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

A Sticky Situation

Reflecting on the year: This year is drawing to a close and as part of a retrospective look on the year I am finishing and publishing several blog posts that at one point I started and never completed. Here is one about making syrups this summer.

Its summer and this means it is the best time to go to a farmer’s market and get a large amount of fresh local produce. This being Washington the thing to get is cherries

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A bountiful harvest!

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Removing the pits from all the cherries

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Ready to be processed

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Into the pot

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Add sugar and water

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Cherry strawberry and raspberry syrups going all at once

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Straining to get the final product

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Ready to be enjoyed

More Pictures of Food

I am still using the Blue Apron meal service and I feel the need to complete the week out by at least posting about the last meal of the first week. From the first box the last meal is Roasted Chicken and Mixed Mushrooms. According to the blurb this dish is based of a ‘winning’ dish from the Season 13 Top Chef finale by chef Jeremy Ford. This is an interesting ‘synergization’ of products by pairing Blue Apron with Top Chef, but there is a problem: I have read a summary of the dishes served in the season finale of Top Chef and Jeremy Ford did not serve roasted chicken to the judges, its not a dish from the finale. Perhaps it is adapted from the duck dish served in the third course, but that dish was ridiculed by the judges as being almost raw. This research has removed all confidence that Blue Apron was trying to add to the recipe by mentioning the Top Chef winner.

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No peas to mess up this time

This time I double checked that I had all the correct ingredients, though as this was the last meal of the week it used all the Blue Apron ingredients which I had left. Most notably, this recipe was the first that I’ve made that needed a small amount of a liquid. The sauce uses a small amount of sherry vinegar, which came in an adorably small bottle.

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Single serving sherry, quarter for scale

From the start this recipe worried me for one big reason, instead of including carbohydrates the chef designing this recipe decided to use mushrooms. While willing to try this it means that this is a 570 Calorie meal because carbs are one of the most efficient ways of ingesting energy, good if you are dieting but that is a small meal if dinner is your large meal of the day.

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I have never cooked mushrooms before but this doesn’t seem right

The mushrooms came out a little burnt. Talking to others I know with the service who tried preparing the same recipe they had this problem as well. I think this stems from the inherent vaugness that Blue Apron has in their instructions. The mushrooms are cut into “bite size pieces” and then cooked with a little oil and seasoning in the oven. I noticed the my semi burn “bite sized pieces” were a bit bigger then my friend who small pieces were burnt to a crisp. Closely looking at the Blue Apron pictures I notice that their “bite size” was really cutting each mushroom in half, leaving very large pieces.

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The finished dish

I am still not a huge fan of the texture of mushrooms, especially when they are slightly singed and this dish did little to convince me. I think I need to work into mushrooms much more gradually than they are presented in this dish. The collard green as with the green vegetables in these dishes seems to be there more for color than flavor or texture. The savior of what would otherwise be a sad dish is the chicken thigh, it was absolutely delicious.

As a bonus since this post is a little late I have also received my second delivery of Blue Apron and have prepared one of the meals from it, Korean Bao Sliders. This dish is a good example of why I decided to try Blue Apron. Its a recipe that I would order out, or get at a food truck but not something that I would try at home. It was fairly easy to prepare and it was very tasty, and unlike the low Calorie chicken above the recipe prepares 6 sliders which, for me, was enough for 3 meals.

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Very careful to select everything correctly

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Tasty sliders

As I move into my second week of Blue Apron I am starting to run into a problem that I foresaw. This is a lot of food for one person. I got the second delivery of Blue Apron food on Wednesday and I still had leftovers from two of the meals from the previous week in my fridge. Unless I am very good about not eating out and cooking most nights using Blue Apron just for dinners for one will generate a compounding error and make the entire system unstable. There are two things that can be done to prevent this: one which I have started, bring the leftovers for lunch; and a second, if overwhelmed deliveries can be halted for a week, which I may need to do in the future if I still can’t keep up.

