Productive Procrastination – Bagels
March 15, 2010 § 6 Comments
On Friday I sat staring at my computer, willing my work to do itself. To no avail, unfortunately. I was working on the final edits to a scientific paper that I had to resubmit to a journal. The deadline? Saturday. I had been given three months to finish the edits. When had I finally sat down to work on it? Friday. Of course. Such is the life of a procrastinator. I was even excited by the stuff the paper was about (though the fastest way to turn a fascinating subject into an eye-glazing snooze fest is to write it in scientific paper form!). It’s just that every time I set aside time to work on it, I somehow found something else to do.
Some of my best friends are amazing non-procrastinators, but my overall impression is that at least 87-93% (my randomly generated estimate) of the population are perennial procrastinators. I think there’s simply something about human nature that gravitates in that direction. Maybe we follow the same physical laws as enzymes, that is, the energy it takes to start something is huge, and usually disproportionate in comparison with the task itself. I’ve heard (and even expounded) theories about how creative/perfectionistic types of people tend to procrastinate more because we are daunted by our own vision and high expectations. Hmmmm. I’d like to flatter myself that this is the case with me, but who knows. At least I can say, however, that my procrastination often takes a productive form. It turns out I would rather mop the floor and clean the sink (though not do laundry!) than certain parts of my work (usually involving statistics). Most often though, when I really ought to be working, I find that I have a sudden uncontrollable desire to cook something. How handy.
On Friday, as I looked through the editor’s comments, the only thing I could think about was bagels. I’m not even usually a bagel kind of gal. But, visions of fresh, chewy, raisin studded rings kept rolling through my imagination until I couldn’t take it any more. On went the apron. Out came the flour and the yeast.
When I was little, we used to have bagels with salami as a snack almost every day after school. I’m not entirely sure how my Norwegian mother latched onto bagels as the alternative to our other snack of traditional flatbread with sliced cheese. But, we adored it! My little brothers (now in their twenties) still eat this same snack, pretty regularly. I grew away from bagels, though. Partly for nutritional reasons – they’re pretty high calorie as far as bread products go, but the biggest problem is that most of the bagels you get out there these days are way bigger than a single serving size, but who can bring themselves to eat only part of their bagel? Not I. However, I also stopped eating them much because I discovered the difference between what we had been chowing down on and actual good bagels.
When I turned 9, I somehow decided that what I wanted to do for my birthday party was make homemade bagels. My mom agreed to it, so we did, with my gaggle of friends. They were amazing. Fresh, homemade bagels are a different world from anything available commercially. I think I promptly ate about 6, right out of the oven. And afterwards, the bagels from the packs at the grocery store just didn’t cut it anymore. So, I mostly stopped eating them. The odd thing (to me, at least) is that I also didn’t make any more myself…until I was procrastinating from my editing work. And my breakfasts may be revolutionized forever.
They’re so simple that you wonder why anyone ever settles for the sorry excuses for bagels they offer at many places. They were so simple, I barely even consider making them to be proper procrastinating. And, when you make them yourself, you can make them a bit smaller, so each is a more reasonable portion size. I looked back at the recipe in the totally retro Sunset Bread Cookbook that we had used for my birthday party, and I also looked at the one in The Best Recipes (by the editors of Cooks Illustrated) and went with a fusion of the two. I liked the idea of a slow, overnight rise, which they suggest in The Best Recipes, because then I could whip them out of the fridge in the morning, boil them, and bake them to have a completely fresh one for breakfast. What?? Boil?? Oh yeah, in case you didn’t know – I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t made them once before – a very quick dip in boiling water before baking is what makes a bagel a bagel. It gives them the skin they have around the outside, and their slightly shiny and blistered (in a yummy way) appearance.
A perfect (rainy) Saturday morning breakfast. That still left me with time to finish my edits.
- 4 cups flour – a high gluten variety is better, I used regular King Arthur because that’s what I had (and rumor has it that it’s fairly glutenous)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbs. honey (the recipe calls for some malt syrup, but who keeps that around? The most important thing is to have a Tbs. of a sugar source for the yeast)
- 1 ½ tsp. active, dry yeast
- 1 ¼ cup warm water
- ½ cup raisins, if desired
- Mix the honey into the warm water and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Allow to stand for 5 min. until the yeast is foamy. Stir in the salt. If you’re using a mixer with a bread hook, add 3 1/2 cups of the flour (and raisins, if you’re craving raisin bagels) and mix until the dough comes together in a ball. Then if it seems a little sticky add the extra half cup. Keep mixing with the dough hook until the dough is smooth (about 8 minutes). If you’re mixing by hand (like me), instead stir in about 3 cups of the flour in until it forms a kind of shaggy ball, then turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth, using the rest of the flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.
- Next, divide the dough into 8-10 pieces (depending on how big you want your bagels to be) and roll them into balls. Let them rest, covered with a towel, for 5-10 minutes. Roll the balls into logs (you may have to moisten your hands to help them roll out better), then dip your fingers into water, and press together the ends of each log to form circles. You may have to press and pinch them a bit and then lightly roll that bit again to make it stick without becoming totally deformed. Place the dough rings on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, or lightly dusted with cornmeal, and put in the refrigerator to let the dough slowly rise. Allow to rise at least 8 hours, and up to overnight.
- 20 minutes before you’re going to bake the bagels, take them out of the fridge. They should be risen and puffy, if not, let them rise at room temperature until they are.
- Preheat the oven to 450F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and carefully plop the bagels in, a few at a time. Allow them to boil for 15 seconds, flip them and allow to boil for 20 seconds more. Remove from the boiling water and place on a baking sheet, greased or lined with parchment paper. At this point they are sticky, so you can sprinkle them with sesame seeds or poppy seeds if you’d like.
- Bake at 450F for about 14 minutes, until browned on the outside. Cool for at least 10-15 minutes before serving. These are the very most spectacularly delicious when fresh, but they’re also great for the next couple of days, split and toasted.