Sunday, October 18, 2009

When is a bagel not a bagel?

When IS a bagel not a bagel?
When it is reduced to being a bagel that is simply a slightly-heavier-than-white-bread-dough shaped into a humongous-bagel-looking-round. Almost all bagels from the local grocery store and so-called 'bagel eateries' fall under this description. Most of these bagels are, at best - insipid. Donut shaped breads are donut shaped breads, and not necessarily bagels.

Regular readers of b's blog know that boring food does not impress me.
Rather, boring food depresses me.
When it comes to eating - I maintain that fresh is important, tasty is best and dishes that are deemed 'pretty darned authentic' truly reign.

And so - back to the humble bagel. I don't know from bagels the way many folks do, but I know what I like and have a wee idea of how they're supposed to be...

A good while back, the bagel went mainstream. Since then, a good bagel is getting hard to find. It's been screwed with.

Bagel ingredients are few.
Cooking method is straightforward.
Resulting texture should be satisfying: toothsomely crunchy at the onset and tender yet dense as you work your way further. Delicate in taste and flavor.

It's not nice to mess around with the ingredients. Is malt still included? Even worse to shortcut the basic method of preparation. I suspect ersatz bagels are not given a hot water bath prior to being baked - authentic bagels take a nice hot soak. This is a vital step in the bagel-making process. Lesser bagels are often steamed to get water onto the surface. Not good enough. A good bagel should have something of a crust. It has been said, and I do believe - that bagels need the bath to achieve Perfect Crust Nirvana.

You know the diff if you've had a real 'New York style' bagel.
I've eaten some good 'uns, which is why I have high expectations.

Waaaaay Back in the 90's, on numerous business/ pleasure trips to NYC, I'd buy a couple dozen bagels from a local deli: Plain, rye, pumpernickel, garlic, onion, poppy seed, sesame seed and my personal fave: salted. One or two were for eating on the spot, the rest were to take back to CA.

These I would (very carefully and with a great deal of love) triple pack in plastic bags and fit into my suitcase (like a breadish jigsaw puzzle) for transport home. Due to close proximity (even with layers of plastic wrap betwixt and between) with the food, my travel togs would invariably take on the heady scent of freshly made, generously flavored bagels.

Smelly clothes for great bagels. It was a trade-off.

Once home, I shared my bagel booty with family and friends (one set of neighbors always eagerly awaited my return from a trip to their native New York). The chewy sour-y bite of each coveted bagel would be well worth the small sacrifice of needing to air out some strongly onion-scented clothes.

Compared to those New York bagels, anything less is lackluster to the palate. Leaves one begging for better.

These days, I am resigned to buying and eating bagels that are 'less than'. My lesser bagels of choice are the multi-seeded pre-packaged ones from Safeway. Toasted. If I happen upon a batch that is generously sprinkled with caraway and poppy seeds, it helps with the illusion.

Perhaps I could start baking my others have so successfully.
Hmmmmm. Doable.

Baking bread is fun.
I ...
... enjoy gathering the ingredients.
... never fail to be intrigued by the alchemy of mixing yeast, warm water and sugar.
... love kneading bread dough with practiced hands.
... delight in turning the mixture into my huge McCoy bread bowl (a wedding present
from 38 years ago); gently covering it with a dishtowel and placing the bowl in a cozy spot for the dough to rise.
... want to be the one to punch down the doubled up dough after the first rising.
... happily ball up the yeasty mix for a second rising.
... feel homey when setting it to bake in the oven.
... savor the anticipation that comes with the last fragrant moments of baking (a few peeks into the oven is allowed).

Seems to me that bread machines take away from the earthy satisfaction of home-bread-making - the wonder, the pleasure and yes - the sensuousness - of the process, So no bread machines for me. A bit of muscle and a lot of patience does yield the superior product.

There is one major problem with me and home-baked breads. I eat more than my fair share of the results. 'Fresh out of the oven' is my dietary downfall.

Homemade bagels - do I possess the will power not to over consume?
Is it possible to make 'em and store 'em and pace myself with the eating of 'em?

We shall see.
We shall bake.
We shall report findings.

The question of real bagels leads me straightaway to the
'when is yogurt not yogurt?'** question.
Yet another topic for another curmudgeonly moment relating to food.
Of which I have many.

** Purge regret - I should never have gotten rid of my Salton Yogurt Maker.

YouTube bagel video by poopshadow.


Liz said...

You are so right about Bagels. When we lived in Atlanta a shop from NY opened up right across the street from where I worked. OMG, they were so good. And the different cheese spreads they had, double OMG.

Since coming back to CA can't find any that taste any thing close to those bagels.

So has you, when I was still traveling back East would have some.

House Dreams said...

Oh, my gosh! We missed eating bagels in NYC!