Homemade Bagels

How to Make Bagels at HomeLately, I’ve been getting into making homemade bagels. I remember vaguely making them in culinary school, and of course I love getting fresh bagels and cream cheese at Dunkin’  Donuts or Great American Bagel, but it was only recently that I rediscovered how easy and fun they are to make at home.

Basically, my bagel dough formula is exactly the same as my pizza dough formula. The only difference is that I substitute a little of the flour with corn meal. This changes the flavor slightly — it’s just a little bit sweeter — and also affects the texture, giving it a little more chewiness.

What makes bagels different than dinner rolls, burger buns or bread, for that matter, is that their outside skin has a little “bite” to it. This is accomplished by boiling the dough after it has been formed into the traditional bagel shape and allowed to rise overnight in the refrigerator.

Making bagels the right way is a two-step process. In fact, it’s a two-day process because you make the dough the night before and proof it in the ‘fridge. I suppose I could just let it rise on the counter the way I do with pizza dough, but putting it in the refrigerator overnight helps to develop the “snap” of the outer skin.

My wife, Sandi, always says this makes it a complicated process, but it’s not really. Each step only takes a couple of minutes and the payoff — fresh, homemade bagels in any flavor you want — makes it totally worthwhile.

My favorite part of making bagels is adding whatever toppings I want at the end. I bought a big container of poppy seeds at my excellent local produce market, but I also like to use toasted sesame seeds, dehydrated onion, and garlic powder.

I made cinnamon raisin bagels by simply adding a little sugar, cinnamon and raisins to the dough. If you try this, be warned: A lot of the raisins pop out when you knead the dough and you have to keep pushing them back in.

For my next batch, I bought some dehydrated blueberries for blueberry bagels. Using dried blueberries rather than fresh or frozen blueberries helps prevent the dough from turning purple. I’ll give you an update later as to how they turn out.

Homemade Bagels

1 tsp Dry Yeast (or one envelope)

1-1/4 cup Warm Water

1 TBS Raw, Organic Sugar (or honey or agave nectar)

2 cups Unbleached Organic All-Purpose Flour

1 cup Whole Wheat Flour

1/2 cup Corn Meal (plus a little more for dusting the bottom of the baking pan)

1 TBS Sea Salt

Pan Spray

1 Egg, whisked smooth (for egg wash)

Sesame Seeds, Poppy Seeds, or whatever topping you want

1. Whisk yeast and sugar into warm water in a mixing bowl (I use the bowl of my Kitchen Aid) and set aside for a minute or two to let the yeast activate (little bubbles indicate the yeast has awoken from its slumber!).

2. Meanwhile, combine the flours, corn meal and salt in another mixing bowl and stir together.

3. Using the bread hook attachment, turn the Kitchen Aid on low and slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet a little at a time and mix on medium-low until a dough is formed, about two or three minutes. (If you don’t have a Kitchen Aid, you can do this with a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon, the same way people have been doing it for hundreds of years!)

4. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and knead with your hands for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and springs back when you poke it. If it’s too wet (sticks to your hands while kneading it) simply add a little more A/P flour until it’s the proper consistency. Place the dough in a clean, greased mixing bowl, flip it over so ther is oil on all sides, cover with a clean dish towel and let it rest in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, about an hour or two.

5. Punch the dough down, let it rest for about five minutes, then cut it into eight even pieces (I cut the dough in half, then cut those peices in half, then cut them each in half again). Meanwhile, spray a sheet pay with pan spray and dust it lightly with cornmeal. Take each individual piece of dough and use your hands to roll it into a log, about eight inches long. Then twist the cylinder of dough around your hand — with the seam on the inside part of your hand — and squeeze to bind it together into a ring. You may need to pinch the seam a little so there is a smooth seal, otherwise it might open up during the proofing/boiling/baking stage. As you make each bagel, place it on the sheet pan with the best side facing up. When all the bagels are formed, cover the sheet pan lightly with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight. Or you can make the bagels in the morning and let them proof all day, at least eight hours.

