I am not sure if Americans really swear by bagels for breakfast but I do know that they make the rounds ever so frequently in their popular culture. It’s the sort of food that the too-busy-to-make-breakfast-girl (probably a journalist), grabs from a bakery and chomps into, on her way to work; a junk-food-loving-pot-bellied cop, gorges on, slouching in his sleepy-little-car, during his morning duty; a regretful mommy brings home first thing in the morning, for being over-punitive with her rule-breaking children! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I watch a lot of television.
Ironically, the history behind bagels is not as simple as they might seem. They have been christened with many names, adopted and embraced by many a culture and from being a food of luxury it is now a food of the common man. It was the food that the German immigrants brought with them to Poland, in the name of Pretzels, and metamorphosed them into discs with holes in the center, which came to be known as Obwarzanek. Along with the Germans, came the Jews, who were deprived of commercial baking of any sort, because bread was sacred to Christians and Jews were considered anti-church. But Poland being relatively egalitarian in its ways, allowed the Jews to bake and the Jews took to baking bagels among other breads. However, the angry Polish Bishops falsely accused Jewish breads of being poisoned, to prevent the Christians from buying them. Soon after which, Jews were only allowed to bake, so long as the bread was boiled prior to baking. What was brought to America by the Jews to make a humble livelihood is now a billion dollar industry, thanks to the Lender’s.
I have asked friends from America if bagels are tasty and I have always got mixed responses. But in my understanding, bagel might be a habit to an American. Bagels might be to Americans, what vada paavs are to Mumbaikars, you have to grow up with them to cherish them.
Adapted from Lauren Groveman’s Homemade Bagel
- 2 tbsp butter, melted
- 2 1/4 tsp dry yeast
- 2 1/4 cups lukewarm water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 3 tbsp vegetable shortening (known as Dalda Vanaspati here)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 6 cups (approx) unbleached all purpose flour
For the water bath
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Caraway or sesame or poppy seeds
Makes 10 bagels
- Brush a large bowl with some melted butter. Leave it aside.
- Add yeast and pinch of sugar to 1/4 cup of warm water. Whisk well. Set aside. The yeast should react and froth up.
- In the remaining warm water, add the vegetable shortening. Whisk well. To this mixture, add the yeast mixture, remaining sugar and salt. Whisk well.
- Now add 1/2 cup of flour to the liquid at a time, stirring continuously, using a wooden spoon. Continue to add flour and stir, until you have a soft and sticky dough. You may not need all 6 cups to achieve this.
- Using a dough scrapper, scrap the dough out to a floured work surface. Knead the dough for 5- 6 minutes. Make a ball out of the dough and plunge it into the buttered dish. Glaze the surface of the dough with the remaining melted butter. Cover with a cling film and then put a tea towel over the vessel. Set aside for an hour.
- After an hour, deflate the dough and divide it into two halves. Place the halves in two different dishes and cover it like before. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- When the dough is ready, preheat your oven to 250 C (maximum oven temperature, at least in mine). Spray your baking tray with oil and dust with cornmeal also known as polenta. If you don’t have access to polenta, you can use semolina (rava). Set aside.
- In a big vessel, bring water to boil. Meanwhile, take one half of the bagel dough first. You must have the other half covered. Divide the half into 5 equal portions using a dough cutter. On a tray, place a tea towel dusted with flour. Keep an other tea towel, to cover the shaped bagels.
- Cover the remaining portions of bagel dough with tea towel, while you are working with the first one. Dust your hand with flour. To give your bagel a shape and allow the gluten to work, stretch the dough from the bottom and pull it to the top. Do so around the dough, until you have pinched gathering on top and a smooth surface below. Place the dough, pinched surface below. Now, using your index finger, make a hole in the center. Pick up the dough, and using both your index fingers, elongate the hole to a diameter of about 3 inches. Place the bagel on the floured tea towel. Cover it. Repeat the same for all the portions.
- Once the water has begun to boil, add baking soda and sugar.
- Plop the bagel, one at a time, into the boiling water. Have the remaining bagels covered. The bagel will drown to the bottom and will soon surface in top. After they have risen, boil them for a further 2 minutes, on each side, flipping them.
- Sprinkle the prepared tray (cornmeal tray) with caraway seeds. You can use sesame or even poppy seeds. Place the boiled bagels on the tray. Brush the surface of the bagels with egg white. Sprinkle seeds you wish to use on top of the bagels.
- Fill a quart mug with water and pour 5-6 ice cubes into it. Pour this beneath your oven rack (in the bottom) and bake the bagels for 25-30 minutes.
- Repeat the same with the other half.
Note: Bagels may not taste as good without an accompaniment. Slice the bagel into half, spread some whipped cream cheese, place slices of tomato, cucumbers and onions, place the other half on top (like you would for a burger). If you have a ready made cheese spread, that will work too!