Tag Archives: crazy

The Great Bagel Project

I’ve been away from the blog for quite some time, but that does not mean that I have been unproductive – it has been a summer of crazy projects and quests. The most recent has been my nigh-quixotic adventures in bagel making.

Bagels are  a notoriously difficult baking project. In part this is because they are a multiple step process that includes kneading, proofing, boiling(!), and finally, finally baking.  The other side of the difficulty is in determining what, exactly, constitutes a “proper” bagel.  How dense should it be? How chewy? How shiny should the crust appear, and how is that shininess best accomplished?

While I have perhaps not yet attained perfect bagel nirvana, I did ascend several levels on this quest, going in three recipes from something that could only be charitably referred to as a bagel to a baked good that anyone could identify clearly as having bagelness.

I’m not going to do a process post here (though you can go to my Flickr for process http://www.flickr.com/photos/theredmenace/sets/72157631471514372/!)

Instead, we’re going to play “spot the difference” and catalog my failures and final relative success.

Round I bagels are from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything. Let me preface by saying that they tasted amazing. You can find the recipe here, if you would like to try them. That link has some evidence that my results were not entirely due to the recipe, as you’ll see in a moment. I used all-purpose for the flour and molasses for the sweetener. I shaped them by punching a hole through the middle of the dough. When they were done they looked like this:
Round 1 Bagels

Can anyone see why I was a little disappointed? These bagels are…very flat. And lumpy. As if they were less of a bagel and more of a – well, I can’t think of anything that’s supposed to look like that when you’re done. Mr. Bittman says modern bagels are too puffy, but…I still think these were not right. They were chewy and tasty, but they didn’t look like bagels. Here’s the inside:
Round 1 Bagel Interior
A little better, but still pretty rustic. Do you notice how some of it still looks a little doughy? These were baked for well over the recommended time. Hmmm…

So I decided to try again. I looked for recipes online, and found this post at Serious Eats. It’s Adam Kuban’s adaptation of Bernard Clayton’s recipe. In the accompanying article, Kuban references another possible recipe by Peter Reinhart that he has not himself utilized, as it is a two-day process. He assures us that he always gets amazing results with the Clayton recipe. In the meantime, a friend tells me on Facebook that the Reinhart recipe is the way to go. I saved them both, but decided to start with a one day recipe. I figured the all-purpose flour was my problem the first time, and invested in some high-gluten flour and some non-diastatic malt powder from King Arthur Flour. I am ready to rock. Once again, punchin’ holes, even though Mr. Menace thinks we should maybe shape the other way, which is rolling snakes of dough and forming a ring. Here’s what happened:
These bagels are less flat than the other bagels. But, they’re still pretty flat.
Round Two Bagel Interior
You can see they’re not as holey as the first guys – we’re getting to a little more bagel uniformity. But they’re still. Not. Right!

So, fine, I guess I am embarking on a two-day bagel project, in part because besides the advice from my friend online, I research “flat bagels” and find out that a key step is letting them proof overnight in the fridge, which is a step in neither of my two previous recipes. Apparently by retarding the yeast production, you don’t get such big pockets of air (see the big holes in bagel 1?) and so they don’t blow out and fall when you bake ’em. FINE. Mr. Reinhart’s recipe as interpreted by Smitten Kitchen it is. Still the high gluten flour, still sweetened with malt. We also did a little shaping experiment – half with the hole punched out, half with the snake/ring combo.

Well whaddya know?

Two things to notice here. One – I finally have something that looks like a bagel! Two – some of them are still a little lumpy. Turns out the snake/ring ones ARE smoother than just poking a hole through the dough! I don’t know why for certain, but I have theory that it has to do with the air escaping again, because when I put the punched out ones in the boiling water, the dough bulged out like Tetuso’s arm in Akira. I think when you make the snake before the ring, you squeeze out that excess air and it can rise more gracefully. But it’s just a theory.

Look at that beautiful bread!

I still have some playing around to do – I haven’t tried toppings, yet, and I kind of liked the molasses flavor of my first try – maybe I can do half malt, half molasses? Either way, I’m no longer tilting at windmills – I can make an honest-to-god bagel at home!


A Special Project

I was recently reminded of this particular adventure because Mr. Menace and I are gearing up to take on a similar challenge soon. To be honest, I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t already written about it – until I realized that it predates the blog! That’s right – I was undertaking crazy food challenges for no reason other than the pleasure of it. (rather, I should say WE were taking on crazy food challenges – Mr. Menace was deeply involved in this project.) Madness, I know.

This particular adventure had its genesis in several different things that were going on at the time. The first is that we were reading a lot of Cake Wrecks, an incredibly funny blog that details some of the worst professionally designed cakes you’ve ever had the misfortune of paying for. On Sundays, however, Jen showcases good cakes – great cakes, in fact – masterpieces of confectionery beauty. Known as Sunday Sweets, these cakes showed that given the right tools and a good eye, baked goods can be sculpture.