6. When you get up the next morning, the first thing to do is to put a large pot of water on to boil and preheat your oven to 450F. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator, carefully peel off the plastic wrap and let them warm up a little while you wait for the water to boil. Once it’s at a rolling boil, use a spatula to place the bagels into the water a couple at a time — thanks to the trapped air from the proofing, they will float. Boil one minute on one side then flip them over with the spatula and boil them another minute on the other side. Carefully use your spatula to remove each bagel from the boiling water, letting the excess water drain for a few moments, and place them back on the sheet pan, rounded side up.

7. Brush each bagel with egg wash and sprinkle with whatever topping you want. Then place them right away into the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are browned and sound hollow when you tap them. Transfer to a cooling rack and let them cool to room temperature.

These homemade bagels are amazing when you eat them fresh. They are also really fun to give away. Enjoy!

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Holiday Cookies – Magic Bars

This recipe started with a book I wrote recently about cookies. While conducting research, I came across this recipe for Magic Bars.

Magic BarsMagic bars are one of those things I know I must have had at some point, but don’t specifically remember when or where. Still the combination of such great flavors — a Graham cracker crust, chocolate and butterscotch chips, and coconut — sounded, well, magical.

The minute I read it, I knew I had to make it. Then, like most things that inspire me, I completely forgot about it.

Until this weekend, when Sandi and I found ourselves at Trader Joe’s doing some holiday shopping. TJ’s has a surprisingly diverse and affordable wine offering and this year’s gift giving is all about wine.

I came across a package of coconut flakes and instantly recalled that I wanted to make Magic Bars.

Flash forward to later that afternoon, and these temptingly delicious and easy-to-make cookies were cooling on my stovetop.

It’s a testament to how delicious these Magic Bars were that Sandi made sure I gave them away as quickly as possible. I don’t think she wanted the temptation of of these super-sweet cookie bars hanging around for a moment longer than they had to.

For the remainder of the weekend, Sandi was recommending people who would really like these cookies. She herself admitted that they were pretty darn good, even though she “doesn’t like coconut.”

Coconut is one of those divisive ingredients that turns the world into a black and white place. There are those people who like coconut and those who don’t.

In other words, you are either an Almond Joy person or a Mounds person.

Personally, I don’t like coconut, either. I would always choose Ho-Hos over Snowballs, and I don’t like Pina Coladas (or getting caught in the rain, for that matter).

But coconut tasted incredible on these cookies, possibly because it was toasted during the baking process. More likely, however, it was because the coconut was swimming in the sickeningly sweet condensed milk.

By Sunday night, nearly all of the Magic Bars had magically disappeared, having been packed off with anybody and everybody who showed even the slightest interest in them.

Magic Bars

1-1/2 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs

1/2 cup (1 stick) Unsalted Butter, melted

14 oz can Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 cup Butterscotch Chips

1 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

1-1/3 cup Coconut Flakes

1 cup Walnuts, chopped

0271. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 13″x9″ baking pan with aluminum foil, including the sides. Spray the foil with pay spray.

2. Combine the melted butter with the Graham crackers and mix well then press into the bottom of the baking pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, nuts and coconut even over the crust. Pour the condensed milk even over the top of everything.

3. Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely in the pan. Life up the edges of the foil to remove the Magic Bars from the pan. Cut into squares and lift each cookie off the foil.

By Monday morning, they were all gone!

Holiday Cookies – Pecan Sandies

Well, my intention was to start a new series featuring different holiday cookie recipes. But seeing as that it’s already less than two weeks until Christmas, that idea is pretty much shot. At least for this year.

019Unfortunately, my ambition got ahead of my common sense, so my cupboard is stuffed with cookie ingredients such as butterscotch chips, different kinds of nuts and sprinkles.

My enthusiasm also was dampened after one of my experiments failed: I thought I would make those peanut butter cookies that have the Hershey kiss stuck in the middle, but all I had were those red and white swirled candy cane flavored kisses.

Take my advice: Don’t ever try this. Peanut butter and candy canes don’t go together! Plus, the candy cane kisses have much lower melting temperature than the chocolate kisses, so it ended up being kind of a red and white striped blob.

Every year, I forget how busy December gets. There are so many things going: Holiday shopping, parties, other obligations. Plus, work always seems to pick up just when you the other parts of your life require more attention.

That’s why many people set aside one day or a weekend to cook all of their holiday cookies, rather than making a batch here and a batch there. I should try that next year.

