Caro: Blueberry Bagels

Guys, I’ve been in such a reminiscent mood lately. Considering all that has yet to be scratched off my current to-do list, it’s sort of troublesome that all I want to do is think back to times past. Not necessarily long-past, though… for instance, I’m pretty sure I’ve spent a total of, like, 100 hours in the past week daydreaming about the trip to New York City I got back from just two Saturdays ago.

I fall hard for NYC every time I’m there, and this was no different. One thing did make this trip extra-special, though! It was the first time I’d ever eaten a bagel in New York.

(Cue gasps and “WHAT?”s and “Who are you?!”s.)

Yeah. The last time I was there, I was too distracted by promises of sweets at Levain Bakery and Momofuku Milk Bar and Baked by Melissa and Jacques Torres to think of… bagels. But, whatever. No big. I get it now.

The friend I was visiting took me to Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Company in Chelsea for my first city bagel—a humble, untoasted plain mini bagel with plain cream cheese. I can’t say whether it was anywhere near the best bagels New York has to offer (I hear those are over in actual Brooklyn)… but I’ll be darned if that wasn’t the BEST bagel I’ve ever had. It was no simple Einstein Bros bagel, guys. It had a crisp exterior and was dense and chewy and fragrant and just beautiful. I made sure to go back before leaving New York.

So, what does this have to do with blueberries? Well, not much. My typical trains of thought make little to no sense. Sorry. I have a point; I promise! (10 points for the reference.)

Ok. I was sitting in Starbucks a couple of days ago, pretending to watch “Michael Clayton” on my laptop but really just thinking about potential blueberry recipes for this post. I wanted to use blueberries really in just about anything other than a muffin (surrendering to the sad realization that I’ll never ever make one like Otis Spunkmeyer can).

First, I thought of making some sort of blueberry salsa to go on chicken, but I was quick to remember that I’ve never been a fan of sweet + savory at the dinner table, and I didn’t want to make something I wouldn’t be super excited to eat.

Next, I thought of making a blueberry pie/crumble/cobbler/buckle/crisp/something or other, but I felt: 1. overwhelmed by the number of baked-good options and 2. uninspired by how kind-of similar they all seemed.

Then, I got distracted by a particularly intense scene of “Michael Clayton.” The music was really dramatic.

Then, out of nowhere, I thought of the bagels I had in Chelsea. (I told you… I canNOT get New York out of my mind.) So warm and delicious and satisfying. And dreamyyy, and…—no more distractions!  I told myself to snap out of it and return to blueberry-brainstorm mode, and then… “That’s it! BLUEBERRY BAGELS!” I realized I’d never ever had one that I actually enjoyed, and I wondered if I could draw upon the internet to find a recipe for a bagel (that would rival the one I had in NYC) and later bastardize it via the addition of oodles of blueberries. Done. And. Done.

So, I made these blueberry bagels.

blueberry bagels in the making

top: bagels before boiling; bottom: bagels after baking

For me. For you. For everyone who believes the road to bagel bliss ends at the refrigerated Lender’s bags at your grocery store. I can now assure you, dears, that it does not.

And forget the cream cheese… I topped them with cinnamon blueberry butter. Because, as you’ll soon learn, I can’t leave well enough alone.

blueberry bagels topped with cinnamon blueberry butter

Just look at that butter. Oh, baby.

My WORD, are these DELICIOUS. They were so perfectly crisp and chewy, just dense enough, and pillowy-soft on the inside without being “bread-y” or fluffy. Does that make sense? Substantial in the best way (and good-looking to boot). I ate two (in five minutes), and I don’t know if I can ever go to Einstein Bros again. Make them; thank me… I think we’re going to be friends.

Edit: These definitely lost some of their textural glory by day two. They were great toasted… but if you want them at their prime, pure untoasted best, eat them the day you make them.

P.S. Have you ever heard of/used this iPhone app called Halftone? Lets you make a comic strip frame out of any picture. Like so:

comical bagels

Super fun. I love it.

Anyway…

__________________________________________________

Blueberry Bagels

The recipe I used as the base for these is Peter Reinhart’s. It only took one Google search for “bagel recipe” to clarify that his is THE bagel recipe to work with. He’s recently published a simplified recipe for his bagels, but I used the longer recipe as published in “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.” Don’t be intimidated by the length of the process! It’s truly simple and totally worth it.

