It goes without saying that I grew up eating bagels. Most Sundays promised an early morning trip to Delsen’s Delicatessen for freshly baked bagels (always onion and plain), cream cheese, and filet smoked salmon and/or whitefish. Friends and relatives came over, some driving from NJ to join us. Salty, briny, chewy, juicy, and sharp were all in one compact bite. Then the bagel building would ensue, which is a fine art. Bagels were toasted, cream cheese spread, thin slices of red tomato, even thinner slices of red onion, and chunks of the smoked salmon were mashed onto the bagel and silence overtook the table as the eating began. Salty, briny, chewy, juicy, and sharp were all in one compact bite. Freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee were sipped in between bites. It remains one of my happiest memories because during my youth my family’s auto parts store was closed on Sundays and my dad was home for the whole day until the “blue laws” were lifted and retail stores gained the right to be open on Sundays.
Being one of the only vaguely Jewish person in my group of friends (Dad’s Jewish and my mother is Roman Catholic…we were raised Catholic with a heavy dose of Jewish food culture), my friends would practically run home screaming when this breakfast presented itself following a Saturday night sleepover. Sadly, fish on a bagel was not a universal pleasure in my largely Irish/Italian neighborhood. Seriously, how could they dislike fish on a bagel? I thought they were crazy. My dad I and I still get a laugh poking fun at “those who do not enjoy this delicacy”.
I knew that what made real bagels special was the use of malt syrup (get it at a health food store or on the web) and that they had to be boiled before being baked (to set the crust before baking). Going to school in Florida in the 1990’s (and some research) also made it clear that special New York water was also necessary to make a bagel that tasted nothing like the fluffy and lily white round things passed off in Gainesville as bagels. Bagels and pizza may have been the unconscious factor that ultimately made me transfer from Florida back to NY for school. I had never attempted to make bagels until last year when I decided to make them for holiday presents with home salt cured salmon (gravlax). Searching the web, it became clear that Peter Reinhart’s http://peterreinhart.typepad.com/ recipe was the best, producing the most authentic results. Taking Smitten Kitchen’s riff on his recipe http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/09/bronx-worthy-bagels/, I riffed a little more. I used “method 1” (poke a hole in the ball of dough) foolproof method to shape the bagels…no rolling out of dough in my tiny kitchen!
Don’t be scared by the length of the recipe, you will be rewarded with malty whole grained bagels that are practically free. I ignored the need for high gluten bread flour and used all white whole wheat flour with a little more water. I mixed the dough entirely in a huge stainless steel bowl. My Kitchen-Aid strained and agonized in kneading the dough and I did it in two minute intervals so as to not blow the motor. I made 24 “mini bagels” that were approximately the size that bagels used to be before they expanded to the mega bagels of today. Topped with a schmear of cream cheese, red onion, tomato, and salmon, my Sunday morning started with a bit of nostalgia and a lot of personal satisfaction.