At least this recipe for pecan sandies has the benefit of  being fast and easy. It’s basically a butter cookie recipe with chopped pecans added in. And I stuck an uncut pecan peice in the middle for decoration.

Unlike the peppermint kisses disaster, they were delicious.

Pecan Sandies

1 stick unsalted butter

1/3 cup Powdered Sugar

2 TBS Light Brown Sugar

1 tsp Vanilla

3/8 tsp Sea Salt

1 cup plus 2 TBS All-Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Toasted Pecans, chopped medium fine

Plus a few Pecan peices for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Using a Kitchen Aid or hand blender, cream the butter and sugars together until smooth. Mix in the vanilla and salt. Then slowly add the flour and pecans and mix on low until a stiff dough is formed.

2. Using a melon baller or just two teaspoons, scoop the dough into a ball and place on an greased baking pan.

3. Dip the bottom of a glass in flour then use it to flatten out the cookies. Stick the pecan garnish in the middle of each cookie and bake about 15 minutes or until the cookies are set and just starting to brown on the sides.

Cool the cookies completely on wire racks. Store in an airtight container. This recipe makes about 24 cookies.

Meat Free Mondays — Apple Oatmeal Muffins

I swear I’m going ban myself from the blog How Sweet It Is. Everytime I read it, I find something I just have to steal make, such as these Apple Oatmeal Muffins

I am totally in awe of Jessica, the blog’s author. In addition to being a great cook, Jessica is also an amazing writer and one of the best food photographers I have ever seen. Everything she makes looks and sounds delicious, without exception. She inspires me on every level.

These Apple Oatmeal Muffins are only the latest recipe I’ve borrowed from her and used in my own blog. In recent weeks, it seems like every couple of days I’m ripping off from How Sweet It Is. Even my wife, Sandi, has subscribed to Jessica’s blog and I can barely get her to read mine!

This recipe turned out fine, but I took a few shortcuts  and made a couple of mistakes, so it could have been better. First, J’s recipe called for whole wheat pastry flour and I only had whole wheat flour an I was too lazy to drive to the store to buy the real deal.

Pastry flour is a finer grind than the whole wheat flour and results in a smaller crumb and fewer gluten strands. As a result, my muffins didn’t rise as well as they could have and were more dense.

Second, I didn’t have any apple cider — I haven’t seen any in the stores yet this year — so I used apple juice. They aren’t the same thing. Basically, cider has pulp and apple juice does not. While the flavor of the muffins was good, the muffins would have had a richer, smoother texture had I used the cider.

Finally, I didn’t have any cardamon so I left it out altogether, so the flavor wasn’t as complex as it could have been.

In short, Jessica doesn’t have anything to worry about. She’s still the best.

I only iced half the muffins because asked me to leave some plain so she could eat them without having to worry about the exra calories from the icing. What’s the fun of that?

Apple Cider Oatmeal Muffins

2 Honeycrisp Apples, small dice

3 TBS Apple Cider (or apple juice)

1-1/2 cups Whole What Pastry Flour

1/2 cup Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats

1 tsp Baking Soda

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

1/4 tsp Sea Salt

1/4 tsp Cardamon

1 pinch Nutmeg

1 large Egg

1/3 cup Brown Sugar, loosely packed

1-1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2 cup Unsweetened Applesauce

4 TBS  Brown Butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup Apple Cider (or juice)

For the Apple Cider Brown Butter Glaze

4 TBS Brown Butter, melted and cooled

1-1/2 TBS Apple Cider

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2 to 1/3 cup Powdered Sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Heat a small skilled over a medium-low heat, add diced apples and 3 TBS apple cider, a pinch of cinnamon and salt. Cook until apples are brown and soft, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. In a bowl, mix together flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Set aside. Linea muffin tin with liners.

3. In a Kitchen Aid mixing bowl (or just a large bowl), whisk together the egg and brown sugar until creamed. Add vanilla extract, butter, apple juice and 1/3 cup apple cider and mix until smooth. Then gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Don’t overmix or gluten strands will form and your muffins will be more like bread. Fold in the diced apples, then use an ice cream scoop to fill each muffin liner about 2/3 of the way full.

4. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until tops start to brown.

To make the glaze, mix together the brown butter, cider and vanilla, then mix in the powdered sugar until it reaches the proper consistency. Spread the cooled muffins with the glaze using a butter knife, or dip the muffins into the glaze and twist while pulling up.

By the way, brown butter is simply whole butter that you cook over a low heat until it begins to turn a golden brown, stirring constantly. It has a more caramel-like flavor than plain melted butter. But be careful to take it off the heat the minute it starts to brown. The difference between brown butter and burnt butter is about 30 seconds.

Peach Cobbler

Peach season is coming to a close, so it’s time to make a deliciously fresh peach cobbler before it’s too late.

It seems like peaches are only at their peak for the briefest of moments each year. Sometime around the end of July or the beginning of August, the lush, sweet-juiced stone fruits are perfectly soft. When peaches are at the precise moment of ripeness, biting into one can be a life-changing experience.

Sadly, this type of perfection seems like it lasts only a few hours, or a few days at most.

The rest of the year, if they are available at all, peaches are hard, dry and kind of tasteless. Out-of-season peaches only tease us, offering the smallest of hints about their full potential.

Just be patient, they seem to whisper to us. Our time is coming and it will be worth the wait.

Canned peaches, which come submerged in sickeningly sweet syrup, are an insult to the pure, natural richness of fresh peaches.

This peach cobbler was made with perfectly ripe peaches, giving it a fully, rich flavor. The hyper sweetness of the roasting peaches is perfectly complemented by the decadent lushness of the whole butter and sugar.

You could make peach cobbler with peaches that aren’t at the height of their ripeness or even with canned peaches. But that would be like having someone describe a sunset to you. It’s never going to be as good as the real thing.

You’re better off waiting for that magical time next year when the peaches are just perfect and all is right with the world.

Peach Cobbler

1 stick Butter, melted

1 cup plus 3 TBS Granulated Sugar, divided

1 cup All-Purpose Flour

2 tsp Baking Powder

1/4 cup Milk

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

3 to 4 Ripe Peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced thin

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Pour melted butter into the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish (either 11″x7″or 8″ square). In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of sugar, the flour, baking powder and salt and mix together.  Stir in the milk and vanilla to form a loose batter, then pour the batter over the melted butter.

2. Toss the peaches in the remaining 3 TBS of sugar and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon. Shingle the peach slices on top of the batter. Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cobbler comes out clean. The top will be browned and the cobbler will begin to pull away from the pan when it is done.

3. Serve warm with a little whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Drop dead of happiness.

During the peach off season, you can make this cobbler with blueberries, cherries or even apples or pears and it will be delicious. But it won’t be as magical as peach cobbler made with peaches at the height of their ripeness.

Chicken and Biscuits

When I was growing up, there occasionally would appear in my family’s cupboard a product called Chicken in a Biscuit.

These were crackers that tasted like chicken. I think my dad liked them. Even as a very young child, I knew that something about this just wasn’t right. Crackers aren’t supposed to taste like meat!

Chicken in a Biscuit crackers frighten me in some primal way, even though I now know they simply have a little chicken base mixed into the cracker dough. Still, I do enjoy the flavors of chicken and biscuits. And with yet another hurricane heading for poor, embattled New Orleans, I felt it was a good time to make some comfort food.

I debated whether to make fresh biscuits for this dish, or simply used the kind that comes in a tube. I’m still a little cautious about my own biscuits, scones and other quick breads, seeing as how I thought they nearly killed me once.

In the end, I opted for the store-bought variety due to time constraints. I’m glad I did because these biscuits were more like puff pastry, with layer upon layer of butter dough.

This is a very simple and old-fashioned dish. The innovation I added was to cook the biscuits right on top of the chicken stew, sort of like a chicken pot pie. Given the biscuits’ puff pastry-like qualities, it essentially was chicken pot pie.

Only I forgot to add the frozen peas that I bought. Oh, well. Something to make it better next time.

Chicken and Biscuits

1/2 lb Cooked Chicken, pulled from bone and chopped (I used leftovers from BBQ Chicken I made the night before)

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 White Onion, medium dice

2 Carrots, peeled and medium dice

2 Celery Stalks, medium dice

14oz can Chicken Broth

4 TBS All-Purpose Flour

1 TBS Chicken Base

1 cup Frozen Peas, thawed (which I bought but forgot to add!)

