We have a saying here in Chengdu. There is good, and there is Chengdu good.
Chengdu good implies that you’ve been here long enough to forget what a “real” burger or “real” croissant or “real” Mediterranean food tastes like and the locally available version of that dish is at least mildly pleasing to your sheltered palate.
Good implies that what you have eaten or produced would stand up to culinary critique existing outside the borders of China’s western frontier and maybe even outside of China.
Well, my friends, I think we’ve done it with this batch of homemade bagels.
They aren’t just Chengdu good, they aren’t just good, they are really f-ing good.
They have a nice sheen to the crust on the outside, and they are chewy and soft on the inside. These are the sorts of bagels that make you regret ever, ever buying those frozen, bready, circular abominations from the frozen breakfast section at the grocery store.
Yes, people, we made bagels again-in a wide variety of flavors as per Chris’ creative requests.
That at 10 am on Sunday morning, Chris had the ingenius foresight to request both Old Bay and Bacon Salt bagel before hugging “his” pillow and promptly falling back asleep was quite remarkable.
Almost as remarkable as the fact that I managed to boil, bake, and taste-test all of the damn bagels before he made it out of bed around noon:30.
But that’s beside the point.
The point is that if you aren’t in New York, or at least some large cosmopolitan city with a penchant for eating a parchment-paper wrapped breakfast out of one hand while balancing a briefcase and a hot cup of coffe in the other, fear not. You can still live the good life.
At least when it comes to bagels.
And bacon salt really is probably the most ingenious bagel topping ever. Italian seasonings aren’t bad either. Nor is Old Bay.
In fact, even plain homemade bagels of this caliber are pretty much the best thing ever.
I’m not going to lie to you. Making homemade bagels is a PROCESS that takes 2 days, some planning, some refrigerator re-arranging, a certain knack for forming circular out of dough, a love for the process of kneading dough by hand for A LONG TIME, oh and some dexterity around boiling pots of water, hot pans and malt powder.
It’s possible to make great bagels even if you don’t have all the right ingredient or aren’t willing to sacrifice your life to follow all of the finicky steps exactly. Trust me, we’ve made a lot of those “well, I’m sure we can just skip that step” bagels and they are still delicious.
But having finally submitted to the ultimate rulebook of bread-baking, I have to admit: following Peter Reinhart’s (aka Bread God’s) instructions to the letter results in definitely, infinitely, better bagels.
Now, because I care and to make sure you are on track for truly heavenly homemade bagels, I’m going to send you over to Macheesmo’s site for a tutorial that rivals the one in Peter Reinhart’s own book. Unlike me, he put in some seriously significant effort to make sure that anyone who reads his blog can duplicate his success. The way he perfectly documents every step of the process is pretty inspiring. That is a man who not only knows how to cook, but also loves his readers dearly-and it shows.
Before you hop over to Macheesmo though, I’m going to share a few tips that we’ve learned over the course of several bagel batches:
1. Use bread flour-it is worth it to go out and buy a bag of this stuff if it’s not in your house. It just makes a superior bagel and provides that lovely chewiness on the inside. All-purpose works too, but it’s just not the same.
2. Use malt powder or malt syrup. You need it, just go out and get it or order it from King Arthur’s Flour. We use it both in the bagel dough and in the boiling water. It’s irreplaceable for that truly bagel-like taste and crust-texture. Otherwise, you are kind of just eating bread circles-which is fine of course…if you hate delicious bagel-y goodness. If you are using the powder, it will likely clump up in your dough, but not to worry. After 15 minutes of kneading and an over-night rest in the fridge, the lumps will magically disappear.
3. Don’t be afraid if your bagels are still light-colored and a bit soft looking when you pull them out of the oven. After having been boiled for 2-3 minutes and cooked at high heat in the oven for 10 minutes, they should be perfectly done,-with just that tiniest hint of doughy-ness on the inside that we really love. Of course, if you prefer a drier texture and a darker crust, give the bagels an extra few minutes in the oven and you’ll be all set.
3. There is a step in the recipe that calls for retarding the formed bagels on baking sheets in the refrigerator over night. If you are like us, your fridge may be:
b) crowded; or
The first few times we made these bagels we simply put the kneaded dough ball in the fridge over night and then formed the bagels in the morning. This worked out alright but it wasn’t ideal-the bagels were harder to form, the process and timing was more chaotic, etc. But it is totally doable. For this most recent attempt however, we actually followed the directions, cleared out our fridge and did some fanangaling with our sheet pans to get everything in and covered. Not only was the dough easier to work with both during the forming and cooking stages, but the bagels were just, hands-down, better. Moral of the story? Clean out your fridge!!! (And promise fresh bagels to the engineer who will help you figure out the pan-layering issues)
And so, I leave you to pursue your own amazing breakfast creations with my latest rift on an old Irish proverb:
May the cabbies rise to meet you.
May there be not mud splattered on your back.
May you not spill coffee all over your face.
And your boss not mind if you are 15 minutes late.
And until we meet again,
May you always hold a delicious homemade bagel in your hand