Bagels

I have been working on making the New York bagel here in Seattle. This is journey which has taken me years, with many failures along the way.

Nov 2018

Looks pretty good for not knowing what I was doing

My first attempt at bagels was on a bit of a whim. I felt like baking something and bagels seemed like a good idea. I looked up a couple recipes online to see what would be kneaded and took stock of what I had available.

I knew that bagels are boiled before being baked, but I had always assumed that they were boiled in regular water. Reading recipes I found that there are key additives needed when boiling and there is not consensus over what these additives should be. Recipe’s called for sugar, honey, malt syrup, baking soda, baked baking soda, or lye.

Boiling the bagels before baking is done so bagels will develop their signature tough and tasty crust in the oven. The crust of the bagel is so good because of the maillard reaction, the process by which amino acids and sugars turn into a tasty brown crust when exposed to heat, like when searing a steak. The amino acids will come from the gluten protein in the flour. The need for sugar explains recipes adding sugar/honey/malt syrup to the water, as a sugar coating on the dough will help that brown crust form. The form of the sugar seems to be for flavor, with barley malt syrup being the most traditional. I went for plain sugar as I didn’t have malt syrup or honey stocked.

Boiling the bagels

What about baking soda or lye? This seems like another chemical trick to help the bagels bake. Baking soda, especially if you bake it for a while by its self to concentrate it, is very alkaline. These additives are to get the pH of the water relatively high. I didn’t have any lye on hand and to properly prepare the baking soda it should sit in a hot oven for almost and hour, so I skipped these additives. Several of the recipes I has looked at did not include an alkaline in the boil.

Looks good, but how do they taste?

The rest of the bake was pretty straight forward. Very similar to making rolls but for the shape. A little proving and the bagels puffed up to their expected size. A quick boil and a bake and I had some very good looking bagels.

The taste and texture where not quite right, though. The bagel crust formed was more similar to a bread crust and didn’t have the shine or dimpling of good bagels. Also because only sugar was used in the boil the bagels had a very sweet taste to them. These were very edible, but not the bagel I was trying to make.

A well earned breakfast

Feb 2019

For my second attempt I got barley malt syrup and lye to strive for the authentic bagel. This time I followed Cook’s Illustrated recipe which differs in two ways, the malt syrup is added to the bagel dough to make sure the malt flavors are there, and the bagels are left overnight to rise in the refrigerator to develop more flavor from the yeast.

Caustic lye, must be handled with care

Following this recipe and carefully boiling the bagels in lye I got bagels with a beautiful crust, but were completely inedible. Either the yeast I was using was dead to begin with or I had somehow managed to kill it while making the dough but there was no rise in my roll. The bagels were the size and consistency of a hockey puck, and just as appetizing.

Inedible

April 2019

The third attempt using fresh yeast and the same recipe as attempt number two was more successful. With the bagels getting closer to their expected size.

Notice the classic NYC twist in the dough for a chewier bagel

There were a couple things I think could be done better. Its pretty easy to see all the raw bagels were not the same size and this lead to an interesting range of sizes.

These third round bagels are still not a big as the first attempt and I think some slight misreading of the instructions were to blame. I added some of the salt before adding the yeast which will slow its production of carbon dioxide. And I think I needed to let the bagels prove longer outside the fridge before leaving them overnight.

A lot of work for a breakfast sandwich

October 2019

Dough

To get more rise in my bagels I decided to leave them on the counter to rise overnight instead of moving them to the refrigerator. A full batch of bagels looking excellent. I also experimented in forming the bagels with half the batch made with “twisted snakes” and half the batch formed by punching a hole in a sphere. After kneading and forming I covered with plastic wrap and left it to rise.

Bagels left to rise

After rising overnights the bagels and the plastic wrap became inseparable. I had forgotten to oil the plastic wrap which caused it to to stick to the dough. Removing the plastic wrap ripped open the developed gluten layers and ruining the bagels.