An Apron’s Addendum

So on trying my second meal from Blue Apron I realized that some of my criticism of the first meal was unfair.

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Can you spot what’s wrong with this picture?

If you look closely in the picture above you’ll see that for today’s meal Spiced Pork Chops & Mashed Potatoes there are sugar snap peas laid out with the other ingredients. It seems two meals this week involved two different types of peas, and I grabbed the wrong ones. The peas that went into the Gemelli were English peas the larger rougher cousin to the sweet sugar snap.

With the mistake already made I had no choice but to compound it and make the pork chop recipe with the sugar snaps. Luckily sugar snaps make a decent substitution for English peas.

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I would have preferred to sous-vide, but that’s not in the recipe

The recipe was otherwise very straight forward, though I don’t like how often they include “salt and pepper to taste” and other vagueness around how much salt to add. Salt, pepper and olive oil are the only ingredients that Blue Apron cooks are expected to have already, buts its always very exact about how much olive oil to use.

The recipes are designed to be simple to follow and not designed to be exact and idiot proof. I really would prefer if this was a scientific paper and these were the instructions to replicate the experiment’s results by peer revue. Instead of ‘heat oil in a pan until hot‘, tell me exactly what temperature the pan should be. Hot has a different definition between chefs and it seems in Blue Aprons interest to give detailed instructions so that everyone who uses their ingredients and recipe will get very consistent results.

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The finished dish

The dish was very good. The peas cooked with shallot made a good topping and mashed potatoes are always a good pick. I feel like the kale was added just for color, as it didn’t add any flavor to the dish and had most of its texture cooked out of it. But as someone who doesn’t really like green and leafy it worked for me.

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Lunch

An Azure Apron

This week was my first delivery from Blue Apron, the meal delivery service. The idea behind this service, and a few others like it, is to send a box with the raw ingredients for several meals and the recipes for the meal and the customer can keep the ingredients and cook the meals fresh when they want them. Basically its the food equivalent of the fashion worlds personal stylist and services like Trunk Space. Instead of going grocery shopping for yourself every week your groceries are picked out by experts and delivered to your door.

While this service is pretty convenient if one is unable to shop often for fresh food, or is looking to expand their culinary abilities beyond microwaving TV dinners; I signed up mostly to use it a a way to be introduced to new foods. I have always been a picky eater and have shied away from a lot of foods, especially if they are green and leafy. While I still don’t have a admiration for vegetables I think its about time I give them another chance, and instead of experimenting on my own I’ve trusted Blue Apron chefs to send me tasty meals all of which I am committed to making and trying in an attempt to expand my pallet.

The first meal this week is Spring Gemelli Pasta with Garlic Sugar Snap Peas, Crispy Capers & Soft-Boiled Eggs:

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Everything assembled and ready

Everything came individually packaged inside a great big cardboard box, cooled with ice packs. I am getting 3 meals for 2 people a week, so each box is a lot of food. Pictured above I have separated out the ingredients for the first of the recipes I decided to try. I found the packaging of the ingredients is the best/worst part of this service.

It would seem a little crazy with today’s Mega-Marts to think of shopping with such small portions. Go to Costco and try and buy only two eggs, they will look at you like you are mad. Being use to buying bulk food and food items that have not been packaged to survive a rough delivery the wasted packaging seems a little excessive. Almost everything has its own packaging or container and for very small amounts of ingredients it seems silly.

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Roasted Red Pepper Flakes

As someone who has lived alone I can also say the the packaging size is comforting. Feeding one person doesn’t take much food and it one tries to have a varied diet there can be significant food waste. Not much in supermarkets is sized for a single person for a single meal or rarely even a meal for two, the supermarket is ruled by the family sized fun packs. Buying those as a person with a single mouth to feed means sometimes you can’t reasonably use all the food before it expires. This is where I like the packaging of Blue Apron meals, its the exact amount of food for a meal for two, you don’t have to worry about wrapping anything up and putting back in the fridge.

