Late winter Bagels and Banana Bread

Still winter here in Juneau. I skied through 4 inches of new snow on Friday. I’ve had a neuroma issue with my right foot much of the winter and have had to switch from skiing every day to every other day to balance getting the foot to heal with getting the cross country skiing exercise I’m addicted to in. The neuroma was caused by my ski boots being too small, but there as big as I can find. Still working for a better solution for next year.

Non-skiing days have included baking, canning jams from frozen berries in the freezer, grinding and canning deer meat from the freezer, sausage making from venison and salmon from the freezer, and cleaning the house more often. