Kitchen Experiments: Bagels

Bagels have been on my list for the longest; probably since I started baking bread. I don’t know why it took me so long to get to them. I guess it was probably because everything about bagels seemed so daunting. I also thought a stand mixer was required for these kinds of things. While they may make the process easier, they are by no means a requirement. Back when I put these on my list, they stayed there because of how much work goes into them. I am never afraid of more work, especially when it’s in the kitchen because it’s always a labor of love to me. But the fact that these bagels take two whole days to make was the main reason I put them off for so long. I quickly found out that there wasn’t much of a challenge and that maybe two days isn’t necessary. Either way, I finally got to cross them off my list (twice!)

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First things first, you need a sponge. This is the starter for the bagels, which is a combo of 1 teaspoon instant yeast, 4 cups of bread flour, and 2 1/2 cups of room temperature water. Stir the ingredients together until homogenous and kinda looks like pancake batter. Cover and let rise at room temp for two hours. The first time I made these (yes, I made them twice), I started the sponge and went out to see a movie. I am totally serious, too. The movie was fantastic, as was my sponge when I got home. Technically, you’re supposed to let it rise for two hours but mine did fine with more than that. Honestly, I thought I was gonna come home and find my house overtaken by the sponge! It really was fine, and I got to work soon after.

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Now, it’s dough time. Nothing out of the ordinary here; more yeast (1/2 teaspoon), bread flour (3 3/4 cups), salt (2 2/4 teaspoons) and sugar (1 tablespoon). Fairly simple. Heads up though; make sure your flour is bread flour. I think that because mine was some “better for bread” flour, that may have had something to do with the finishing texture. Nothing terrible, just may not have been what I was looking for.

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After forming a somewhat cohesive dough ball, it’s time for the most labor intensive part of the entire recipe: the kneading. This is where a stand mixer would really come in handy because this blob needs to be kneaded for quite some time. 10 whole minutes by hand (if you’re brave). Knead the blob until it’s firm but still smooth, pliable and not sticky. If a tad dry, add small amounts of water to rehydrate the dough. Too sticky? Add a bit more flour and knead until desired texture. Rule of thumb: when making doughs, you know you’re pretty much done kneading when it’s no longer sticky. The trick is to keep kneading it to that point without adding a ton of flour. Challenging, but the more you do it, the more you’ll know by feel when you need more flour versus more kneading.

After kneading, break out your scale and your bench scraper because it’s portioning time! According to Deb and the recipe, standard bagels are 4.5oz., so that’s what I did. I got a dozen but please reference the recipe for different sizes/weights. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes. Take advantage of this break, as kneading that dough was no easy feat! Also, line some baking pans with parchment for later.

To form the dough balls into bagels, I picked up one of the rested dough balls and began making an indent in the middle, and kind of wiggling my thumb into the ball to begin making the hole. After the dough was pierced through the indent, I widened it while turning the dough to make sure it stayed pretty uniform. After forming them all, I placed them on a lined baking sheet, covered them with plastic wrap and let them rest again for another 20 minutes. I cleaned up during the wait; baking’s messy!

This is where things get interesting. After the 20 minutes is up, fill a bowl with some cool/room temp water. Not cold and not hot; cool. Carefully take one of the rested bagels and plop it in the water. It should float within seconds. Got a sinker? Carefully dry off the tester, return it to the pan, cover and let rest an additional 10-20 minutes and re-test until it floats. That’s how you know it’s ready for the next step: an overnight rise in the fridge (aka retarding). The first time I made these, I did the overnight rise and my bagels came out good. The second time, I skipped the overnight rise and let them rise for about four hours. I did not note much of a difference. Is the overnight rest necessary? Probably. Does it mean you won’t have delicious bagels if you shorten the time? No. If you have the time (and fridge space), go for the overnight. If not, four hours works just fine. Carefully dry the tester bagel and return to the pan. Pop them in the fridge to rest overnight (or four hours).

Now that the bagels have spent time in the fridge, it’s time to bake. Turn your oven on up to 11 (ahem, 500F), and prep a large, wide pot with some water. Bring the pot to a boil with a tablespoon of baking soda. Before baking, bagels bathe in this boiling hot solution. Why? To form that signature bagel crust. You know the one; where the bagel is all crisp on the outside but chewy and soft on the inside. I heard this is the reason why bagels only get toasted on one side (the inside part, if you were wondering). Giant pretzels go through the same process, but that’s another post. Once boiling, place as many bagels as will fit in the pot (mine fit 3) and let them sit in there for two minutes before turning them over and letting them sit in a minute longer. Remove those moist pre-bagels and place them back on the lined baking sheet that’s been sprinkled with cornmeal. This helps them not stick to the paper once wet.