A sticky mess, Look away if you suffer from Trypophobia

June 2020

Its a few months into quarantine and everyone has been baking, including myself. After a few loaf of bread I was feeling confidant enough to try making bagels again. Though now I have a sourdough starter, so lets try and make some sourdough bagels. I found this recipe for a New York Style sourdough bagel that was very similar to the recipes I’ve used in the past.

To test the concept I started only with a half batch.
Formed and ready to rise

To avoid the pitfalls of covering with plastic wrap from now on I will just use a clean damp kitchen cloth. Keeps the dough from drying out and doesn’t stick like plastic.

In the oven
Two plan and two onion
Looking good on the outside
Looks good on the inside, but how do they taste?
One way to find out.

The sourdough bagels were a big success. With halving the batch, they were a little under salted, but by far the best bagels I’ve made yet. The first ones which looked like they really could have come out of a NYC Deli. Encouraged by this test it wasn’t long before I tried making a full batch.

Bagels ready to boil

Following the same sourdough recipe (with a few adjustments) resulted in another excellent batch. This time I used a little molasses in the boiling water (the presence of sugar helps the maillard reaction which forms the crust). I think it was a little too much, because combined with a little overcooking these bagels came out a little like pretzels.

Pretzel-bagels?

August 2020

With the process mostly figured out; becoming a routine. Whole wheat sourdough everything bagels are a go to; making a big batch and freezing them to be enjoyed later. With butter, cream cheese, or as part of a breakfast sandwich it is always good to have a bagel in hand.

Would I lye to you?
Using more whole wheat flour results it much darker bagels

Shooting Macro

Here is an experiment which demonstrates how I take a lot of my macro shots, and what gives those photos such a smooth creamy background. For the most part I take photos with a Sony 24mm-105mm f4 full frame telephoto lens. Mostly because its a really good multipurpose lens to have around.

This lens is not a dedicated macro lens but its able to take pretty decent macros shots without any modifications.

Minimal focal point of an unmodified 24-104 f4 telephoto lens; about 195mm
With no modification or cropping a 105mm lens gets a pretty detailed picture

That looks good but what if I want to make that dime bigger? The easiest way to make something bigger in the frame is to get closer to it. With this lens we cannot get closer to the subject without losing focus, as we are already at our smallest focal length.

This is where an extension tube can help. Extension tubes are very simple and inexpensive additions which sit in between the camera body and the lens. This moves the plane of focus further back from the lens, which results in a shorter focal distance.

My extension tubes.

I have to extension tubes, one 10mm in height and one 16mm in height. My tubes have all the electrical contacts to keep the lens connected to the camera, which keeps auto focus working. A must for fast flying insects.

Lets add one tube extender and see how that changes the picture.

Increase the distance between the lens and the camera by 10mm

Adding one tube extender allows the camera to get closer to the subject which makes the subject larger in frame, with more detail.

Shifting the focal plane by 10 mm, the minimal focal point is now around 125mm
The dime takes up more of the frame, giving a more detailed shot.

The tube extenders shifting of the focal point also has some other effects. With extension tubes added a lens will no longer be able to focus out to infinity, so they cannot be used for landscapes. The shifted focal point also results in less light hitting the sensor, so it works best in bright areas or with good lighting. Lastly the focal shift narrows the depth of field making it harder to keep subjects sharp, but adding an extreme blur to the background.

Adding another 16mm for a total of 36mm

Extension tubes can also be stacked! Adding more space between the lens increase all the effects. So with 26mm of extension we can get the camera even closer.

The minimal focal point is now around 91mm
Subject crisp and large in frame, background completely blurred out.

There are many other components to macro photography and lots of other ways to get similar results. This is the setup I tend to use most often, as with out the extension the 24-105 lens is good to have for wide landscapes or tighter head shots. And now that you know the secret to large detail pictures of bees and spiders is getting as close as possible, you may appreciate the small amount of peril involved in getting some of the pictures I’ve taken.

Inside an Amp

I finally got around to cleaning out my headphone amplifier today. There was some dust in the volume potentiometer which was creating a hissing sound when adjusting the volume. Some contact cleaner has it better than new. While I had it open I thought I would take a picture to share.

