The Russian spring showers have kept us indoors for another weekend. At moments, our days and nights spent indoors have caused anxiety and restlessness. We missed the nightlife, the energy. The winter is beginning to wear on us. Days blend into each other and we ask one another questions about what our lives will be in the summer.
But with nights and days in doors, we have had long talks, watched great movies, and cracked our knuckles and baked sweet foods.
This morning, Ben and I collected all our rubles and braved the snow-drizzled streets for the 1.5 mile walk to the super store near our flat that sells sweet, sweet American cream cheese. With two tubs in our hands, we returned home and kneaded the dough into the shapes of our favorite food and waited patiently as they rose in the stove.
I thought about being small and riding my bike with my father to the Jewish bakery in our neighborhood to buy bagels for the family in the morning. I thought back to a time when I was so small that carrying the dozen bagels home was too much for me on a bike and he had to do it. He taught me my numbers on those rides; asked me to read off licence plates and place my ands in the correct places.
Bagels were special. Bagels were something our family gathered around, indulged in. They were one of our sweetest and happiest traditions.
Oh, how I wished that the bagels we made today would taste the way I remembered them. We began experimenting with our own recipes in the weeks before we left for Russia, quietly cooking on the bottom floor of Ben's parent's New Hampshire home. We made cinnamon sugar bagels, chocolate chip, and onion. I bought large sea salts and buried them into the dough. We wondered about garlic.
We've talked a lot, since being here, on how we could adapt our recipe to our circumstances of limited ingredients and the tiniest stove known to man and today we decided to go for it.
And we worried. We worried if the flour we'd bought was correct. If we measured properly. If we got the oven settings right. There was so much longing to just capture the taste.. That's the trouble with eating abroad-- things claim to be the same, but they so rarely are. And after a few weeks of let downs, you begin to resent all the signs that promise you a culinary trip home.
But today we got it. It wasn't the bagels of our home, but they were good enough. We sat in our kitchen, smearing our cream cheese and delighting in some American TV shows online. If felt good to just sit and eat bagels. It's small, I know, but it felt good.
You will need the following (all of which you might just have lying around!):
2 cups warm water
1/2 package of dry yeast (0.125 oz)
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6-7 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
toppings of your choice!
To make these it's really pretty simple. First pour the yeast into the warm water and let it sit for 30 seconds or so to soften, then stir to dissolve. Then add 2 tablespoons of sugar, the vegetable oil, 6 cups of flour and the salt and stir until mixed (if using a bread machine I assume this is easier, but we do it old school).
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 15-20 minutes or so until the dough is smooth and elastic, working in as much extra flour as you can comfortably manage because it should be pretty stiff.
Then sit the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, and cover and let it rise for about an hour (I usually let it rise in an oven that I have had on the lowest setting and turned off a few minutes before I am ready for this step), or until an impression made with your finger doesn't sink into the dough (I just let it sit for an hour and it has always worked out well).
After it rises punch down the dough and separate into three pieces. At this point, you should add chocolate or raisins or anything that you want to be in the dough itself as opposed to just on the surface. Knead any and all ingredients until incorporated, and then roll each piece into a rope. Cut each rope into four pieces (the recipe should make a dozen, but you can make them bigger or smaller if you wish). Roll the pieces into balls. Roll each ball into a small rope and use a little bit of water to stick the ends together as you form the bagel shapes. As you shape the bagels, place them on non-stick or lightly oiled cooking sheets, cover, and let stand for another 20 minutes.
As they are sitting, throw a big pot of water on the stove to boil, adding the other two tablespoons of sugar, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. When the water boils, add the bagels in (I usually do 3 at a time because that's what fits in my pot) and cook for 1 minute, turning once at 30 seconds. Pull them out with a slotted spoon and if you can let them drain on a cooling rack before putting them onto the baking sheets.
Cook for 15-20 minutes in the preheated oven, turning once when they start to brown on top. Delicious!