1 tube Buttery Biscuits (makes 8 biscuits)

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1. Put an oven-safe pot over a medium heat. I used my Dutch Oven. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onions, celery and carrot. I threw in a diced green bell pepper from our garden because we are up to our ears in them, but they aren’t usually a part of this recipe. Stir around, cover and cook until onions are translucent, about five minutes. Stir in chicken, cover and cook another minute or two to heat the chicken through.

2. Add flour and chicken base to the chicken/vegetable mixture. Stir around until the flour begins to brown a little, about two minutes, then hit it with the chicken stock. Stir, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes, stirrring once or twice. The stock will thicken during this time. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Preheat oven to 350F. Place uncooked biscuits directly on top of chicken mixture then put the entire pot, uncovered, in the oven and cook until biscuits are browned on top, about 25 minutes.

To serve, remove or two of the biscuits to get at the chicken stew, ladle some of the chicken mixture into a bowl and then cap with the biscuits.

This chicken and biscuits is so much better than a box of crackers!

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Bananas are one of those things we always like to have around, but don’t always eat.

Consequently, we usually have a lot of overripe bananas lying around.

I hate to waste food, especially bananas. After all, the darker and more overripe they are, the stronger the banana flavor. They may not  be fit for eating by themselves, but they are just perfect for banana bread.

I’m pretty sure I wrote about banana bread before … Oh, yes, here it is.

I’ve made banana bread hundreds of times in all kinds of variations: Mini banana bread loaves, banana muffins, chocolate banana bread. But this time I wanted to try something different.

That’s whenI had an epiphany. What about … wait for it …

Peanut Butter Banana Bread!

I love Reese’s peanut butter cups. What if I made peanut butter cups but in the form of bread instead? And with bananas? Brilliant!

Having never made this before, I was uncertain how it would turn out. I was worried that it might be too dense.

I needn’t have worried because it was delicious. Banana bread, zucchini bread and other flavored breads usually are pretty dense, given that they usually have a lot of oil in them and are leavened with baking sodea or powder rather than yeast.

This also requires them to be baked far longer than traditional bread. These loaves took just over an hour, which meant the oven was on much of the hot summer afternoon, turning the kitchen into a steambath.

Yet, it was totally worth it. While the crumb was dense, the crust was dark brown and sugary, just the way I like it. Slices of this peanut butter banana bread served double duty: perfect for breakfast and also for dessert.

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

1-1/4 cups Granulated Sugar

4 TBS Whole Unsalted Butter, softened to room temperature

2 Eggs

3 or 4 overripe Bananas, mashed

1/2 cup Buttermilk

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

2-1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 tsp Sea Salt

1 cup Chocolate Chips

1/2 cup Chunky Peanut Butter

1. Preheat oven to 350F. In a Kitchen Aid mixer, cream together the sugar and butter until smooth, then add eggs one at a time, then the bananas, then the buttermilk, vanilla and the peanut butter and mix until smooth. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda.

2. Slowly pour the dry ingredients into the batter and mix just until smoothly blended. Don’t overmix or gluten strands will start to form and the bread will be too tough. At the very last moment, add the chocolate chips and mix just until they are evenly distributed in the batter, about 10 seconds.

3. Generously spray two 8″x4″x4″ bread pans with pay spray. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Pick up each bread pan about 2″ off the work surface and drop them down to release any trapped bubbles, then put the pans on the bottom rack of the oven. Cook about 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

4. Remove from oven and let rest in the pans for about 10 minutes, then invert onto a kitchen towel and place on a cooling rack until completely cooled, about 45 minutes. To store, wrap either in foil or place in a resealable plastic freezer bag.

I love this recipe because it makes two decent-sized loaves: One for eating and one for giving away or brining to work. This peanut butter banana cake wins the gold medal for flavor!

Speaking of gold medals, is anybody else excited about the Olympics, which begin

Remember this from the Beijing opening ceremonies? Wow!

Friday (see what I did there?)? The Olympics are something I rarely think about when they are not on TV, but once they begin I get absolutely captivated by them.

Beijing’s opening ceremonies were jaw-droppingly amazing four years ago. I can’t wait to see how London plans to top that. I’m already planning on making some traditional British cuisine in honor of the games, so stay tuned!