Cookbook author Cathy Barrow doesn’t hide the fact that she’s baked a lot of bad bagels in every time. In the introduction of her newest book, “Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish: A Whole Brunch of Recipes to Make at Home” published by Chronicle Books in March, Barrow writes about her many attempts to replicate the bagels she ate as a child in the 1960s when her grandmother would fly to Toledo, Ohio, with a striped hatbox full of ones made in Brookline, Massachusetts. Or the bagels from Bagel Land she and her teen pals ate most days after school in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh in the 1970s. Or the bagels, schmeared with chive cream cheese and topped with lox, she bought on business trips to New York and brought back to the bagel-barren Washington, DC, of the 1980s where she lived.
For decades, the resulting bagels, even for this hearty DIY-er, were doughy, lacked structure, and/or tasted bland. Like rolls with holes, she recalls.
“And every time I tried a new bagel recipe, it would yield nine or 12 bagels. That’s a lot of disappointing bagels for one or two people to have to eat,” said Barrow, admitting that many ingredients were wasted by these failed attempts.
The secret to a good bagel, Barrow discovered circa 2016, lies not in the water as is a New York legend, but in high-gluten flour, which has a higher percentage of protein than even bread flour does.
Why am I going on about Barrow’s bagel blunders and breakthroughs in a column centered on sustainable cooking and eating habits? My justification centers on a recent conversation I had with her about rightsizing both bagel size and bagel recipe yield. Rightsized portions, after all, are good for a healthy body. Also, sticking to them means you’re not consuming more than the recommended daily number of calories or your fair share of ingredients.
Bagels have undoubtedly gotten bigger over time. The earliest written reference to bagels as we know them was in 1683 in Poland. Best guesses have those weighing about 2 ounces (56 grams), probably small because milled flour was expensive then. By the time bagel making was commonplace in Jewish neighborhoods in New York in 1915, plain bagels weighed 3 ounces (85 grams). By the time the New York Times commissioned a study on bagel size in 2001, nearly 100 years later, they found a bagel that weighed a whopping 10 ounces (283 grams).
“A couple of years ago, I ordered a bagel at an airport and was handed something so enormous I could have sliced it like a pizza and fed a small family,” Barrow writes.
The plain bagels made following the master recipe in each book should weigh 4 ounces (112 grams), the perfect size for both a satisfying breakfast and for sandwiches later in the day, says Barrow. She notes, though, that bagels with ingredients like raisins, blueberries and asiago cheese (all far afield from the original Polish bagel, and what Barrow calls “Bagels my grandmothers wouldn’t recognize”) will be made with those additions.
Barrow worked hard to make sure that every bagel recipe in each book consistently yields six bagels. Figuring out the formula to do that would have been easier if Americans weighed recipe ingredients in grams. When weighing ingredients, Barrow puts a mixing bowl on a scale, tares it to zero, adds an ingredient, tares it to zero, adds another ingredient, and so on.
But recipe development gets trickier if you must also list ingredients by volume measurement like cup, tablespoon and teaspoon, which is the measurement system most American cooks expect (though this may be slowly changing). “How many cooks are going to measure out exactly 1 5/8 teaspoons of yeast?” Barrow asked rhetorically.
It may seem like I’m pulling you into the recipe development weeds here, but Barrow says home cooks can consistently rightize any recipe to avoid waste or hold themselves to a certain serving size simply by weighing ingredients. Weighing is more accurate. When Barrow is cooking, if a recipe only lists ingredients by volume, Barrow turns to her preferred kitchen assistant for help. “I just say, ‘Hey Siri how much a cup of X or Y weighs,” said Barrow.
Follow her lead and weigh the ingredients on the way to making your own rightsized bagels from Maine-sourced ingredients using the recipe below. It runs atypically long for a Green Plate Special recipe, but other than the overnight proofing time, the steps are easy and you’ll learn a lot along the way.
Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]
LOCAL HONEY, WHEAT AND OAT BAGELS
In “Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish” cookbook author Cathy Barrow explains that a DIY whole-grain bagel presents challenges. “When only whole-wheat flour is used, the interior can be dense, and the crust and color may suffer. A blend of whole-wheat and high-gluten flours maintains the proper texture, but the flavor is dull. Adding oat or spelt flour – both of which impart a distinct, grainy, almost nutty flavor – does the trick.”
