First Impressions and for the love of a bagel….

New York- Week One

Before I can do anything else I need to sink my teeth into a bagel- not just any old freezer packed bagel but the real thing (huge rounds of puffy chewy dough, sliced in half and smothered in rich fattening-but totally satisfying cream cheese). In London, citizens are royally robbed of the fundamental human right to good bagels. They just don’t exist. Sure, you can head down to brick lane where they churn them out 24 hours a day- but sorry Bagel Bakery, they just don’t cut it.

So, in London, I had to resort to making them myself- which is no mean feat. It’s a long (albeit delightful) process but one that cannot be repeated on a daily basis if one is to also carry out the unfortunate process of making a living. Much as I would often rather chose the former, my landlord would have had me evicted if I had passed up paying the rent to making bagels- and thus my bagel- making days were limited.

But now, I am in the land of bagels: America, ‘land of the free and the home of the best bagels in the world’. You can’t go ten blocks without passing a store wholly devoted to churning out bagels in all their delicious circular glory. I could polish off a bagel everyday- and whilst they surround me here, I think I just may.

So, why are they so darn delectably good? I think firstly because they are consumed daily by a large number of people. There’s the demand for them; which means the quality is good. In the UK, there’s the vicious cycle of a person buying a bagel (which doesn’t come cheap)- being disappointed- not buying them again- so they aren’t produced any better. It comes down to freshness and whilst over here they are baking batches throughout the day because there is the demand- that just doesn’t happen in the UK. Secondly though and perhaps most importantly, they come from tradition here- whereas in the UK people might just manage to describe a bagel as: a roll with a hole; over here I think people think: a bagel is a bagel you can eat them anytime of the day- who doesn’t know what it is?

However, for those who have not yet discovered the simple pleasures of the bagel- fear not for you can still make them from home. I, on the other hand, am handing in my bagel making days and leaving it to the hands of the true masters. Plus, now I’m going to be occupied with the quest to find the best bagel shop in the city.

Makes 15 (minus any you ate before you served them)

If you have a kitchen aid or food processor with a dough hook then these are really no sweat at all to make. If you don’t- cancel your plans to go to the gym-this is a workout.

1kg strong white bread flour
7g sachet of active dry yeast or 15g of fresh yeast
1 ½ tbsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
500ml warm water
1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus some to grease the trays
2 tbsp malt syrup
Seeds to coat (such as poppy, sesame, pumpkin)
3 greased baking trays
A spray bottle filled with water

1 Sift the flour into a large bowl (or directly into your kitchen aid bowl) and stir through the salt. Dissolve the yeast with the sugar in a few tablespoonfuls of the warm water and leave for a few minutes to foam up. (This tells you that the yeast is alive and ready to take part in bagel making. If it doesn’t foam up then your yeast was probably found in the back of your cupboard from when you last made bread and needs to be replaced before you can proceed).

2 Add the oil to the remaining water. Make a well in the centre of your flour and pour in all of the foaming yeast (making sure to get every last bit) then gradually begin adding the warm water (check that it is still warm) using a wooden spoon to mix in with the flour. Keep adding until the dough comes together to form a soft ball. You may need to add more water, but don’t allow the dough to become too wet.

3 If you’re doing this with the machine you can now wash your hands and sit back for 10 minutes whilst your machine does the kneading work for you. If you don’t have a machine- roll up your sleeves and get to work. This dough will need about 15 minutes of kneading (depending on fitness levels) on a lightly floured surface. I find lightly oiling my hands helps here- fold the dough over; turn a quarter circle and push away again with the palms of your hands. Repeat, repeat, repeat. You are finished once you can pull the dough tight in one hand and press the ball of your index finger into the taught dough and the impression pops all the way back.

4 Now place dough into a large, lightly oiled and cover with lightly oiled cling film and set aside for about 2 hours to rise.

5 Once it has doubled in size the fun part comes. Gently remove the dough from the bowl and place onto a lightly floured surface. Now punch the dough to remove all of the air. Gently knead to bring back together again and divide into 15 equallyish-sized pieces. Roll each of these pieces into a rope and form into circles (with holes measuring about the circumference of your wrist). Or you can roll into balls and using your thumb on one side and your forefinger on the other press a hole in the centre and stretch it out on all sides.

6 Place the bagels onto your greased trays, cover with a tea towel and leave for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 240C/gas 99/500F and bring a large, wide pan of water to the boil. Once boiling, add your malt syrup. Now using a slotted spoon drop the bagels into the water in batches and allow to cook on each side for 30 seconds before removing from the water, placing back on the trays and sprinkling with your seeds.

7 Place trays into the oven (this can be done in batches if your oven is small) and squirt a few sprays of water over the bagels. Close the oven door and repeat again in a minutes’ time (this helps give the bagels a lovely crust.). Bake for a total of 10-15 minutes, or until golden all over. Place onto a wire rack and proceed to gorge yourself. If any bagels do happen to survive the day untouched, they are best frozen in plastic bags rather than left to the next day.

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