Something other than Bees

Though I often post bees, don’t think that my interests are solely apiary. Here are pictures of things other than bees which I’ve come across recently.

New Bees on the Block

I’ve got hundreds of pictures of bees I’ve taken from walking around the neighborhood. Most are of the bumble or honey variety, but sometimes I see something new.

This is the Agapostemon, or the “Sweat Bee”.
Its notable for their metallic green coloring.
This black bee might be a carpenter bee, but it looks a little small.
I am still trying to identify this species of bee.

Bee Butts

I like bee butts and I cannot lie.
You other bumbles can’t deny,
when a drone flies in with a itty-bitty waist,
and an abdomen in you face…
You get stung, pull that stinger out
‘Cause you noticed that butt was stuffed
Thick in the pollen its wearing,
I’m pricked and I can’t stop staring.
Oh bee, I wanna get wit’cha
And take your picture.
My honey bees tried to warn me,
that butt you got (its so thorny)

A New Vision

Here is a project I did this past winter that I have not yet shared, an upgrade to my ski goggles.

Skiing with glasses is a really mixed bag. Its very hard to control the humidity inside the goggles to stop the glasses from fogging over. I often ski without glasses as my prescription is very light. Its usually sunny enough that I can see fine without my glasses, or its foggy enough that there is nothing to see, glasses or not.

To improve this situation I tried adding some lenses into the goggles.

Using some round lenses pulled from a cheap pair of glasses I 3D printed an insert to fit inside the goggles. This was my first project print with flexible TPU plastic, allowing the insert to be printed flat and then bending to fit the contour of the goggles.

Fitting the lenses and test fitting the shape took a few iterations

Though the ski season was cut short these insets worked much better than wearing glasses under the goggles. And I will continue to use them next year with some tweaks.

The goggles do look a little silly, but I kinda like the look. Reminds me of Starlord’s Guardians of the Galaxy helmet.

Somehow managed to forget to get a picture with the goggles on my face

Five Weeks in Isolation

Nearly everyone in the world are now in different phases of isolation or quarantine. My experience is anything but unique, but as Seattle was one of the first hot spots on this continent I figure we are probably a week or two ahead of most of North America. As something to stay entertained and sane in my fifth week of isolation I put together a little timeline of how I experienced this pandemic and what I’ve been doing while cooped up.

My Fortunes

Firstly I must acknowledge that I am very lucky to be well suited for this quarantine. My work can be done at home and even before all offices were closed I was already working from home about one day a week. I live in a fairly large house and have an office set up for myself which allows me to have a separate physical space to work and take Zoom calls. I know many who live in small apartments who don’t have a desk, and are working off of kitchen tables. I live with a roommate so I have not been completely devoid of human interaction while isolated.

I am fortunate that a lot of my social life was already online. Before the quarantine I was already keeping up with friends in other states and around Seattle by playing games online. While the home isolation changed many of my social plans, for a few of my social circles very little changed.

Time Line

  • March 1st:
    Some items are noticeably missing while grocery shopping. Mostly just bulk things like flour, rice, potatoes.
  • Week of March 2nd:
    I started limiting the time I spent in the office. Working from home some full days or just going in for the after noon. Around March 5th most tech workers in Seattle were being told to work from home for the next few weeks. I still meet with friends at a bar for trivia and still have people over for Dungeons and Dragons in person.
  • March 7th:
    Last day skiing of the season though we didn’t know that at the time.
  • Week of March 9th:
    A fairly normal work week. Getting work done is a strong distraction from the new isolation. Though everyone is working from home, not too much is out of the ordinary. I still feel like this is a temporary arrangement and things will be normal soon. Pub trivia is now movie night at a friends house to avoid public spaces and large gatherings.
  • March 14th:
    Vail ski resorts closes all mountains nationally “for two weeks”, but the writing is on the wall that the season is over. We decide to cancel a planned ski trip to Utah at the end of the month. This is really where the scale of how disruptive this might be starts to set in as events through June start to cancel.
  • Week of March 16th:
    The weather in Seattle is warming up and it starts feeling very stifling to be inside. Working from home feels restrictive. On March 18th my company makes the decision to close all offices globally for at least the next three months. This is going to be more than a few weeks of WFH, better get comfortable. All socializing has moved online.
  • Week of March 23rd:
    Most of each day is spent at the computer, it is the portal to the outside. Days are spent working and nights are spent online with friends. This is our new existence. Days start to blend together.

