Tag Archives: project

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!


Nice Buns

Before I explain the cryptic and silly title of this entry, can I just say: 50 posts! Can you believe it, folks? Who would have thought it mere months ago?

Whoo! Ok, now that’s out of my system, let’s talk buns! Specifically, the Pork Belly Buns from the Momofuku cookbook. Well, sort of – we’ll get to the ways that they differ in due time. I have not actually had the pleasure of visiting Momofuku in person, so I can’t say whether mine are as good, but I will say this – they were pretty danged delicious!

I received the cookbook for Christmas from my dear parents, who seem happy to indulge my obsession with food, as they were the ones who gave me my pride and joy, a white KitchenAid mixer, for my thirtieth birthday. So they didn’t bat an eyelash when I requested this slightly extravagant book from a restaurant I’ve never been to, and I’m glad they didn’t, because it’s great! David Chang, the wunderkind chef/mastermind behind the titular restaurant, has a slightly obnoxious narrative voice, but he clearly has a passion for the amalgamation of fast-food and cuisine that his restaurants make, and the pictures in this book are to die for. I decided to start with the pork belly buns for several reasons:
1. I absolutely adore char siu bao, the salty-sweet dim sum buns that this sandwich is based on. Only jin doi has a more special place in my heart.

2. I really wanted to try a pork belly recipe. The belly is typically the cut used for American bacon, but recently it’s become a popular meat with high end chefs because its sticky fat gives it a richness and texture that can be wonderfully decadent in the right preparation.

3. It seemed like a bit of a project. Not difficult mind you, but full of fussy little steps that reward patience. I was on vacation, and for those of you who know me, you know I’m a sucker for a project.

So, with those three things in mind, I trotted off to C-Mart to buy my ingredients and began my quest!

Pork belly, hoisin, scallions and Kirby cucumbers were acquired with ease, but I ran into my first snag when it came to the ingredients for the bun dough. Chef Chang uses a pretty sweet dough that includes powdered milk. Alas, the only powdered milk I could find (admittedly, not by looking all that hard) was in a gigantic box at Johnny Foodmaster. Since I needed 3 tbsps, this seemed ridiculous. Since Chang said his buns were a variation of traditional mantou dough, I decided to simply make that. It’s a less rich, less sweet dough, but I figured the filling would be intense enough. As a yeast bread, the mantou went through several rises and making the buns was an all day affair.

Here’s what Chang refers to as “an armada of dough balls” rising:
Dough Ball Armada

Formed Bun

Finished Buns:
Steamed Buns

These little guys freeze pretty well, so I made about fifty buns. They proved to bounce back beautifully after a few minutes being resteamed. They’re a bit bland, as I said, but have a satisfying chewiness from the steaming while remaining tender thanks to the yeast.

Next I had to prepare the pork belly, or as it seems to be labeled at every Asian grocery, bellie. Chang’s directions are pretty simple but require some precise timing – the pork belly is rubbed with salt and sugar and then left in the refrigerator for no less than 6 and no more than 24 hours to cure. It’s cooked at a high heat for an hour until it’s glazed and crisp-crackling, then for another hour or so to render the fat and collagen into melting tenderness. Pulled from the oven it was gorgeous, amber-brown and fragrant.

Still, having taken up several hours of my day I could not yet make the buns! I sliced the belly into the requisite pieces and shelved the project for one more day.

When I was finally ready to make the sandwiches, a small disaster struck – my cucumbers went bad! The recipe calls for quick salt pickled cucumber slices, but alas, all I had was mush. After days of putting together this recipe, however, I elected to forge ahead and eat them sans pickle. The belly got a quick sear on the frying pan while the buns re-steamed. A smear of hoisin, a sprinkling of scallions, and a squirt of sriracha and my buns were complete! I braised some Napa cabbage for a side and finally sat down to take a bite.
Pork Buns

They might not have been perfect or precisely authentic, but they were fantastic! Chewy bread with sweet hoisin and wonderfully salty meat. The hot sauce cut through the richness – I wouldn’t leave it off unless you are truly anti-heat. Despite stretching into a saga that took days to complete, this was a worthy project, and I can’t wait to try more of the recipes!