Our second inspiration was the grand opening of the Museum of Toys and Pop Culture – or MOTAP, as it is affectionately called. MOTAP is the brainchild of our good friend the Toynerd and Mr. Menace, and it is a showcase for pretty much the most amazing collection of toys and other pop cultural ephemera you’ll ever see. If you’re local to the Boston area I highly recommend coming to the grand opening of the latest exhibit – an unparalleled collection of all things Captain America! Trust me, even if you’re not particularly into comics or toys there’s something amazing about the range of toys, products, and weird crafts dedicated to Cap all being collected in the same room. It’s being curated by my friend Garth of 110 Everywhere, and the grand opening on July 23rd (that’s this coming Friday!) will feature special cupcakes by myself and Mr. Menace! Visit either Garth’s blog or the MOTAP site for details. END MASSIVE MOTAP PLUG.

I digress. This post is about the FIRST MOTAP exhibit, and what Mr. Menace and I created for it. The theme of that very first exhibit was a little movie (and toy franchise) that you may have heard of. It takes place in a galaxy far, far away…

Yep, they opened with a bang and the biggest collection of Star Wars toys and memorabilia you’ve ever set eyes on – completely fitting since it was a massively successful example of movie merchandising. We pondered an appropriate food, but it was tough – Star Wars doesn’t really immerse the viewer in the lives of its characters in that way. Hard-core Trekkies can tell you what Klingons eat, and even Futurama has Bachelor Chow and Popplers. But can anyone tell me what a Wookiee likes to snack on? The only remotely food-like thing we could come up with was Blue Milk, and that’s a drink (which I successfully made with blue curacao, creme de cacao, and cream – actually a cocktail known as the Bluetail Fly. I thought they were horrible but they were gone quickly, proving that other people like sweet drinks more than I do.)

That was when our thoughts turned to Cake Wrecks and the possibility of sculpting a cake into a character or scene from Star Wars. Mr. Menace is quite a talented artist and sculptor and felt that he could learn to work in cake. I was nervous as I am better at making things that taste good than look good, but agreed that by combining our talents we could probably pull it off. We tossed back and forth ideas of who or what to represent, and initially decided on the Death Star – it seemed fairly simple, after all. In order to get the round shape we ordered a cake pan that would make two hemispheres – it was originally intended to make a baseball cake. We were excited to start, until we received the package – the pan was ridiculously tiny! A sad Death Star indeed would have been the result. We were back to square one, when it hit us.

R2D2’s head is a dome shape. A hemisphere, if you will.


Hurray! We were back on, and could still use the freaky-tiny dome shaped pan we’d bought. Half of it, anyway.

I did some diligent research on similar cakes, feeling that it had to have been done before. (This is my other great strength in such a project, besides tasty baked goods – I am a meticulous researcher. Why kill yourself trying to recreate the wheel?) While I didn’t find anything quite like what we had in mind, there were enough similar cakes out there to cobble together a design that would work with both the materials we had at hand and our limited skills – remember, neither of us had ever attempted anything of the kind before. I can barely frost a cake properly, let alone make it look like a beloved character.

We started by making several round yellow layer cakes, along with the domed top. This took many hours of tedious baking, since a. spherical cakes take a LONG time to set and b. I insist on making everything from scratch. When these were cool we stacked them on top of each other with dowels inserted through the middle for sturdiness and frosted the heck out of it with butter cream:
Frosting the Cake
The base is made of cardboard, not cake, for additional support.

Next we added the legs, which Mr. Menace made from Rice Krispy squares sculpted into the appropriate shape. He tackled the making of the squares since I’d run out of time with the cakes. This was one of the tips I’d picked up in my research!
Big and Little
(tiny R2 is there for reference!)

Next we wrapped the whole shebang in white fondant. I’m personally not a huge fan of the stuff, but for a smooth-looking base it was key! I mixed a silver wash from edible dusting powder and painted his dome.
R2 Cometh
He was on his way!

Next, Mr. Menace sculpted his “eye” and cut little bits of blue fondant for R2’s accents. We also employed edible markers – much easier than trying to free hand with frosting!

Ready for his debut!

All in all, this was an incredibly fun (though at times frustrating!) project to work on together. Though perhaps not Sunday Sweet worthy it was pretty danged good for a first attempt and folks at the opening were suitably impressed.

See? They took photos!
At the Museum

Our Cap cupcakes will probably be a bit less detailed, but we’re dreaming up our next challenge – maybe a Halloween cupcake? Perhaps the Red Menace himself? Now that we know what’s possible, the sky’s the limit!

Since this post is already lengthy, here’s a shot of friend The Goog of Copious Collections enjoying the Blue Milk!

The Goog and Blue Milk