  • Week of March 30th:
    I think this was the worse week yet. Most of the time I found it very hard to focus. Very little work accomplished, very little time spent on personal projects. At the end of the week I realized it had been 2 weeks since I last left the house. After a few hours out on a bicycle things are much better.
    A close friend is hospitalized for COVID-19, and is put on a ventilator.
  • Week of April 6th:
    Isolation and staying in start seeming like the new normal. Keeping a routine, including time spent outside and exercise is very important. Passover Seder is a 20 person Zoom call.
    My friend has recovered enough to be taken off the ventilator and sent home.

How I Stay Sane

“There no more Mondays, Tuesday, Wednesdays, …etc.
There is only Day”

Staying at home for a few weeks and spending pretty much every day in front of the computer, things start to blend together. It was difficult to put together a timeline for this post of what’s been going on the past four weeks; the day to day is slow and repetitive and the news is so fast and quick to change.

I’ve tried to keep the same schedule as I normally would. This means getting up around 7 every morning, showering, getting dressed into not-pajamas, and trying to work normal-ish hours. To try and keep some office chatter going, we have a daily drop in call just for socializing.

Even though we cannot congregate in groups, every recurring weekly social events have still been meeting. Pub Trivia is now online Jack-Box, Dungeons & Dragons is now online. I’ve also done some board game and movie nights online with some fancy software.

There is still a lot of unscheduled time at home, and you can only clean the house so many times a day. This is a good time to indulge in some hobbies or take up some new ones. The first week of isolation I was working on building a new computer. The second week of isolation I did a lot of cooking; and now that I have secured more flour, a lot of baking.

One large project was Adam Ragusia’s three day lasagna that had me rolling out meters of pasta. Last week I was practicing making some sourdough bread, and now that Passover has started I will try some homemade Matzoh.

Now that I’ve gotten this large post out of the way I’ll be posting more incremental updates on the day to day.

While everyone has discovered Zoom as a way to stay connected, there are a few other programs and services I want to call out.

Discord and Mumble; Zoom’s origins are as enterprise telecomunication software, and it shows. Zoom is lacking in a lot of powerful features that make calls with lots of members more pleasant, like a usable push-to-talk or individual volume controls for each member. Discord and Mumble are mostly voice-only clients (Discord does now support video) which were built for online gaming. With this different pedigree there are different set of features supported.

Watch2Gether and NetflixParty; These are browser extensions which will sync up the streams from Netflix/Amazon/ Hulu/YouTube/etc for multiple people, allowing you to still have a movie night with others while isolated.

JackBox Party Packs; Many have probably played a JackBox party game at a house party at some point. Most of the games can be played online with one person sharing their screen or streaming to Twitch/Mixer.

TabletopSimulator; Its very hard to play board games while staying at least 6 ft apart from one another. TabletopSimulator provides a framework to play a lot of your favorite board games on the computer with friends online.

Looking to the Future

While no one knows how long isolation will be recommended, this week is the first week where the numbers have started looking better. The newest IHME models now estimate that Washington may already be past the peak of infections, showing everyone that isolating at home does pay off. I am greatly looking forward to when I can go outside without feeling paranoid or guilty and when I can again meet up with friends for a coffee or a drink.

Out for a Walk

Christmas day here in Umbria was unseasonably warm and sunny, and after days of rain everything was as lush as green as December allows. Being so nice my dad and I have been walking the woods and fields. I have many beautiful pictures to edit and post, but these are two of my favorites.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year.