Once you’ve bathed all your pre-bagels, pop them in that scorching oven for five minutes. After that, rotate the pans (180 degrees and switch the top and bottom pans) and bake at 450F for five minutes or more. After the five minutes, check them because mine took much longer than that. I think I baked mine for 10-15 more minutes before they got all golden brown; keep an eye on them. After they get all nice and brown, cool them on the sheet on racks until cool enough to handle.

That’s basically it! Not so bad, if I do say so myself. And I’m talking about the process and the bagels! They came out delicious. Although they weren’t what I was used to (AHEM, prepackaged stuff), they were pretty darn good. I’m telling you, I made them twice in two weeks! The crispy crust was definitely there (thanks baking soda bath!) and they were fluffy, and chewy in the middle like they’re supposed to be. Like a typical New Yorker, I had mine with a schmear of good old fashioned cream cheese (no lox though; maybe in the future).  I have to say though, this was quite the challenge. But not challenging enough that I won’t want to tackle them again, perhaps with a different flavor and recipe. Whatever I decide to do, you’ll know.

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Bagels – recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

(Holy crap, I am NOT typing all that out again. Please visit the lovely Deb at Smitten Kitchen to re-read the recipe in recipe format. Also, check out her tips and variations of these bagels!)

Hot Cross Buns

My family isn’t really into holidays. If I’m not at the helm of the celebrations, nothing actually gets celebrated. I’m usually the one in charge of Christmas and Thanksgiving, along with birthdays and any other festivities. That’s because I love traditions, and even though our Easter traditions died with my youth, I’m tempted to resurrect them now as an adult (see what I did there?). When my sister and I were younger, we’d do the fancy dress, church, candy deal. All the kids in the building would get together and share candy while wearing our Sunday best, while the adults did their own thing.

These days, we don’t really do much for Easter. The only thing kept alive during these times is the making of a huge pot of habichuelas con dulce for Good Friday; a sweet dessert type thing from the homeland made of  blended, cooked red beans with tons of milk, sugar, spices, and patience. Inside of this slurry there are raisins, sometimes yellow yams (sweet potatoes?), and these mini milk cookies that I dubbed ‘Jesus crackers.’ This is the only highlight of Holy Week for me, and while we still get a taste of this traditional drink/dessert every year, I wanted to do more.

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In an effort to inject a little bit of some American traditions into my house, I tried making some hot cross buns. We were already used to buying those hot cross buns from the supermarket around this time of year. You know the ones; in a certain white and blue box boasting a mass of perforated shiny slabs that held barely any dried fruit, draped with a thick, white and slippery cross of icing draped over the top. Well, not this year.

The last time we had these in the house, I realized that I could do better. My family could do better. Sure, these buns were alright by their standards, but why stick to the packaged stuff when it’s this easy to make your own? After getting really accustomed to working with yeast and getting real deep in dough, I knew this wasn’t much of a challenge. Except, I needed a recipe.

I had an idea of what I wanted for these buns. My parental units like their carbs on the sweet side, so that was a no brainer. They’re also pretty into dried fruit. Besides taking part in hot cross buns during Easter, they are also big fans of fruitcake for Christmas. Yes, the stuff most people throw out, my parents purchase willingly. What can I say? They dig the fruit. Anyway, I knew I wanted to throw in as much dried fruit as I could into these babies. I opted for The Pioneer Woman’s super easy recipe but adjusted the amounts of fruit, among other things. Besides the recommended raisins, I also threw in some dried cranberries and chopped, dried apricots into the dough. All the dried fruit was about a cup’s worth, meaning these were packed with fruity goodness. I was tempted to soak them in some booze first but this is a holy holiday; I’m not about to get struck by lightning or spontaneously combust into flames over some boozy fruit.

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Not only was I tempted to booze these buns up, I almost didn’t add the cross. Before y’all smite me, let me explain. I’ve mentioned it several times here already but in case you didn’t know, my folks are not fond of any type of icing or frosting. Shameful, I know but that’s just how they roll. I’m quite the opposite (thank goodness) but I didn’t want my parents to skip out on these, considering I made these with them in mind. I even contemplated just doing some of them but that’s just not right. The whole point of these things is the cross; hence the name “hot cross buns.” What are they without that strip of frosting? A roll. It’s just a roll. I threw caution to the wind and crossed them all, hoping I didn’t just make a huge mistake.

While these buns are traditionally supposed to be eaten on Good Friday, we had these for Easter Sunday. And despite the presence of icing, these were actually a big hit! Not surprising, considering the circumstances. Even though the dough was a little tricky to work with, the buns came out super soft, chewy, and studded with fruit. The icing cross actually made these buns, adding an extra hint of sweetness to these lightly sweetened buns. Crazy what a little icing can do!  No one missed the tasteless, slimy, and sticky mess from the box this year.

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While this wasn’t what we used to do for Easter back in the day, it may be the beginning of a new tradition. Something tells me this won’t be the last time I make these, either.

Hot Cross Buns – adapted from The Pioneer Woman 

Makes 18 buns

Buns:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsps Active Dry Yeast (1 packet)
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (additional) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 heaping tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 scant tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsps salt

Filling:

  • 1/4 sugar
  • 2 tsps cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  • pinch of allspice
  • 1 cup mixed, dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, currants, apricots, etc.)

Glaze:

  • 1 egg white
  • Splash of milk

Icing:

  • 1 egg white
  • Powdered sugar
  • Splash of milk

Directions:

  1. For the buns: combine 2 cups of milk, stick of butter and 1/2 cup of sugar in a sauce pan. Heat until butter is just melted. Mix should be warm but not boiling. Take off heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
  2. Pour the mix into a bigger bowl. Sprinkle the yeast onto the liquid mix and add the 2 cups of whole wheat flour, and the 2 cups of all-purpose flour. Stir to combine; the mixture should be sticky. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
  3. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine.
  4. In a smaller bowl, combine the 1/4 cup of sugar with the cinnamon and other spices. Set aside for now.
  5. Lightly flour your surface. Turn dough out and slightly flatten. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of the spiced sugar, and about a third of the dried fruits. Fold the dough over onto itself, flattening slightly. You should have a “plain” surface of dough. Sprinkle some more spiced sugar, dried fruit, and fold the dough over again. Repeat this process once more. No worries if you have left over spiced sugar.
  6. Portion and form the dough into dough balls. Place on a lined baking sheet and cover. Proof for 30 minutes to an hour.
  7. Preheat your oven to 400F.
  8. For the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white with a splash of milk. Brush the risen balls of dough with the beaten white.
  9. Bake rolls for about 20 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Remove from the pan and transfer to wire racks to COOL COMPLETELY.
  10. For the icing: beat the egg white with enough sifted powdered sugar to make a thick icing. Add in small amounts of milk, if needed, to reach your desired consistency.
  11. Place icing in a ziplock bag. Snip the corner off and pipe icing crosses onto each roll.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I used a combo of soy, 2% and rice milk without any issues
  • I also used the remaining egg white/milk from the glaze for the icing  
  • Sift the powdered sugar for the icing; trust me

 

Cinnamon Rolls

A couple of weeks ago, I had a dream with some cinnamon rolls. In the dream, I baked a batch of rolls that iced themselves. Like, they came out of the oven with a layer of creamy, and melty cream cheese icing. I woke up determined to make something like that, and finally got to it yesterday. These aren’t self icing cinnamon rolls but they are extremely delicious!

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This was my second attempt at making cinnamon rolls and the process went so smoothly. My first attempt, with a different recipe, was a sticky mess. The filling was supposed to be mixed with margarine; which made the filling/rolling very messy, the dough was ridiculously sticky, and the rolls unrolled before they even made it to the pan. Since this experience, and my dream, I set out to try again.

The recipe, from the lovely Lynna at Hearts in My Oven, is a simple but lengthy project. These rolls require two rises, one after making the dough, and the other after the rolls have been formed. Each rise is for two hours. I know, such a long wait! Trust me, it is definitely worth it.

