Teacher’s New Year’s Resolution, Part 2

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            I’m still motivated by these last days before beginning the school year to set some improvement goals.  Cleaning out, reducing, and simplifying are fundamental.  Setting some agreements about how things will be acquired in the months to come is another good conversation I am having with myself and with my family.  But my goodness, why the introspection?  I suffered this morning from a profound failing that goes against my moral structure.  Do you remember the tour of the Frip over a week ago showcasing extra large photos of produce at what I said were cheaper prices than one can get at other markets in town?  Well, maybe I was feeling a little desperate about the difficult access to stores at the moment and wanted to have lots of food on hand or maybe I just got greedy, but we bought way too many vegetables right as I was going into a busy week where I didn’t have much time to cook.  The result was that this morning, I had to contribute multiple bags and heads of vegetables to our compost bin and to the tortoises.  I really hate behaving like that.
            Following my recent pattern of making personal life applications from other cultures’ religions, I was thinking about the High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah that is ending today.  I’m no expert in Judaism, but being the beginning of the Jewish new year,  I thought there was a component that addressed trying to live a better life in the next year.  Isn’t that the symbolism behind eating an apple dipped in honey, to live a sweeter life?  In fact, when I did a little reading I found the following quote: “We leave our old shortcomings behind us, thus starting the new year with a clean slate.”  (Do I really need to cite this?)  But see, everyone needs to have some atonement for failings and the opportunity to “do better”.  So once again, I am making a commitment to not buy too many vegetables that I potentially won’t have time to process and cook.  

This might be a bad segue, but I would like to contribute something redeeming from this posting besides a vegetal confession so I turn to bagels.  While the bagel was invented in Eastern Europe, when Jews migrated to the United States in the 1800s, some of them brought a strong craving for the bagels they had left behind and were instrumental in establishing them in American cuisine.  I have spent the past two days nurturing a small batch of bagels at my house and they turned out pretty great.  The recipe is not hard, but because of the crucial slow fermentation stage, you have to begin making them the day before you want to eat them.  If you don’t allow for the overnight rise in the refrigerator, you will basically have bread bagels rather than the chewy kind you are hankering for.  This is from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.
Sponge
1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 ½ cups water, at room temperature
To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart mixing bowl.  Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter).  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly.  It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.
Dough
½ teaspoon instant yeast
3 ¾ cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 ¾ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons malt powder or
1 tablespoon dark or light malt syrup, honey, or  brown sugar
To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer),
add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir.  Then add 3 cups of the flour and
all of the salt and malt.  Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the
ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining ¾ cup flour to stiffen the
 dough. 
Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6
 minutes by machine).  The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread
dough, but still pliable and smooth.  There should be no raw flour- all the
ingredients should be hydrated.  The dough should pass the windowpane test and
register 77 to 81 degrees F.  If the dough seems too dry and rips, add a few drops
of water and continue kneading.  If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more
flour to achieve the stiffness required.  The kneaded dough should feel satiny and
 pliable but not be tacky.
Immediately divide the dough into 4 ½ -ounce pieces for standard bagels. or
smaller if desired.  Form the pieces into rolls.
Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20
minutes.
Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil.  Poke a
finger through the center of the ball of dough and stretch the dough into a bagel
shape.
Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pans.  Mist or brush the
 bagels very lightly with oil and cover each pan with plastic wrap.  Let the pans sit
 at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
Put the bagels, on pans, in the refrigerator until the next day.
The following day
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with the two racks set in the
 middle of the oven.  Bring a large, wide pot of water to boil and add 1 tablespoon
 baking soda.
Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop about three bagel at a
time into the water.  After 1 minute, flip them over and boil for another minute.  If
you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side. 
While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with
cornmeal or semolina flour.  If you want to top the bagels with seeds or salt, do so
as soon as they come out of the water.
When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in
 the oven.  Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching
shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation.  After the rotation, lower the
oven setting to 450 degrees F and continue baking for about 5 minutes or until the
bagels turn light golden brown.  You may bake them darker if you prefer. 
Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes
or longer before serving.
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice is the modern, classic work on how to make the kind of breads we are all constantly craving.  If you’re interested in developing a little bread baking discipline, it is well worth the purchase. 

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