Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Recipe #3 - Bagels

The Scene

Ah, bagels. Ranking behind pizza and before cheese steaks in the top three of most controversial foods, the debate over what constitutes a perfect bagel can lead to heated arguments, assault, and even divorce.
"Whole-wheat pumpkin cranberry? I don't think this is gonna work."
This may be a result of the fact that the true origin of the bagel is a complete mystery, like the statues on Easter Island and Gary Busey.
It was Monsanto
According to Wikipedia and other sources, the bagel was first made by the Polish, the Austrians, the Russians or the Uyghurs of China at some unknown point of time. It may be related to the pretzel, the bialy, the bublik, the vesirinkili, the simit, or any other one of a number of regional breads that are boiled and/or circle shaped. In other words, no one freakin' knows. What we do know is that at some point, whether by accident or by choice, someone decided to boil a doughnut and Jews worldwide yelled out with a collective "Mekheye!".
Just like this
In North America, we have three distinct styles of bagel. There is the New York bagel which is made by boiling the dough before baking it and results in a dense and chewy smaller bagel. There is the not-New York style that is steamed before baking instead of being boiled and results in a larger bagel that has a lighter, more bread-like crumb. This is the type that you will usually find in places like Noah's Bagels here in California. There is also the Montreal style that has significant sugar added to the dough and is boiled in honey water, cause, well...
That's why
The recipe in the BBA book is for the New York style boiled bagels and I made a batch half with a poppy seed topping and half with asiago cheese. I have actually made this recipe quite a few times before, and years ago I was a baker at a Noah's bagels across the street from the Pacific Stock Exchange in San Francisco. I have made lots of bagels. Thousands. They're in my nightmares. Anyway, this job is what got me into baking, and also what got me into my job with an options clearing firm at the exchange (the hiring manager recruited me because he liked my bagels), but that's a whole other story...

Recipe Deviations & Issues

I made no changes to the recipe whatsoever. It's a really good recipe. The only problem I had was in that I should have probably let the dough proof a bit longer. The bagels were a little bit on the flat side, though this was more of a cosmetic issue and didn't affect them in any way.

Final Results

Bagels! They were bagels, and they good. Dense and chewy, and you could easily peel the crust off like a skin which is a "true" bagel test according to some. As usual, the entire batch was mowed down by the various friends and housemates that were lucky enough to be around. I'm happy that I managed to hide a few to save for lox and cream cheese later.

Make Your Own

And you should make your own! They are much easier than you might expect, and there is nothing like eating one that is still warm from the oven. I have tried the following recipe and it gives very solid results. When making bagels I highly recommend hunting down malt powder, even if the recipe gives alternate sugar choices. The malt is traditional and gives it a richness that you can't replicate with anything else. I have tried.

Click here for bagel recipe at 

Up next, Brioche. It'll be a butter party!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Recipe #2 - Artos: Greek Celebration Bread

The Scene

Say what you will about the Greek people, but throughout history they have proven that they are a culture that knows how to party.
Celebrate good times!
And of course, any great party needs a great bread to snack on whilst in the throes of Dionysian ecstasy. And that is where Artos comes into play.

The Artos section in the BBA book includes three recipes. The first is the basic Artos which is an enriched bread with a handful of spice and flavorings. The second is Christopsomos, which is the same as the Artos but with dried fruits and nuts added. The third is the Lambropsomo which is the Artos with different dried fruits and nuts added, and is formed into a braided loaf with hard-boiled eggs that have been dyed red pressed into the top of it.

I chose to make the Christopsomos out of a desire for something a bit more elaborate, yet not bloody-looking egg elaborate. I have made this bread once before during my first attempt at this challenge. It was also the bread that led to me abandoning my first attempt at this challenge. I had prepared it as part of a Thanksgiving dinner that I was hosting at my house and in a last minute display of hubris, I decided that my skills were such that I could leaven the bread entirely with my wild-yeast starter instead of the half wild-yeast, half commercial yeast that the recipe called for. I was wrong, and was instead serving the prettiest hockey puck you have ever seen. This failure, along with the impending holiday season, and a healthy dose of procrastination led to my initial abandonment of this challenge.

Recipe Deviations and Issues

I learned from my mistake the first time around on making any drastic changes to the formula, but did make a couple small changes. First, I left out the orange zest and instead used orange-flavored dried cranberries that I picked up at Trader Joe's. I also left out the raisins and replaced them with even more of the orange cranberries. Finally, I decided not to use the optional glaze. When I made this the first time, I did use the glaze and it proved to make the bread really sticky and a bit unmanageable. Since I wasn't serving this for a special event, I went without it.

The only real issue I had was forgetting to add the almond extract. This was especially frustrating in that I had spent a significant amount of time searching for the little bottle of it that I had purchased for my previous attempt at this bread. Oh well.