The dough is simple and comes together quickly, even faster if you’re armed with a stand mixer. I am not, so I kneaded this dough by hand. I have to say, this is one of the parts I am most proud of. When I usually make any yeasted dough, I give in and add more flour while kneading to get to the desired result faster. This always ends up backfiring on me because there’s a reason why yeasted dough recipes call for a certain amount and only that amount of flour. Kneading helps develop the gluten that make bread deliciously airy and fluffy. Adding more flour while kneading can lead to a tough end result. Believe me, I know. While I was tempted to add more flour, I restrained and kept kneading. I kept going and going, until the dough became a smooth, lump free, unsticky mass. It happened right before my eyes!

After resting for two hours, it was time to roll out. At this point, I was kind of nervous. I kept remembering the sticky mess I had the last time I attempted something like this, but I knew this time was different. I laid out my dough and begin to roll. For the first time ever, the dough rolled out with zero stickiness and cooperated with me! So much so, I rolled it out a lot bigger than what the recipe called for!

After laying out the cinnamon sugar filling, it was time for the next nerve wracking part: rolling. This was where things usually got messy but it came together pretty cleanly! Now, I was just internally screaming with excitement. To cut the rolls, you need unflavored floss. I was a little skeptical at first but this is key to this recipe. Sliding the floss under the roll, you cross and yank the floss at the top to cut out a roll. This method results in a clean cut that does not smush your rolls into oblivion, and keeps the sugar filling in place.

Now, the original recipe yielded a dozen. I got 20. I rolled out the dough into a bigger rectangle, which resulted in more rolls. No matter how big you roll this dough, the result is a very fluffy, lightly sweetened roll with a huge punch of cinnamon flavor. I used Martha Stewart’s classic cream cheese frosting to ice a few of these, which really set it over the top. The tangy sweetness of the frosting hits the airy cinnamon roll just right. Make these rolls for this long weekend, I swear you won’t regret it!

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Cinnamon Rolls – Adapted from Hearts in My Oven

Makes about 12 rolls (more if you roll you dough into a larger rectangle)

Dough:

  • ½ cup of milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup of warm water (110°F)
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (one packet) Active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 4 ¼ cup of all purpose flour , divided

Filling:

  • ¾ cup of brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoonof  ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ tablespoon of unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Proof the yeast: sprinkle the packet of yeast over the half cup of warm water and set aside for 10 minutes, or until foamy.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter until the butter is completed melted. Remove from heat and let the it cool down until about 100°F.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the water, yeast, sugar, egg, egg yolk until combined. Alternatively, you can use your stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
  4. Next, add the salt, milk mixture, and 2 cups of flour into the mixture until blended.
  5. Switch to a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, and add 2 cups of flour. Knead by hand until its smooth and not sticking to the sides of the bowl anymore, for about 15-20 minutes. Switch to your dough hook at this step, if using a stand mixer.
  6. In a large metal bowl, lightly oil bottom and sides of the bowl. Make the dough into a ball and transfer to bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a draft-free spot (such as your unheated oven), until dough doubles (90-120 minutes).
  7. While the dough rests, make the filling. In a medium sized bowl, mix the lightly packed brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
  8. When the dough is doubled, lightly flour a clean work surface.  Transfer dough and press it down. Roll the dough into a 16x12inch rectangle with a lightly floured rolling pin, with the long side of the rectangle facing you.
  9. Lightly brush the dough with melted butter. Evenly sprinkle the filling on top and pat down gently into the dough with the palm of your hand.
  10. Starting from the long side closest to you, roll towards the opposite end as tightly as you can. Use either a little bit of water or melted butter to seal the ends. Pinch edges to seal.
  11. Line the bottom of a 13x9inch baking pan with parchment paper. Using a unflavored string of floss, cut the rolls into 12 equal pieces. (Slide the floss under the roll and wrap it around the roll to cut/slice.)
  12. Place rolls, cut side up in baking pan. Cover pan with plastic wrap and set it in a draft-free spot, until dough doubles in size (90-120 minutes).
  13. Once rolls are doubled in size, preheat your oven to 350°F. Bake rolls for 25-30 minutes, or until tops are lightly golden brown.
  14. Let rolls sit in pan for about 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool down. Spread cream cheese icing on top after cinnamon rolls have cooled for at least 15 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting – adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes about 2 cups

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Place your softened cream cheese and butter into a medium mixing bowl. Using an electric hand mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy.  Add in your sifted confectioners’ sugar in stages, to avoid lumps, until completely incorporated. Add the vanilla extract, and stir to combine.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I made about half of the frosting recipe, as I did not frost all of the rolls.
  • The ends of the rolls may not have any sugar filling. You can discard these or bake them anyway.  Make sure the filling is spread out completely before rolling to avoid empty end rolls. 
  • Store your cooled rolls in an airtight container. For the frosted rolls, I recommend you stick them in the fridge because of the cream cheese in the frosting (it can possibly go bad if left outside). They taste awesome microwaved for about 30s on high the next day!

Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

August is coming to an end, and it’s already feeling like fall. Besides associating the fall with anything and everything pumpkin, fall to me means quality carbs. I’m talking bread, cookies, pies, muffins, scones and anything in between. I mean, how can you not associate fall with carbs? It is the beginning of the baking season; starting with Halloween. Besides it marking the beginning of the holidays, the fall also brings a welcome chill into the air that can be easily remedied with a warm, baked treat. Naturally, humans tend to bulk up a bit for the coming cold season and anything carby and baked is obviously the right answer.

Bread!

I started baking bread two years ago. At the request of my mom, I baked dinner rolls for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I looked for recipes that seemed easy enough for me to do in an afternoon and that did not require a mixer. I did find recipe gems that required a mixer but I attempted them anyway, even without the luxury and ease of one. While I am still pining for a 5-quart tilt head KitchenAid (in either Cobalt Blue or  Silver Metallic) with all the accoutrements, I brave these recipes and complete them by hand.

Bread dough is a finicky thing; more so if you’re a beginner, are sans mixer, and still don’t know what you’re doing. The most difficult step for me is the kneading. Besides not having any counter space (at all) to actually roll out and knead dough, my dough always comes out stickier than required. I know that with a little more kneading, the dough will stop feeling tacky but I find it hard to do so with a hand covered in dough whilst kneading in the bowl. I have to say, despite the challenge, I have learned how to knead dough in a bowl and figure out when it’s ready to rest and rise.

Even though dealing with dough can be problematic, I love making bread. My favorite part is blooming (proofing?) the yeast. It’s amazing to see this little envelope of powder come to life in a dramatically foamy and aromatic way. I love how these little foamy bubbles become bread. This is one of the things that keeps me going back to making bread every time, despite many failed attempts (most recently, two). The other is obviously the delicious results 😉

Risen and buttered rolls ready for the oven

Risen and buttered rolls ready for the oven

This recipe is usually my go to. It’s easy for beginners with or without a mixer and is easily adaptable. I have tweaked it many times, each with deliciously fluffy and sweet results. It’s great with a little softened butter, or by itself, straight out of the oven. There’s nothing like the warmth of freshly baked bread to welcome the incoming fall (and baking!) season.

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Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls – adapted from Allrecipes.com

Makes 16 dinner rolls

  • 1/2 cup warm water (110F/45C)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  1. Dissolve yeast in the 1/2 cup of warm water with 1 tbsp of the measured sugar. Proof for 10 minutes
  2. Place milk, 1/3 cup of butter, the rest of the sugar and the salt in a medium saucepan. Cook on low heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the whole wheat and all-purpose flour. Set aside
  4. In a large bowl, beat the egg. Then, add the warm milk mixture and the proofed yeast
  5. Add in the flour mixture to the wet mix a little bit at a time, until fully incorporated.
  6. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour if needed, until the dough is no longer sticky.
  7. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover and let rest for 1 hour.
  8. Punch dough down and portion into 16 rolls. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment. Cover and let rise for 1 more hour.
  9. Preheat your oven to 375F. Brush dough balls with melted butter and bake your rolls for 10-12 minutes.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • The original recipe calls for only all-purpose flour and only 1/4 cup of sugar. Feel free to use either amounts of sugar, or types of flour. 
  • I weighed my dough prior to portioning, to ensure even rolls. You don’t have to but if you’re a stickler for accuracy like I am, you totally can. 
  • Make sure your water is not too hot! Water above 110F/45C can kill the yeast. Test the water by touching it, making sure it’s only a little warmer than body temperature. Or use your thermometer, if you have one. 
  • These rolls can easily be frozen. Flash freeze your rolls on the baking sheet after forming them. Thaw and let rise an hour before baking. 
  • The original recipe also calls for heating up your oven to 400F. I advise against this because it has led me to burnt bottoms and pale tops. Check the temperature of your oven to make sure it doesn’t run as hot, and keep an eye on your rolls!
  • If they still have pale tops, put them under the broiler for 2-3 minutes.