ingredient, barley malt syrup. With just those two items, and a little bit of planning ahead, you too can enjoy a standard New York breakfast, even if you’re far away from this grand city.
Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Bread Every Day (we love this book)
1 Tbsp (21g) barley malt syrup or 1 tsp (7g) diastatic malt powder*
1 tsp (3g) instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp (10.5g) salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp (225g) lukewarm water (~95F)
3 1/2 (454g) cups bread flour
For poaching liquid
~3 quarts (96oz) water
1 1/2 Tbsp (28.5g) barley malt syrup
1 Tbsp (14g) baking soda
1 tsp (7g) salt
Stir malt syrup, yeast, and salt into the lukewarm water. Place the flour in a mixing bowl and pour in the malt syrup mixture. Mix on lowest speed of stand mixture with the dough hook for three minutes (or by hand with a large sturdy spoon), until well blended. The dough should form a stiff, coarse ball, and the flour should be fully hydrated; if it isn’t, stir in a little more water. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
Resume mixing with the dough hook on low speed for another 3 minutes (or knead by hand for 3 minutes). The dough should be stiff yet supple, with a satiny, barely tacky feeling. If necessary, knead in a little more flour. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for an hour.
Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with parchment or a silicone mat, then lightly coat the parchment paper with oil. Divide the dough into 6-8 equal pieces (a typical bagel is 4 oz, but you can make them smaller if you prefer). Form each piece into a loose ball by rolling it on a flat surface with a cupped hand. (Don’t use any flour on the work surface. You may need to wipe the surface with a damp towel.) There are two methods to shape the balls:
Method 1: Poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough and gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter (half of this for a mini-bagel). The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots). I preferred this method.
Method 2: Roll out the dough into an 8-inch long rope. (This may require rolling part of the way and resting the dough for 3 minutes before extending the dough again to bring it to its full length.) Wrap the dough around the palm and back of your hand, between the thumb and forefinger, overlapping the ends by several inches. Press the overlapping ends on the counter with the palm of your hand, rocking back and forth to seal. This method is supposedly preferred by professional bagel makers, including Andrés.
Place each shaped bagel on the prepared sheet pan; mist bagels with spray oil. Cover the entire plan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight or for up to two days.
On baking day, remove the bagels from the refrigerator 60 to 90 minutes before you plan to bake them. If you plan to top the bagels with dried onion or garlic, rehydrate those ingredients. Immediately check whether the bagels are ready for baking by using the float test: place one bagel in a bowl of cold water. If it floats, it’s ready to be poached. If the bagel sinks, shake it off, return it to the pan, and wait for another 15 – 20 minutes before testing it again. When one bagel passes the float test, they are all ready to be boiled. If you aren’t ready to boil them yet, place the bagels back into the refrigerator so they don’t overproof. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500 F (260C) and gather and prepare the garnishes (poppy seeds, sesame seeds, those rehydrated onions, etc).
Make the poaching liquid by bringing the 3 quarts of water (it should be at least 4 inches deep) to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer, then stir in the malt syrup, baking soda, and salt.
Gently lower each bagel into the simmering poaching liquid, adding as many as will comfortable fit into the pot. They should all float within 15 seconds. After 1 minute, turn each bagel over with a slotted spoon. Poach for another 30-60 seconds, then transfer the bagels back to the pan, domed side up. (It’s important that the parchment paper be lightly oiled or the bagels will adhere to the paper.) Sprinkle on a generous amount of the desired toppings (except cinnamon sugar, which you want to add after baking).
Transfer the pan of bagels to the oven, then lower the heat to 450F. (We never lowered the temperature, and the bagels were fine.) Bake bagels for 8 minutes, then rotate pan and check the underside of the bagels. If the undersides are too dark, place another pan under the baking sheet. Bake bagels for another 8-12 minutes, until the bagels are golden brown.
Cool bagels on a rack for at least 30 minutes. We prefer to slice and toast the bagels before serving them.
*Peter Reinhart says that you can use honey or rice syrup instead of the malt, but I would definitely try to find the malt syrup.
White Fish Salad
1/2 lb smoked white fish
1/2 stalk celery
~2 Tbsp mayonnaise
Separate white fish from the skin and bones, shredding it with your fingers. Coarsely chop celery and combine it with the fish. Add mayonnaise to taste. Spread on top of a nicely toasted bagel.