Thursday, April 16, 2009
These days, it's not so often that I find myself home alone. Last summer I had a whole lot of home-alone "me" time, what with the not-having-a-job thing and Jonathan constantly shuttling back and forth between Boston and Cambridge. I filled leisurely mornings with jaunts in the sunshine, yoga, and hours-long breakfasts of fresh fruit and blog-reading. Afternoons usually brought more sun-seeking, cooking, reading, writing, recipe-dreaming, and other fun things that are best accomplished when home alone.
Now though, at-home time is scarce, not to mention home-alone time. And it's not that I prefer being home alone to coming home to a certain somebody who is willing to keep me company and do the dishes, but there are certain things that I miss about my lazy mornings and quiet, sunny afternoons.
And of course, when I do get my alone time, it arrives in bulk: a whole week alone while Jonathan heads to California, for instance. Although a whole week of apartment silence may be a bit excessive, I try to make the most of it, taking the opportunity to bake bread and read and do all those other things that for me, at least, are inspired by solitude.
When Jonathan was camping in California a few weeks ago, I did my share (and more!) of baking and reading, enjoying those aspects of aloneness while simultaneously enjoying the anticipation of his return home. He came home via the red eye early on Sunday morning, so Saturday night seemed exciting, and bedtime couldn't come soon enough.
I couldn't go to bed, though, without making something special for him to have upon arrival. Besides, there is something wonderful about being alone and making something that you know will soon be shared. I spent a bit of time thinking about Sunday breakfast possibilities, wanting something that wasn't too decadent, yet still indicative of a good, solid culinary effort. Scrambled eggs and pancakes make a fine breakfast indeed, but that's the fare of any Sunday morning, and this one seemed special.
Luckily, the perfect idea came to mind just in time to start making it: bagels. As anybody who knows a real bagel can attest, there are no good (store-bought) bagels in Boston. At least none that I know of. Brueggers is the standard "good" bagel around here, and the closest outpost is in Brookline. Besides, I had been meaning to try my hand at a homemade version for quite some time, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Jonathan loves anything with yeast (beverages included), and it would make the perfect simple meal for those post-red eye mornings (during which you never quite feel like yourself).
And speaking of those yeasty beverages, we happened to have a good amount (think pounds' worth) of barley malt syrup lying around, which, so I'm told, is the secret ingredient to authentic bagels. I didn't quite have time to do an overnight proof, so I settled for an old Daring Bakers recipe that could be completed in one evening.
I mixed, I kneaded, I set aside. I deflated, I shaped, I waited. And finally, I boiled, topped, and baked. The bagels came out of the oven with a lacquered and seed-y appeal. I used a mix of toppings I had in the pantry - poppy seeds, caraway, sesame - and despite some slight shaping imperfections, they looked lovely. Like real bagels, in fact.
I had high hopes for them, of course, but looks can be deceiving. Although Jonathan seemed to enjoy them, they lacked the texture of a good bagel. Instead of providing the chewy outer jacket that they're known for, the crusts of these bagels were timid and soft. I'm not sure what caused this, exactly, although it may have something to do with the boiling time or the boiling liquid. I saw some recipes that called for adding baking soda to the boiling water and some that didn't, and went without it. Maybe this was the culprit? I did add a hearty dose of malt to the water (which explains why it appears that I deep-fried the bagels in the photo above) for flavor, but it seemed not to have done my crusts any favors.
In any case, I think this warrants another bagel attempt. I can't say I wasn't disappointed with my bagel bust, but at least Jonathan was home to commiserate.