Beautiful If Your Eyes Are Closed

11 · 05 · 20

Maybe I just need to watch a few more videos on making bagels, but mine consistently look like they were tortured before baking. Baking sets the scars and dislocations in their places. Taking a bread knife to one of those bagels requires a bit of strategy: how to slice a bagel in half that has no dimension of symmetry whatsoever.

But this much I know: These bagels are delicious. Close your eyes, and it’s the beautiful flavor and texture that will win you over. Don’t judge a bagel by its appearance (I remind myself).

Nevertheless, I persist. I would love to be able to share the bagels I make without first offering an apology. I would love to see a little round hole in the middle, surrounded by a uniformly sized ring of chewy bagel.

I started making my own bagels when I ran out of patience with reading the labels of commercially sold bagels with a shelf life heavily dependent on sodium and ingredients listed only by their chemical descriptions. (The amount of sodium in a regular bagel is unconscionable.) I pored over online recipes, went through my various baking cookbooks, and recalled bagels I’d particularly enjoyed. While I am not a die-hard New-York-style bagel person, I appreciate that those bagels are satisfying in a way that bagels with lighter textures and densities just can’t match.

I call my recipe “Mostly Whole-Wheat Bagels,” although the ratio is 2 cups of whole wheat flour to 1½ cups bread flour. I like to throw sunflower seeds into the dough before kneading the dough for about ten minutes. What trips me up every time is the wetness of the dough: not wet enough and the bagel dough doesn’t stick together when shaped into discs; too wet and the bagel dough sticks to everything it touches. Either way, the raw bagels are already disfigured for life.

Occasionally, I’ll have a batch of dough that can maintain a hole in the middle of most of the bagels. This mostly happens when the dough is too dry. I transfer the raw bagels to a pot of simmering water using a flat skimmer. At this point (too late) it becomes clear whether the dough is too wet or not wet enough. You would think that putting a raw bagel in very hot water would be easy; it should slide off the skimmer. Here’s my observation: The wetter the dough, the more it clings to the skimmer. I have unintentionally tested this theory quite a few times.

I will continue to persist. But this morning, I had one of the whole wheat and sunflower seed bagels I made yesterday, lightly toasted. I closed my eyes, breathed in the warm scent of yeast and wheat, and bit into a perfectly chewy, flavorful bagel. It was a beautiful thing.

Patricia

Patricia is the author of a wide range of essays that span narrative, persuasive, and informational approaches. She believes that most writing benefits from an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on knowledge acquired over decades of diverse learning endeavors.

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