The dish, Spring Gemelli pasta, looked pretty good. The thing that scared me were the peas, and not because they came with a hitchhiker. The peas were the ‘green thing’ in the dish, which make it look visually exciting, but were a new food to me and I didn’t know if it would ruin the dish for me.

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A Ladybug that came along for the ride

As for preparing the dish it took me a little more than half an hour, though it would have been less if I had managed time better. The direction were very straight forward. Its very easy to follow a recipe witch has a picture of what the dish should look like at the end as well as pictures of what each incremental step should look like. Since “cook at high heat until peas turn bright green” could mean anything. In the end my finished dish came out looking almost exactly like the one pictured on the recipe and the website, that’s an encouraging sign.

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The finished dish

But how did it taste? In two words, not bad. Really it was delicious except for one pesky criminal spoiling the dish. I expected the spring peas to be the thing that I didn’t like in the dish and they weren’t. The peas were really very good, like little pieces of candy in the starchy sauce. The problem with the dish was the pea-pods. I don’t understand how one could eat them on a mechanical or a culinary level. The peas stayed in their pods for the most part during cooking, but a soon as I tried to fork one all the peas quickly evacuated. Once I finally got one intact I found that the evacuation was for the better as the pod of the pea was tough and sinewy unlike the peas inside. Picking around the pea pods and squeezing out the peas made the dish quite tastier.

From this dish there are a few things I’ve learned, about cooking and about myself: one, saving some of the starch water from pasta and adding it back in can create a creamy sauce without the use of cream; two, capers are tasty; three, peas are goods eats; four, their pods are not.

Bacon Pancakes

So apparently today is pancake day. I found out a little late for breakfast, but was still in time for breakfast for dinner.

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And as its pancake day I’ll leave you with the catchiest song of all time, that happens to pancake related:

Sriracha Popcorn

This weekend I had friends visiting from out of town and while they were here I made one of my go to snacks: sriracha popcorn. They had never had, nor ever heard of such a thing and ask how it was made: these are the detailed instructions for a spicy and salty snack.

Ingredients:

The ingredients for sriracha popcorn are simple:
popcorn kernels,
butter,
salt,
and the star sriracha.

DSC00251Step 1:

The first step is to mix about a tablespoon of butter with half to a full tablespoon of sriracha, depending on how spicy you like it.

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Melt the butter with the sriracha. Microwave for 30 seconds in two 15 second burst should do the trick.DSC00255

But remember microwaving butter has a tendency to explode. Cover with care.

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Once its all melted, stir together until the fluid is consistent.

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Step 2: the popcorn

The next step is the popcorn. You may prepare this as you prefer, plain unseasoned popcorn is what we’re after. The simplest method I’ve found is just adding popcorn kernels to a brown paper lunch bag and microwave.

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Here I’ve used around 4 tablespoons.

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Fold the edge of the bag over to make sure no popcorn escapes.

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I put it in horizontally.

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I pushed the popcorn button on my microwave. But it comes out to about two and a half minutes.

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Mmmmm…. popcorn!

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Step 3: Mix it up

Pour the popcorn out into a bowl.

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Pour out the sriracha-butter onto the popcorn and mix well then salt lightly.

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Step 4: Enjoy

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For Science!

Sous-vide cooking is a new trend that has recently started gaining popularity with home cooks though it has been used by restaurants for a much longer time. Sous-vide cooking is to cook very precisely using a small heater, a temperature sensor, a thermal medium that has a fairly high specific heat, and a control feedback loop. Simply put it is a heater, a pump and a thermometer wrapped up to be used to heat a container of water to precisely the desired temperature, into which food in plastic bags is placed and cooked. I am one who has been experimenting with sous-vide cooking, and as it is in the area of my interests I take notice when it gets attention, and as more circulators designed and marketed for home use are created its been getting a lot of attention.

