Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Eating New York: Bagels in the Park (+recipe)

Sundays need barely a few elements to combine in simple cohesion in order to create delicious perfection.

Gone are the days when it signalled ‘weekend over, back to school tomorrow. Time to knuckle down and finish that essay you were set a fortnight ago.’

Now, Sunday is the most sacrosanct day of the week, although not through any religious conviction. It’s a day when it is equally acceptable to do nothing under the proviso of doing something or vice versa.

And it is near effortless to craft these idyllic days thanks to the fluidity of the composite elements. The first drink could be a cool glass of orange juice, a steaming black coffee, a bloody mary or even a pint of water complete with an energetically fizzy 1000mg vitamin C tablet, depending on the previous night’s excesses.

Breakfast might be a bacon sandwich, softly scrambled eggs or even a bowl of Bircher muesli.

For activity sometimes a walk will suffice, or a run if energy levels permit. Other weekends might present gardening opportunities or lazy afternoons in the pub.

Food rolls in and out of Sundays too, paying little regard to any rules or regulations. Barbecues, slow cooked braises or Sunday roasts are all equally welcome. Cake, too, can be an excellent addition.

But there is one unwavering rule: there must be a newspaper. At least one.

Even though we were a few thousand miles from home, we obeyed this single commandment with near military precision. And everyone knows that newspapers are at their best when enjoyed over breakfast.

It was warm, despite the early hour. We ambled towards the port, through Hell’s Kitchen, in search of H&H Bagels, a baker's that appears to have a near legendary reputation. On the way we met a parade of street hawkers trudging their carts through the early morning sun towards their pitches where they would spend the next 12 hours selling hot dogs, kebabs and other assorted snacks to hungry passers-by.

The bakery itself is an unassuming, industrial looking building. Fridges filled with juice, iced tea, butter and cream cheese line one wall and in front is a counter topped with a Plexiglas cabinet crammed full of bagels.

We picked out some cream cheese, a carton of Tropicana and ordered three at the counter.

On the way to Central Park we picked up a copy of the New York Times, weighty with its supplements, and two large iced coffees. Once there we ambled gently towards the centre, picked out a quiet, shaded spot and proceeded to consume what was in front of us.

Two hours later, full of dough, cream cheese and media, we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down and allowed the remainder of the weekend to carry us along. Sunday, brilliant Sunday.

Bagels: The recipe

Before I even took my first bite of a genuine New York bagel, my girlfriend said to me: ‘This will ruin all future bagels for you, you know? I hope you’re prepared for that.’

She was right. To a certain extent.

Soon after we got back, I bought a stack from the supermarket. Lacking the firm chewiness of those we’d had in Central Park a few days earlier, they were thin, floppy and light with a processed taste and texture. The Paris Hilton of the bread world.

What I wanted was something with more resistance, more pull. And a more flavour.

Searching for recipes I came across two that appeared to tick the necessary boxes: this one via Slate (no eggs) and another from Shaun Hill (two eggs), he of Merchant House fame. Gaining confidence in my baking abilities, I chose to combine the two and split the difference hoping it would create some sort of super-bagel.

It did. I can safely say, without any degree or hyperbole, that these are the best bagels I’ve ever tasted. Ever.

Makes 10 generously sized bagels.

500g + 50-100g white bread flour
two teaspoons of dried yeast
one teaspoon of salt
50g caster sugar
two eggs (one for the mixture and one for glazing)
450ml of warm water

For the water bath:
3 litres of water
2 tablespoons of sugar

Whatever toppings your little heart desires

Mix together 500g of flour, the yeast, the salt and 50g of sugar in a large mixing bowl, preferably one you can clip into a mixer with a dough hook, unless you want to knead a sticky dough.

Pour in the water and stir until it is worked in. Add the egg. Add a further 50g of flour and start the mixer on a low speed. Let it run for five minutes then check the consistency of the dough. If it looks too sticky then add a little more flour until it just combines into a workable dough.

Knead for a further 5-10 minutes (NB here is where my Kenwood made a loud ‘snap’ noise and started farting a nasty grey smoke from its rear end. Cue panic tinged with excitement at the prospect of having to use the mini fire extinguisher for the first time).

Once the dough is ready, transfer it to an oiled bowl, cover and leave for an hour or so to prove and double in size.

Use this time wisely. Perhaps call your Grandma, draw a pretty picture or tweak your CV.

After the well-used sixty minutes, turn out the dough onto a floured surface (it’s another sticky one) and knock out the air, sprinkling flour over where necessary. Cut the dough into ten to twelve equal sized pieces and shape each one into a vague round shape. Leave for another ten minutes.

Flatten each one with the palm of your hand then poke a finger, it doesn’t matter which – I used my index finger, into the middle of each roll thus creating a bagel. Wiggle it around a little and neaten up the shape. Leave for another ten minutes. Yawn.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan full of water to the boil. Add the sugar and turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Boil the bagels two or three at a time for about a minute. Flip them after half that time so they cook evenly on each side.

Lift them out and put them onto a waiting towel to dry off. Transfer to a tray, brush with beaten egg and cook for 15 minutes at 200 degrees C, or until they are golden brown and delicious looking.

Eat as soon as you can handle one without doing a little dance and going ‘ooo, ah, shit, that hurts’.

For more refined floury treats, follow me on twitter.


Anonymous said...

Oh, these look lovely. I've never had a New York bagel but I love the ones from Beigel Bake on Brick Lane, much better than the standard supermarket fodder but obviously not as good as making your own.

Alicia Foodycat said...

I am so impressed! I haven't had a bagel in ages; I might have to give your recipe a go.

Zi said...

I made these last night...(I am clearly insane sitting up making bread products until 11pm) but they were worth it! Proper New York Bagels, I put half the dough in the fridge to bake tonight, I think I might make cinnamon and rasin bagels with those!

Hopie said...

You put me to shame. I've been in France for 3 years now saying "dammit, can't get a decent bagel in this country, better learn to make them" and you do it after one trip to New York! I'll have to get my lazy butt in gear and try this recipe then!

Ollie said...

They look stunning, and I'm glad you were able to recreate the NYC experience. I hope your mixer survived!

Anonymous said...

Bagels are the one corner of the baking world that I have yet to tackle. (Okay, there might be others, but I have never even thought of attempting a bagel.) Your recipe might change that for me.

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Sabine, La Marquise des anges said...

looks delicious !!! thanks for sharing !!!

Anonymous said...

I am an ex-Montrealer now living in Tampa. Because I have to, I eat Ray's New York bagels and they're ok. In fact, most NY bakery bagels are ok.

But if you want a better instantiation of this treat, you must have Montreal-style bagels. The best version comes from St. Viateur Bagel Bakery (which has been at its St. Viateur street location since 1957). Second is Fairmount Bagel (which has been running since 1919). Both use wood-burning ovens.

Montreal bagels are just better. See this for a less partisan opinion: