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.

Buttermilk Banana Bread Revisted

Instead of throwing out leftover bananas, they are best used up in banana bread. If you don’t have 3 large ones sufficient for this recipe, freeze them until your stock is adequate. This is a tweaked version of a recipe that I enjoy ever time. It has a great fluffy texture and a crunchy sweet crust.

Ingredients

  • 112 g butter (8 tablespoons)
  • 300 g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 240 g mashed bananas 
  • 60 g buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 g salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 250 g flour

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350• F. The butter, eggs, and buttermilk should all be close to room temperature. Butter and buttermilk can be warmed with a brief pulse in the microwave (start with 15 seconds for each). Eggs can be soaked in room temperature water for a few minutes to accelerate the process.
  2. Using a hand mixer, beat the butter until smooth.
  3. Add in the sugar and beat until well blended and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, blending each until evenly incorporated.
  5. Add the bananas, buttermilk, vanilla and blend until smooth.
  6. Add the baking powder, salt, and baking soda and mix until well combined (alternatively, add these to the flour and mix well).
  7. Add in the flour and fold in with a rubber spatula.
  8. Transfer to a loaf pan (I use a standard 4×8 pan sprayed with cooking spray and lightly dusted with flour) and bake for 50-70 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean and the internal temperature is 200-210ª F.
  9. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack and let cool completely 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.

Better New York Bagels

Homemade bagels are never perfected. They can always be tweaked and improved upon. The goal posts shift. Tastes evolve. New ingredients and techniques highlight different strengths and weaknesses.

My current recipe is based off of this recipe by Bruce Ezzell.  The main difference from my initial forays into home bagel making is that it includes honey in addition to malt for flavor, and that it doesn’t require hogging the refrigerator with two half-sheet pans overnight while the bagels are resting. Space is at a premium in my refrigerator, and the chore of clearing off most of two shelves was one that seriously cramped my bagel-baking style. 

This approach uses an overnight starter that can sit at room temperature (I give it a push by adding in some of my own sourdough starter for extra flavor). The dough is finished the next day and then baked the same morning. The resulting bagels have a great chewy texture and flavorful crust. 

Starter:

  • 100 g sourdough starter (100% hydration; if not using, add 50 g more flour and 50 g more water)
  • 450 g high gluten flour
  • 450 g water
  • 3 g instant yeast

Bagels:

  • All off the starter
  • 20 g salt
  • 20 g malt syrup
  • 20 g honey
  • 475 g high gluten flour

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the starter ingredients until the mixture is homogenous then leave covered at room temperature overnight.
  2. The next morning, add the salt, malt syrup, and honey and mix with a dough hook.
  3. When combined, leave the mixer running at the lowest speed and slowly add int eh additional flour. 
  4. Keep kneeling at lowest speed for about 6-8 minutes until the dough is smooth. 
  5. Transfer to the counter and rest covered with a damp towel for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine 25 g sodium hyroxide in 5 liter of water in a large pot (or scale as desired) and bring to a simmer. Set the oven racks to the middle-low and middle-high positions and preheat to 450° F.
  6. Divide into even balls of about 112 g each (or whatever size you prefer). Roll the balls on the countertop to ensure they are smooth (you may need to spray a little water on the countertop to seal any cracks) and cover for 10 minutes. 
  7. While the dough is resting, place a silicone mat or parchment paper in two sheet pans and spray with cooking spray.
  8. Working one ball at a time, use your thumbs to push a hole through the center of the dough, then gentle rotate the dough ring in your hand until it is smooth. Place on the sheet pan. When each sheet pan is full, cover loosely with plastic wrap.
  9. Let rest for 10 minutes, then flip each bagel gently. The bagels should puff slightly in the next 5 minutes or so. To test, place one bagel in a bowl of cold water. It should float within a few seconds. If not, the bagels need more resting.
  10. Place a few bagels at a time in the simmering water. Cook for 1 minute, flip each bagel over, then cook for another minute.  
  11. Transfer to a rack, add toppings as desired. Dust the now free areas of the sheet pan with cornmeal and put the bagels back. 
  12. When all bagels have been boiled, transfer both racks to the oven and cook for 7.5 minutes. Swap and rotate the racks and then cook for another 7.5 minutes. 
  13. Transfer the bagels to a cooling rack until cool, then enjoy.

Note: You will need a powerful mixer and may need to switch to using your hands given the stiffness of the dough. This will stress your mixer. When I tried even the second speed on my KitchenAid professional model, one of the tabs holding the bowl in place snapped off.

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.

Gingerbread Cookies

I am a heavy user of spices in all my cooking, including baking. Gingerbread, with its mixture of warming spices, is a favorite holiday treat. Gingerbread cookies typically come out hard and dry, serving more as vehicles for decoration rather than something you would want to eat. The exception are the soft, cake-like cookies that I’ve occasionally encountered through my childhood: that’s what I wanted to make.

Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to find the recipe from Cooks’ Illustrated. The original version creates a huge batch, but I’ve modified it for a small family.

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Cinnamon Bread

Formaggio, a high end grocery store in Cambridge, has an amazing cinnamon bread. It forgoes the usual raisins and adds cinnamon sugar on all sides instead of restricting it to the “swirl”.To replicate this at home, I started a dough based on King Arthur Flour’s butterflake bread (buttery, but sub-brioche levels of richness) and added a cinnamon sugar coating inside and out.

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Sprouted Whole Wheat Bagels

I continue on my whole wheat kick by trying something that seems like a compromise: 100% whole wheat bagels. The source was the same as the inspiration for my traditional bagels: Peter Reinhart. These bagels can be put together a lot faster than traditional bagels, largely because of the distinct characteristics of sprouted whole wheat. According to Reinhart, the sprouted wheat requires less time to develop flavor compared with traditional wheat.

If you look online, you’ll find a vocal group touting the health advantages of sprouted grains. I’m not sure how much truth there is to these claims, but I’m all for convenience. I ended up needing quite a bit more flour than the 510g called for in Reinhart’s recipe. His book Bread Revolution describes sprouted wheat flour as absorbing water much more readily than its unsprouted relatives, but I did not find this to be the case with my batch from Arrowhead Mills. Despite coming straight off the shelves at Whole Foods, the flour was a couple months past its listed expiration date, so this may have been a factor.

Ingredients

  • 560 g sprouted whole wheat flour
  • 1.25 teaspoons salt
  • 1.25 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 397 g lukewarm water
  • 21 g barley malt syrup

Directions

  • Mix flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl.
  • Mix water and malt syrup and pour into flour mixture
  • Mix for 30-60 seconds until no dry flour remains and the dough is shaggy
  • Let rest uncovered for 5 minutes, then kneed for two minutes. The dough should be smooth and only slightly tacky. I needed to add quite a bit of flour above the amount recommended by Reinhart.
  • Form the dough into bagels (I used 99 g of dough per bagel), place on oil-misted parchment on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Take the bagels out of the fridge about 1 hour before baking and preheat oven to 425 °F.
  • Boil bagels for 30 seconds per side in a 0.5% lye solution (25g per 5L water).
  • Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through if using two pans.
  • Cool on a rack. Extra bagels can be frozen after they cool. I like to slice my bagels before freezing, so they can be toasted right out of the freezer.

IMG_0760

The bagels were great, though decidedly different from non-whole wheat bagels. They had a nice sweetness to them, and the everything topping  went particularly well with the whole wheat dough.