Barrow insists that high-gluten flour is key to making good bagels. King Arthur sells one, but you can make your own by adding 2 teaspoons (5.5 grams) of vital wheat gluten (available in health food stores) to every cup (120 grams) of all-purpose flour. Maine Grains has got you covered as a local source for whole-wheat and spelled flours for this recipe. You can make oat flour by simply blitzing Maine-grown rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant oats) in the food processor until they are the consistency of flour.
Barrow exclusively uses SAF-Instant Yeast for its consistency and the fact that it doesn’t need to be proofed in water before being added to the dough mixture. She makes bagels early and often and doesn’t have an issue working her way through a 1-pound bag. You can use active dry yeast available in grocery stores if you proof it in water, as the recipe below does.
Makes 6 bagels
3 tablespoons of cornmeal, for dusting
1 teaspoon of active dry yeast
300 g (2½ cups) high-gluten flour
80 g (½ cup plus 1 tablespoon) whole-wheat flour
50 g (½ cup plus 1 tablespoon) oat or spelt flour
33 g (1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons) full-flavored honey, such as buckwheat or chestnut
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
Rolled oats for topping
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and scatter the cornmeal evenly across the paper. Set aside.
In 1/2 cup of warm water (between 95 and 100 degrees), dissolve the yeast and let it sit 5 minutes to bloom.
Place the bowl of a stand mixer on a kitchen scale and tare the weight to zero. Measure in the high-gluten, whole-wheat, and oat or spelled flours, honey and salt. Add the bloomed yeast mixture plus ½ cup (112 grams) water. Place the bowl back on the mixer and fit it with the dough hook. On low speed, mix the ingredients together until no dry patches of flour show.
Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl and increase the speed to medium. Mix until the sides of the bowl are nearly clean, 2 to 3 minutes. The dough may seem dry. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes to allow the flour to hydrate.
Uncover the bowl, turn the mixer speed back to medium, and let it run for 7 full minutes, until the dough is smooth and satiny, and the sides of the bowl are clean. Watch the mixer at all times, as it might hop across the counter; the dough will be stiff and strong.
Scrape the dough onto a clean, unfloured work surface and give it five or six kneads. Divide the dough into six equal pieces, each weighing 115 g (about 4 oz).
Starting with the first doughball, form a 9-inch rope by rolling and pressing your flattened palms from the center of the dough outward. Try to keep the rope an even thickness throughout, avoiding tapering the ends. Next, form the rope into a ring by overlapping the ends and firmly pinching the seams. Place a bagel over four fingers and roll the dough at the seam, forward and back along the counter, gently rotating the bagel without flattening to tighten and smooth it. Put your thumb and forefinger of each hand into the center hole and stretch the bagel out. It will bounce back as it sits, so forming an exaggerated center hole is a good thing. Place the formed bagel on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough balls.
Cover the baking sheet of formed bagels tightly with plastic wrap that has been lightly coated with cooking spray and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 8 hours and no more than 14 hours.
When ready to boil and bake, remove the bagels from the refrigerator and uncover, allowing them to come to room temperature while the oven heats and the water boils. Place a pizza stone, Baking Steel, or inverted baking sheet on the oven’s center rack and set the oven to its highest temperature, 450 to 500 degrees in most home appliances. Heat the oven for at least 30 minutes.
In the meantime, fill a 5-quart or larger pot with water and bring it to a hard boil. Place a 9- by 13-inch piece of parchment on a pizza peel, large cutting board, or an inverted baking sheet. (You need to be able to easily slide the bagel-laden parchment paper from this surface into your oven.)
The bagels should be slightly puffed from their overnight rise. Gently lift one at a time, brushing away any excess cornmeal, and drop it into the boiling water. Repeat with another one or two bagels only if they fit in the pot without crowding. Using a slotted spoon or spider, flip the bagels over and over in the water until very slightly puffed and shiny, about 60 seconds and no more than 90 seconds. Small blisters may appear on the surface.
Remove the bagels one by one and place cornmeal-side down on the parchment paper on the pizza peel. Sprinkle the bagels with rolled oats while they are still damp. Repeat with the remaining bagels; six bagels will fit snugly on the parchment paper without touching.
Lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Slide the parchment paper with the bagels directly onto the hot surface in the oven and bake until deeply golden brown and shiny, about 16 minutes. To remove the bagels from the oven, slide the parchment paper right onto the peel. Transfer on their paper to a wire rack to cool.
As tempting as it is to grab the hot bagels immediately, allow them to cool slightly before eating. Eat within 4 hours or store in a bread bag on the counter for 2 days or in the freezer for 3 months.
Green Plate Special: Improving soil on farms also improves health of environment