A statement that I have often seen attached with the introduction of the concept of sous-vide cooking keeps appearing and is starting to make my skin crawl.

“Sous-vide cooking is like science with food”

Sous-vide is no closer to ‘science’ than any other form of cooking. Sous-vide looks like science as the cylindrical circulator, partially submerged in bubbling water and glowing with lights and temperature read outs, looks like something from a science fiction movie. Preparing one’s food by portioning it out and sealing it in vacuum bags does seem at first more like lab procedure than making mac and cheese, but sous-vide is not science.

Merriam-Websters defines science as “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation”. When cooking using a recipe, using sous-vide or otherwise, there is no experimentation, no study, and no observation. Nothing new is learned by following the recipe, no knowledge is created. Cooking with published recipes could be compared to the peer review segment of the scientific process, but without a definitive hypothesis to confirm this peer review adds little scientific value, even if it is delicious.

Sous-vide get compared to ‘science’ because it adds to cooking something that is very useful in the scientific process, control over variables. By exactly controlling the temperature of the water a cook has much more control over the heat diffuse into the food. This may seem very trivial unless you’ve spent time with a bad oven that didn’t heat evenly across or had your popcorn burn’t by a 1500W microwave because you are used to a 1000W microwave oven. So instead of comparing the laboratory precision of a sous-vide circulator to science, why not use it to actually do science!

Step 1: Form a hypothesis.

Can bacon be prepared via sous-vide?

Wait, a hypothesis should be the answer we are testing, not a question we are answering!

Bacon can be prepared via sous-vide style immersion cooking.

That’s almost something that can be tested, lets just polish up some of the vagueness.

Bacon can be prepared via sous-vide style immersion cooking to a similar consistency as bacon prepared on the stove top, convection or microwave oven.

Its not solid enough for  research grant, but its something we can test. Really its very simple, can sous vide make nice crispy bacon?

Step 2: Design an experiment.

According to research done on related topics, pork fat should start rendering around 140° F. So starting at at least this temperature is a good place to start the experiment. Since rendering fat at low temperatures seems like it would take a while my experiment will start at 155° F raising it every hour if no visual progress is observed.

If the bacon comes out crispy and and delicious our hypothesis is confirmed, if not the hypothesis, under these testing conditions, remains unconfirmed, or as Mythbusters puts it: ‘Busted’.

Step 3: Preform the experiment.

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Bacon, ready to be prepped.

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Vacuum sealing the bacon.

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mmmmm….science.

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155° F

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Cooking

After an hour of cooking at 150° F with no noticeable change in the submerged bacon the temperature was raised to 160° F and left to continue cooking for another hour.

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Observational evidence: not as appealing as sizzling

The hour at 165° F left little impact on the bacon, a small amount of fluid had joined the bacon in the sealed bag, fat or other drippings from the bacon. The heat was increased to 170° F.

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Up to 170° F

After the three hours of cooking the bacon was still is a squishy state, very similar to the sate it started in. Though it was probably safe to eat, it was by no means appetizing.

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“Cooked” bacon.

Step 4: Conclusion.

BUSTED

With this experiment we were unable to confirm the given hypothesis. This proves with a single scientific data point that given the procedure outlined here, tasty bacon is not made. This is not a recipe to pass on to your grand kids, but there is one more step to the basic scientific process…

Step 5: Repeat.

To be considered a valid scientific experiment it should be repeatable by peers. I don’t know if anyone will want to preform this experiment, as given our results there seems to be better uses for the meat, but if they wanted to the experiment is documented and can be repeated and the results verified or contested by the scientific community.

Also given the result we achieved we cannot conclude that the starting hypothesis is true, but this does not mean it is false. Only that it is unproven. Based on the results of this experiment new experiments can be created with slightly different procedures in an attempt to confirm the given or similar hypothesis.

That is cooking with science.