Note time! (Sorry there are so many…)

  • I halved Reinhart’s recipe. The original makes 12 large bagels. I ended up with 8 mediums.
  • Reinhart insists on barley malt syrup as a key ingredient for achieving that elusive fresh-from-the-bagel-shop flavor. I left this out, because I don’t have a job, and $8 was too much for me to part with for a jar of it… I used brown sugar as a sweetener instead. No regrets, since I wanted the flavor focus to be on the blueberries, anyway.
  • I used freeze-dried blueberries (easy to find at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods). They took in just enough moisture throughout the whole process to be texturally perfect by the end of it all, and the flavor was all I’d hoped for. I upped the amount of yeast in the final dough by 1/4 teaspoon in case the blueberries weighed the dough down. Dried blueberries (a la raisin) would work just as well. Fresh would be a straight-up disaster… don’t do that.
  • I added a teaspoon of cinnamon to the final dough, because I believe in cinnamon like I believe in few things. I absolutely loved it, but you can leave it. Not necessary. But wonderful.
  • Next time I make these (or any spin on Reinhart’s basic recipe), I’m adding another 1/2 teaspoon or so of salt. If you know me, you’re shaking your head and saying, “Oh, Caro. You would.”
  • For the cinnamon blueberry butter, I rehydrated 1/2 cup of freeze-dried blueberries in simmering water for about 10 minutes, drained them, and let them cool. I then tossed them into my mixer with 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter, 1/4 teaspoon or so of lemon zest, a pinch of cinnamon, and the teensiest sprinkle of salt. I let the mixer run at medium speed with the whisk attachment for about 2 minutes, spooned the butter into a Ziploc bag, and refrigerated it overnight. It was delicious.

Recipe
Adapted from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”
Yield: 8 medium bagels

Sponge
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
2 cups bread flour/other high-gluten flour
1 1/4 cups water, room temperature
Final Dough
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 7/8 cups bread flour/other high-gluten flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup freeze-dried blueberries
For Finishing
1 tablespoon baking soda

Day one:

  1. Make the sponge: In a large mixing bowl, whisk the yeast and flour together. Add the water, whisk/stir until it all comes together (Reinhart says like “pancake batter”), cover the bowl in plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours. It should look crazy bubbly by then.
  2. Make the final dough: In the same bowl, add the rest of the yeast to the sponge. Stir. Add all but 1/4 cup of the rest of the flour as well as all the salt, brown sugar, and cinnamon, and stir (or move to your mixer’s bowl and mix on low speed with the dough hook attachment) until the ingredients come together into a ball of dough. Work the last 1/4 cup of flour in slowly.
  3. Move the dough to a flat, very lightly floured surface, and knead for 10 minutes or so. Start to work the blueberries into the dough after the first 5 minutes of kneading, about 1/4 cup at a time. If the dough rips, add a little water, and keep kneading. If it’s sticky, add some flour. It should feel pretty stiff (kneading it by hand totally satisfies your workout requirement for the day). In Reinhart’s words, “the kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not sticky.”
  4. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. You can weigh them for evenness—I didn’t. Roll the pieces into balls, cover them with a damp towel, and let them rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. They’re probably tired from the kneading, too.
  5. Take two sheet pans, line them with parchment paper, and liiightly oil the paper (spray oil works wonders here). Poke a hole in the middle of each roll and gently use your thumb to widen the hole to, say, 2 inches. Keep the bagels as even-looking as possible. Place the shaped bagel on the oiled sheet pans, keeping them 2 inches apart. Cover them with plastic wrap, and give them another 20-minute room-temperature rest.
  6. Conduct the float test to see if your bagels are ready for the fridge. Gently drop a bagel into a bowl of cool water. If it floats within 10 seconds, they’re ready! Take that bagel out of the water, pat it dry, put it back in its spot on the pan, re-cover, and slip the pan into the refrigerator, where you’ll leave it overnight or for up to two days. (If your bagel fails the float test, don’t worry… give it a little pep talk, put it back on the sheet pan with the other bagels, and try again in 10 minutes. Repeat as necessary.)

Day two:

  1. IT’S BAGEL DAY! Waking up to this can be compared to waking up as a kid on Christmas morning. When you’re ready to boil/bake your bagels, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. You want the rack in the middle of the oven. Fill a laaarge pot (the wider the better) with water, and bring it to a boil. Add the baking soda to the boiling water. Appreciate the fun fizzy noise it makes, and get ready for the even more fun part.
  2. Take your bagels out of the refrigerator, uncover them, and gently drop them (one by one!) into the boiling water using a slotted spoon. They should float up pretty quickly. Let them boil for 1 minute, then flip them over, and boil them for another minute. For super chewy bagels, boil for 2 minutes on each side. (The Gemini in me couldn’t decide and boiled them for 1:30 on each side.) While they’re boiling, dust the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal (I skipped this step). As the bagels emerge from the water, lay them back on the sheet pans. Again, 2 inches apart.
  3. Place the sheet pans on the rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for about 5 minutes, rotate each pan by 180 degrees, reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees F, and bake the bagels for another 5-7 minutes, more if necessary. They will turn the loveliest shade of golden brown to let you know they’re ready.
  4. Let the bagels cool for at least 15 minutes, preferably around 30, before serving.
  5. Slice one open, and slather it with cream cheese or butter (or eat it plain). Good morning.
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