pH Balanced Bagels

Bagels must be boiled in lye! No, baking soda is fine! Use honey water instead! While it is widely accepted that bagels should be boiled before being baked, regional variations have produced a range of dogmas regarding the optimal poaching solution. My favorite recipe from Serious Eats’s Stella Parks recommends only a malt-sweetened water bath, while many others use some form of arlkalinization (baking soda, or for the hardcore, lye).

Many recipes never really explain what the purpose of the alkaline solution is, but the claims include improved texture (e.g., chewiness) and browning. I’ve tried my basic recipe with both baking soda and lye, and had a sense that it also improved the flavor, but perhaps at the cost of some crispness in the crust. As far as I can tell, no one written about bagels boiled in an acidic solution.

I decided to finally do some formal testing. I prepped 8 bagels from a single batch of dough.

I prepared two pots of water with the same concentration of malt syrup (1% by weight). I added lye for a 0.5% solution (5 g per liter) to one pot and brought both to a boil. Interestingly, the alkaline solution ended up much darker.

I boiled two bagels in the malted plain water, then added 2% by volume of plain white vinegar to acidify it before boiling three more bagels. I then boiled the final three bagels in the alkaline solution. Each bagel was boiled for about 30 seconds per side. After boiling, the water and acid bagels looked pretty much indistinguishable, while the alkaline bagels were clearly darker.

The bagels went into a 425 °F oven for 25 minutes, with a rotation after 15 minutes to ensure even cooking. When they came out, the water and acid bagels again looked quite similar. I wondered if the acid bagels slightly paler, but any difference was subtle at best. The difference from the alkaline bagels, however, was markedly enhanced by baking: they were considerably darker.

I decided to sample half an acid bagel and half an alkaline bagel. When sliced, the alkaline bagel appears a bit denser, and looks smaller. I suspect the alkaline water gelatinized the proteins more quickly, and limited the rise in the oven.

The acid bagel may have been slightly crisper, but the difference was not great. I did like the more complex flavor of the alkaline bagel better. To me, it tasted more “bagely”, and less like just bread. They did indeed seem chewier.

Overall, I was surprised that the acidification little to know effect, while the difference in the alkaline bagels (compared with neutral water) was marked. It may be that I used too little vinegar to really make a difference. Regardless, I’m not sure it’s worth pursuing further since the alkaline bagels were my favorite. In addition to color and flavor, I also have the impression that alkaline-boiled bagels bind toppings better than neutral water bagels, but that’s an experiment for another day.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Skillet lasagna is a weeknight favorite in my household, but one skillet’s worth typically involves half a typical 1 pound container of ricotta. What do do with the other half? Lemon ricotta cookies are an easy solution. I based this version off a recipe from the New York Times. The dough keeps for a week in the fridge, so you don’t need to make all the cookies at once.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Light and airy lemon cookies

Credit: New York Times

Ingredients

Dough:

  • 112 g (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 212 g sugar
  • 225 g ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 lemon zest
  • 10 mL vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 240 g all purpose flour
  • 5 g baking soda
  • 2 g salt

Icing:

  • 225 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 15 mL lemon juice
  • 5 mL vanilla extract
  • milk

Directions

  1. Let the butter sit out until soft, or zap briefly in the microwave.
  2. Add the butter and sugar to a mixing bowl, and mix with a stand or handheld mixer until fluffy (a couple minutes)
  3. Add in the ricotta, lemon zest, and vanilla and mix until well combined.
  4. Add in the egg and mix until fully incorporated.
  5. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and add to the wet ingredients.
  6. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap (or transfer to an air-tight container) and refrigerate for 2 hours to 1 week.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 °F when ready to bake.
  8. Scoop out about 2 tablespoons worth of cookie dough per cookie, round into a ball with your hands, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I can fit about 8 per sheet.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.
  10. When cookies are cool, mix confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract for icing, and add enough milk to make a spreadable glaze. The original recipe calls for 7 g of butter, but I usually skip it or add a bit of cream in place of the milk.
  11. Spread some glaze on each cookie and allow to set for at least 20 minutes. Decorate with some colored sugar or sprinkles if you like.

Serious Bagels

Homemade bagels can require some effort, but offer substantial payback for picky eaters. I have hopped from recipe to recipe over the years, each better than the previous. My current favorite comes from Serious Eats. I have tweaked this version several times with slightly different results, but all varieties are excellent. This version modifies the Serious Eats version with 100 g 100% hydration sourdough starter, but you can easily replace this with a flour and water (50 g each). I also use honey in place of sugar and malt and high gluten flour in place of bread flour. Lastly, I changed some of the preparation steps to streamline the process. 