Final Results

Success! It was very difficult waiting for this aromatic beauty to cool before tearing into it. This time I had a spicy, light bread with enough flavor of it's own to eat without doctoring in any way. The crumb was similar to a Challah, but with nuts and dried fruit. The crust was slightly firm and amazing looking. Overall, a good looking and tasty bread!

And, it also made some of the best french toast ever.

Make Your Own

This is the closest recipe I could find online. It calls for a couple spices I have never heard of (with recommended substitutions), and doesn't use the wild-yeast starter preferment. It also uses figs instead of dried cranberries.

Christopsomo at

Up next, Bagels!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Starting Over! Recipe #1 - Anadama Bread

The Scene

Well, I started this challenge to prove to myself that I could follow through with a project. It is now almost a full year after my first and only post, and here I am starting it all over again. I could blame the weather, the holidays, the fact that I screwed up the second bake, and any other number of things. I think I'll blame myself though, cause honestly, I have the attention span of a gnat. A gnat on a meth bender with an epic case of ADD. That's me. At least a lot of the time.

Anyway, here I am again to give it another shot. This time, I have already finished the first three breads in the book which guarantees at least three entries to this blog. Since I am on a quest to better myself, my career, my video game skills, and various other things of importance, I am hoping that this well of motivation can carry through to the less important things like baking awesome bread.

Also, I got a new camera. As much as I loved my first-generation Olympus "VGA" digital camera, it had come to the point where it was being held together with pieces of tape and the pictures were starting to look more and more like Polaroids from the 1970's. I still love it, but I now also love my 8.1 megapixel Sony!

As for the bread, you can find my witty retelling of it's origin story in my original post.

Recipe Deviations and Issues

As before, I used regular dark molasses instead of the suggested golden molasses. I also didn't sprinkle cornmeal on top again due to the coarse grain of the meal that I use.

When mixing the dough, I eyeballed the water in a measuring cup to a few ounces above the required amount. When I went to pour it into the bowl of ingredients, I forgot to measure the right weight, instead just throwing the whole amount in. This resulted in having to add a bit more flour than the recipe called for.

I also ended up with the sides of the tops of the loaves splitting due to an extreme oven spring. I think that this was because of an insufficient rise time. It was rising rather slowly and I had to let it go for about an hour longer than it called for, but it still wasn't enough. I am pretty sure that this was due to old yeast that had probably been in my fridge for too long.

Final Results

Even with the two mistakes mentioned above, these loaves were still amazing. Light, rich, and oozing with molasses goodness. After sampling, I gave my friend Beth half a loaf to take home with her and she bitched about only getting half a loaf. Methinks that means success!

Bake Your Own

The recipe at the following link has some differences from the BBA book, but looks like it will get the job done.

Anadama Bread recipe at 

Up next, Greek Celebration Bread!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Recipe #1 - Annadama Bread

The Scene

What a perfect day to start this baking project! It's a cold and rainy day here in Berkeley and aside from the cats, I've got the house to myself which is always a rare treat when you have two housemates. A few blocks away, Cal Football is playing their final game of the season, and their final game ever at Memorial Stadium before they start the major rebuild and renovation. (They lost. Surprise, surprise.)

As for the bread, the first of my BBA Challenge, the powers of alphabetical order present to me Annadama Bread. The story behind the name involves some guy swearing at his wife when she wouldn't make him a sandwich. This led him to throw a bunch of random ingredients together and bake a bread so he could make his own damn sandwich. Or something like that. It's a cute and unlikely tale that sounds like an excellent marketing ploy for the first bakery that produced this bread.

The bread itself is a sandwich-style loaf that uses molasses and cornmeal as key flavoring ingredients. The process was rather simple with a cornmeal and water soak started the night before to break down the starches, and a basic mix, knead, proof, bake process on baking day. I guess it's good to start out simple when I've got breads like the Poilaine Miche coming later in the challenge.

Recipe Deviations and Issues

I didn't make any real changes to the recipe. The notes did suggest using golden molasses, but I couldn't find any at my local market so I went with the dark. I also chose not to sprinkle cornmeal on the top of the loaves as the cornmeal I have is very coarsely ground and would have ended up breaking teeth. The only issue I had was that one of the loaves was a bit bigger than the other, but not enough to cause problems with baking times. I think I will start using the scale when forming loaves in the future.

Final Results

Success! The bread came out fluffy and slightly dense in texture, not unlike a whole wheat sandwich loaf. The molasses gives it a great color and a nice sweetness that screams to be made into french toast. It also made a great grilled peanut butter and honey sandwich, which if you've never had before, you should definitely swear at your wife until she makes you one!

Up next, Greek Celebration Bread.