Gosh, I got so excited yesterday while typing up the 12-Kopeck Sugar Buns, that it put me in the next bout of cravings immediately — bagels. Pfft, you may say, what’s so special about bagels? You can get them anywhere. Well, that’s just the thing: first of all, there are no *good* bagels in 80 mile radius from where I live, grocery store ones don’t count; second, the bagels I grew up with are very different from the American version. Not that I have anything against the American version — I love them. Hands down, I’d choose a fresh crusty and chewy bagel, lightly toasted, smeared with cream cheese and topped with white fish or salmon and various fixings over any other breakfast variety anywhere, anytime. But you probably won’t see me eating bagel just by itself, just for the sake of a bagel. You see, the bagels of my childhood were different in a way that removed them further from being a bread and put them a bit closer to being a high quality soft pretzel. They were skinnier, dryer, sweeter then their American counterparts. And this is precisely what I was after…
There is no shortage of Russian bagel recipes online, the trick is to find the right one. Today I tried a version of a bagel recipe from 1935. This was before State Standards (GOST) were issued (I believe they started in 1940), so this means, no steps are skipped in a process, no corners cut in production. I decided to give it a try for two reasons: one, already mentioned above, is the craving, and two, a great curiosity about the process itself.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the process to be not as labor intense as I anticipated. Yes there are several steps, but there is also long waiting in between, so you aren’t chained to the stove for hours at a time. All this mystery and magic of boiled bagels demystified right in front of me, and I am happy to report that though I won’t be making them every week, I’ll sleep soundly knowing that a really good bagel is only a few hours away. I wonder if I could freeze them at pre-boiling stage and then defrost, boil and bake on demand. That would significantly simplify things — just make a double batch, freeze and sleep tight.
The bagels I made today came out very good. They are not exactly the ones I was after, but rather a nice hybrid of American and Russian version, somewhere half way there. They are robust, puffy, nicely browned, lightly chewy things that would do equally well toasted with butter and jam and with lox and fixings.
As for the bagel of my childhood, I’ll keep looking. There are only, what, 2,546,968 more recipes out there to try.
Chasing Russian Bagels, Take One
Makes 15 standard size bagels
- 350 g (2-3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
- 200 ml lukewarm water
- 2 g (1/2 tsp) dry yeast
- 10 g (2 tsp) sugar
- 5 g (1 tsp) salt
- 650 g (5-1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
- 300 ml lukewarm water
- 4 g (1 tsp) dry yeast
- 50 g (3-1/2 tbsp) melted butter
- 100 g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 10 g (2 tsp) salt
- Combine starter ingredients in a bowl and knead until all flour is absorbed and dough clears the walls of the bowl with ease.
- Shape the dough into a ball, grease the bowl, put the dough into the bowl, cover and place in a warm spot for 3-4 hrs.
- Mix the final dough ingredients, add all of the starter, knead until smooth and very elastic, for at least 10 minutes by hand, or 7-8 minutes with a dough hook.
- Shape the dough into a ball again, and place into a large greased container, cover and let rise for about 40 minutes to 1 hr. We are not looking for a spectacular double rise here, so time is more important than the volume.
- Divide the dough into 15 part, 110 g each.
- For each piece of dough, roll into a hot dog shape using confident high pressure movements – we want a smooth stick without cracks or yeasty blisters.
- Wrap the “hot dog” around your four fingers, overlapping the ends at your thumb crease.
- Confidently, applying great pressure, squeeze the ends together; then, placing the hand down on a table with bagel still on it roll the pinched ends back and forth a few times until they fuse together nicely. The whole operation won’t take longer than 15-20 seconds for each bagel.
- Lay shaped bagels on a parchment, cover with plastic and let rise for 20-30 minutes. They won’t rise much, just soften and relax.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot to a rapid boil. Add 1-2 tbsp salt to the water, and never reduce the heat.
- Gently lower three bagels at a time into a boiling pot. If they sink to the bottom at first, don’t worry, they will surface when ready. If they remain on the surface, cook them for about 30 seconds on each side, and remove onto the parchment to dry.
- Repeat with the remaining bagels as before.
- If you decide to sprinkle your bagels (I did), the best time to sprinkle them is when they are still wet and tacky. You may also need to flip them over once to dry them on the bottom as well.
- Once all bagels are boiled and no longer dripping wet (still tacky is ok), you can bake them.
- Preheat the oven to 525°F.
- Bake bagels for 20 minutes, or until nicely browned all over (check on the bottom at 15 minute point to see if they need to be flipped to brown underneath).
- Cool on rack and enjoy.