Serious Bagels

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Moderate
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Slightly sweet chewy bagels with a crisp crust

Credit: Serious Eats

Ingredients

Yukone:

  • 170 g  water
  • 100 g high gluten flour

Dough:

  • 300 g high gluten flour
  • 9 g salt
  • 4 g instant dry yeast
  • 50 g cold water
  • 100 g sourdough starter (100% hydration)

For the water:

  • 50 g honey
  • 5 L water

Directions

  1. Mix the flour and water for the yukone in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 20 seconds. Stir then repeat for 10-20 second bursts until the mixture reaches the consistency of mashed potatoes. Set aside, covered with plastic wrap to cool. 
  2. Add the flour, salt, and yeast into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. 
  3. Add the cold water, honey, and starter to the yukone and stir to combine. When close to room temperature or cooler, add mixture to food processor. and pulse to combine. 
  4. Add the cold water, honey, and starter to the yukone and stir to combine. When close to room temperature or cooler, add mixture to food processor. 
  5. Turn on food processor and run for about 90 seconds. 
  6. Take out dough and divide into 8 balls. Roll each on the countertop with a cupped and until smooth and free of creases. If needed, moisten hands slightly. Place smooth balls under plastic wrap for about 15 minutes. 
  7. Poke a hole in the middle of each ball and gently stretch to a 3-4 inch bagel while rotating, ensuring an even thickness. 
  8. Place shaped bagels on a parchment or silicone lined sheet pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-36 hours. Alternatively, leave at room temperature for 30 minutes and then refrigerate overnight. 
  9. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425° F and fill a large pot with 3-5 L of water. Set it to boil and add the honey when boiling. 
  10. Gently lower 4 of the bagels top-side down in the boiling water. Flip after 30 seconds. Boil for an additional 30 seconds, then move to a rack. Add toppings if desired. Transfer back to parchment after spraying it with spray oil or dusting with cornmeal. Repeat with remaining 4 bagels. 
  11. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate tray 180°, then bake another 10-15 minutes until deep golden brown. 
  12. Transfer bagels to cooling rack and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before slicing. 

Variations: use malt syrup or sugar in place of honey (reduce by 25% if using granulated sugar or powdered non-diastatic malt rather than syrup). Can also use 25 g lye or baking soda in place of or in addition to honey in water. 

 

Going bouling 

A boule is one of the easiest and most satisfying breads to make. Mix 400 g flour, 280 g water, 4 g yeast and 8 g salt. Let sit overnight in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. In the morning, stretch the top of the dough around to form a ball and place on a baking sheet, dust with flour, and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for about an hour then bake in. 400 degree oven until the internal temperature is about 190° F (roughly 30 minutes). Let cool before slicing.

M&M Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are great, but there is something about M&M cookies (the colors, the candy crunch) that adds another dimension, especially for kids. I adapted my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe for these cookies. While I prefer the chocolate chip version in larger form and slightly under baked, these work well as smaller cookies.

M&M Cookies

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
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Soft and flavorful cookies with a candy crunch.

This makes about a dozen small cookies, but feel free to scale the recipe as needed. The dough keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days, so you can make as many as you need. I can fit about 6-8 on a standard cookie sheet.

Ingredients

  • 112 g (8 tablespoons or one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature or microwaved for about 15 seconds to soften)
  • 100 g packed light brown sugar
  • 60 g granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg (at room temperature)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 175 g all-purpose flour
  • 100 g M&Ms

Directions

  1. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for a few minutes until smooth.
  2. Add in the sugars and beat until the sugars are completely blended and the mixture is homogenous.
  3. Add in the vanilla and eggs and beat until homogenous.
  4. Add in the baking soda and salt and beat until the ingredients are well-distributed (many recipies combine these ingredients with the flour, but I this approach easier).
  5. With a rubber spatua, gently fold in the flour.
  6. When the flour is nearly incorporeal but the surface still has some dry flour, add in the M&Ms and fold to distribute evenly.
  7. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap (or a storage container) and store in the refrigerator until chilled. Overnight works well, though will test your patience.
  8. When ready to bake, line a sheet pan or pans with parchment or a silicone mat, and preheat the oven to 350.
  9. Scoop mounds of dough using a cookie or ice cream scoop, leaving a couple inches between each.
  10. Bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The edges should be just turning brown.
  11. Let the cookies cool on the sheet pan for a few minutes to set, then transfer to a rack to continue cooling. I find the texture is best when they have completely cooled (resting for at least 30 minutes on the rack).

Montreal Bagels

I’ve been focused on perfecting homemade New York style bagels, but my attention recently turned to Montreal-style bagels, which I have had only a few times. It is considerably harder to find information on how to make these bagels at home. Most efforts point to or are derived from a New York Times recipe, but I combined this information with various other recipies and my own experiences to come up with the following, which worked surprisingly well. The result is a slightly sweet, slightly richer bagel that is less like a lump of chewy bread than a somewhat crusty dinner roll (both types of bagels are more appealing than their description makes them sound). This recipe will likely require some tweaking over time, but it’s a good start.

