Bagels Revisited


I am not a bagel expert. I do not claim to know how to identify or bake an authentic bagel. However, I do know what I like, and I like dense, chewy bagels. Bready bagels are just bread in the shape of a doughnut. What’s the point of that, please? And to get a chewy bagel, you need one thing: gluten, and lots of it.

I make bagels often, and normally use high-gluten flour (King Arthur Flour’s Sir Lancelot) to achieve the stiff, smooth, incredibly strong dough that yields optimal chewiness. This time, however, when I went to reach for that flour, I came up empty-handed. And because it was the hottest day of the year, I just had to have bagels. (You’re the same way, right?) Vital wheat gluten to the rescue.

Vital wheat gluten looks like flour but is essentially pure gluten. It is readily available, packaged or in bulk, in many grocery and natural foods stores, or can be ordered online. I found that replacing the high-gluten flour in my usual sourdough bagel recipe with a mixture of 97% flour (the regular flour I use for bread) and 3% vital wheat gluten gave me a bagel that was virtually indistinguishable from the original.

There are two schools of thought regarding bagel shaping. As with boxers vs. briefs, Mac vs. Windows, or over-the-roll vs. under-the-roll, people seem to fall uncompromisingly into one camp or another. Yes, I have tried the punch-a-hole-in-a-ball-of-dough-and-stretch-it-out method, but the roll-the-ends-of-the-snake-together method is far superior. It just is.

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Grissini Revisited

As far as I’m concerned, there is no more perfect party food than grissini. A bouquet of these thin bread sticks looks beautiful and never fails to draw a crowd. They’re crunchy and savory and can be picked up and eaten with one hand.

But let’s face it, if you have to roll several dozen of these things individually you may be arriving a little late to your own party. It’s not that I don’t love hands-on time with my dough, but sometimes just a little more efficiency is in order.

In her book The Italian Baker, Carol Field describes how Italian bakers do it, by simply stretching the elastic dough with the hands. For me, this was not only faster but produced wonderfully rustic, knobby-ended grissini. (Do you know me? I am nothing if not a fan of rusticity!)

I love my grissini thin thin thin. If you prefer something a little plumper, roll the dough into a 6 x 4-inch (rather than 12 x 4) rectangle, and cut it into only 8 pieces rather than 16.

This sourdough recipe is very flavorful (and makes nice pizza as well), but yeasted grissini are great too!

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Lively Up Your Day

If you like to start your morning with a little kick, may I suggest these English muffins? Made with both sourdough starter and yogurt, their tang can be toned down with a little raspberry jam, or turned up with a gloss of unsalted butter.

Either way, maybe they will rock your morning like they rocked mine — as I was finishing my muffin, I felt that rumbling and shaking that in this neck of the woods can only mean one thing: earthquake. It was a little one, as most of them are, but an earthquake nonetheless.

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Fennel and Pepper Taralli

I have seen taralli variously described as Italian bagels, Italian pretzels, and Italian oval bread sticks. So I guess we can at least safely say they’re Italian. Since I haven’t eaten these in Italy, I don’t know whether the ones I made are anything like the authentic ones, but they did taste good with a glass of red wine. And they’ll keep until your two-year-old is in college.

The recipe is inspired by Royal Crown’s Fennel Taralli from Artisan Baking by Maggie Glezer. I added some cracked pepper and made a few other adaptations for the ingredients I had on hand. I used a food processor but the dough can also be kneaded by hand if your upper body needs a good workout. The fennel seeds are worked in by hand at the end in either case.

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Pistachio-Anise Wafers

I’ve been making the same Christmas cookies for more than 20 years, and I figured it was time to add a little something new.

These are a different kind of cookie, actually sort of a cross between a cookie and a cracker. I like them because:

  • their only sugar is what’s sprinkled on top, adding color and shine
  • they’re leavened (a little) by yeast, and wild yeast at that
  • they have no butter, only olive oil

(To any members of my household who may be reading this: Don’t worry, we’ll still have Candy Cane Cookies, Peanut Butter Bonbons, and a few of the other old favorites.)
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Flaxseed Flatbread

Chances are you can have these mixed, shaped, baked, and on the table before you can master saying “flaxseed flatbread” five times fast.

I’ve been a little busy this week and haven’t had time to wait for yeast to do its thing, but unleavened flatbreads are an easy and quick way to still have fresh bread for dinner. These very crisp breads are adaptable to a wide variety of flour and flavor combinations, and are in fact a variation on the Sesame-Semolina Flatbreads I wrote abut a few months ago. Roll them in a pasta roller or with a rolling pin, as thinly as possible for maximum crunch.

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