January 17, 2016

Bagels Baby!

See? I am keeping my promise. Even though it did not involve a pinky swear, serious and binding between my 12 year old daughter and I, here I am, exactly one week later.

Winter has truly arrived in the Bay Area, gentle rains have been coming every other day or so, and if this is this year's repeat of El Nino (that yes, I am old enough to actually have experienced and remember), I will take it.

I love the Fall the best of all the seasons. Weird for a chef. Most chef's, and even other folk who are serious about cooking love Spring, with its bounty of green garlic, asparagus, peas, and the beginnings of everything else showing their gorgeous little heads in gardens everywhere. They don't call it Spring Green for nothing! It is, in fact my favorite color....but I digress.

Many chefs embrace most ardently, Summer, when sweet berries and stone fruit rule the Farmers Markets. But not me. Perhaps it is because I attended culinary school, not in CA but back east in Providence RI, where I experienced my first and most gorgeous of Autumns. In fact, Autumn even has a specific smell...most East Coast folk will agree, and everyone else, well they just think I'm crazy. But that is okay. I have always had a very sensitive sense of smell...one of the reasons that I excel at my chosen profession I imagine.

But Winter....I love cosy vintage cashmere sweaters. I love fires in the fireplace (Ugh...don't start, people who I know and love in Berkeley), I love Christmas lights, and BAKING. Baking is my therapy. The more stressful my life, the more baked products my friends and family can count on. Bread is especially special to me. My dad being a baker in the Merchant Marines, my Mama baking homemade white dinner rolls each holiday, drenched in butter. But me, my fav is a crusty and chewy country loaf, made with a natural yeast starter or biga (Italian).

I have had my current sourdough starter going about a year or so, a gift from my dear friend and colleague, Mary. Her husband Bob is quite the chef himself, and he has been maintaining his starter for a long time.

Just about every weekend, I bake bread for the coming week. I became serious about it when I took on yet another additional role at PUSD, that of a culinary instructor. After lunchtime, three days a week, I jump right in and instruct a class of 20 Juniors and Seniors in the skills and techniques of preparing food. One of which, of course, is bread.  We are so spoiled in the Bay Area, so many great folks making damn delicious bread around here. But just over 3 years ago, my family moved from Berkeley to Oakland. And like I said in my post last week, the area that I would be able to afford is pretty much a good food desert. I could no longer walk to pick up my weekly bread at Acme. So I started working ardently, on making a great loaf myself.

I tried lots of different formulas, wanting to find a bread that didn't take two days of loving manipulation to bring to the table and alas, after 6 months or so of pretty mediocre breads, I resigned myself to Chad Robertson's Country Loaf bible, Tartine Bread.  You really do get what you give, especially with naturally leavened country style breads. It is, to be very frank, a process.

Proofing the bagels
So committed I was to it, working ardently each weekend, at first wanting to see if I could shorten the process. I'm a professional after all! I should be able to make this process my own.....Nope. The breads I turned out were decidedly ok, and they tasted good, but the rise was not terrific, the texture too dense and I am so damn picky.

One weekend, I remember vividly, I sighed, and decided to do Chad's formula by the letter, ALL 37 PAGES. It took a week, following his precise instructions, to get my starter really nice and active. I was religious in the feeding schedule. Every am, weighing in grams the 100 degree water and organic local flours I fed my baby with. After a week, the health of my baby really was evident, and so I began.

That next weekend, I turned out the most perfect loaf of bread I had every baked in my entire life! I was exhilarated and addicted. From that day, every week, with very little exception, I have been baking my family's bread.

Now, I have to admit, I have not been a fan of the Bay's version of bagels in the past. Too puffy, too cakey and not chewy enough for me. So when I walked into Beauty's Bagel Shop on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, my expectations were to bite into another hyped up, but mediocre product. Instead,  I revisited my own love for bagels that I found when I lived back East. They make Montreal style, wood fired bagels by hand each day, all of their spreads, to an extremely delicious result. Lucia especially, loves bagels (as any future student of NYU should), and Beauty's, though not producing NY style bagels, is the closest I have found in the Bay to delicious NY style fixings for bagels.

I have been sitting on the NYT formula for Montreal Bagels for quite awhile, I don't know why I decided to try them today. But I am sure glad I did. They came out a lovely golden brown, and my NY loving daughter, is enamored of the fact that we can make her favorite breakfast at home in about 2 hours.

Here are my notes:
Gorgeous finished product
*I halved the recipe, as 18 bagels is too much for my little family. Thusly I used just one whole, organic, free range egg and no yolk in my formula.
*I used roughly 1/2 cup of my sourdough starter, in addition to the yeast. I love the depth of flavor.
*I used extra virgin olive oil from Soul Food Farm.
*I used locally milled organic wheat bread flour from The Bale Grist Mill in St Helena.
*I found that 15-20 mins in the 450 degree oven, with a pizza stone was plenty of time to achieve a deep rich golden brown.
*I used parchment paper on the 1/2 size sheet pans to keep the bagels from sticking to the pan in the oven, as they are very sticky when they emerge from the honeyed boiling water.
*I decided not to roll my bagels in any accoutrement, as we prefer the bagels flavor to come though, although, next time I may caramelize a few onions to put on my husband's bagels

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