Montreal Style Bagels

  • Servings: 15
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Bagels that are sweeter, denser, and crispier than the usual New York style fare.

These bagels sweeter than their New York counterparts, but still satisfying both fresh and toasted from a frozen state. With the high sugar content, the bottoms can burn easily, so be sure to check the bottom surface as they cook. They don’t rise nearly as much as New York bagels, and I found the “float test” unhelpful for gauging their readiness to be refrigerated.

Ingredients

Starter:

  • 100 g sourdough starter (unfed)
  • 420 g water
  • 450 g high gluten flour
  • 3 g instant yeast

Dough:

  • Starter
  • 150 g honey
  • 50 g oil
  • 1 egg
  • 20 g salt
  • 500 g high gluten flour

Directions

  1. Mix all the starter ingredients. If not using a sourdough starter, use an additional 50 g of flour and 50 g of water.
  2. Let the starter rest for about 3-4 hours, until some bubbles form.
  3. Add the dough ingredients except the flour and mix with a dough hook in a stand mixer.
  4. Slowly add in the flour until incorporated and mix at lowest speed for about 10 minutes to kneed to a smooth dough.
  5. Divide into 15 balls, about 112 g each, rolling each until smooth.
  6. Rest on the countertop for 20 minutes, covered with a damp towel.
  7. Form a bagel by poking a hole in the middle of each ball with your finger. Stretch and roll the dough, coaxing it into an even ring. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment or a silicone mat sprayed with cooking spray. You will probably need two half sheets.
  8. Let the bagels rest until they become just slightly puffy. Mine took about 3 hours.
  9. Cover sheets with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight.
  10. Fill a pot with 4.5 L of water and 150 g honey (or scale proportionally). Place on high heat until simmering. Let the bagels sit at room temperature while this is happening and set the oven racks at the middle-low and middle-high positions and preheat to 450 °F.
  11. Working with 3-4 bagels at a time (depending on the size of your pot), gently lower the bagels into the simmering honey water. They probably will not float right away, but should float within 15-30 seconds or so. They may require gentle coaxing with a skimmer or spoon.
  12. Flip the bagels after about 45 seconds, then remove to a rack.
  13. Dip each bagel into sesame or poppy seeds (or whatever topping you prefer, including none at all), then place back on the baking sheet, respraying the sheet if needed with spray oil.
  14. When all the bagels are boiled, place both sheets in the oven and cook for 18-20 minutes, swapping and rotating the sheets 180 ° halfway through.
  15. Remove the bagels to a cooling rack and enjoy. If slicing, wait until cooled.

Buttermilk Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls are almost unversally loved, but also subject to strong personal preferences. The most controversial aspect is the dough: some prefer a rich, brioche-like bread while others like to contrast of a leaner dough with the sweet filling. My family falls somewhere in the middle. After trying a range of options, our current favorite is a simple buttermilk dough. The dough recipe here makes enough for 3 batches of 8 rolls. This fits nicely in an 8 inch round cake pan, and the remaining dough batches can be used for rolls or loaves (one batch makes enough for a standard loaf pan). The filling and icing are enough for one batch of 8 rolls.

Dough:
1050 g bread flour
2 tsp salt
64 g sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
2 eggs
6 tablespoons melted butter
600 g buttermilk

Filling:
100 g brown sugar
5 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of salt

Icing:
35 g cream cheese
70 g powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk

Directions:

  1. Mix all the dough ingredients together in a stand mixer with a dough hook
  2. Once all the flour is absorbed, kneed with dough hook for about 8 minutes
  3. Divide dough into 3 batches and let rise for 1-2 hours until doubled. If baking the same day, take out the cream cheese at this point.
  4. Take one batch of dough and roll out on floured surface to a 1 foot square. The remaining batches can be refrigerated at this point for later use.
  5. Brush melted butter across surface of dough, leaving a half-inch border at the top
  6. Cover the buttered surface with the filling mixture, pressing down with your palms as needed
  7. Roll the dough in a tight cylinder, starting with the edge closest to you and sealing it shut at the edge
  8. Cut the cylinder into 8 pieces, and place a greased and parchment-lined 8 inch cake pan, cut side down, with the two smallest rolls in the center. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for a 1-2 hours. The dough should be puffy and the rolls touching or nearly touching.
  9. At least 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  10. Take off plastic wrap and bake for 15-20 minutes until internal temperature reaches abou 190 degrees F. Cinnamon buns are easily compromised by overlooking, so check frequently.
  11. While buns are cooking, mix cream cheese and powdered sugar, then add milk as needed for desired texture. The icing should be at least pourable to spreadable, depending on your preference.
  12. When buns are done, invert the pan onto a baking rack, then invert again onto another baking rack to let them cool for a few minutes. Once cook enough to handle, separate the buns and drizzle or spread icing.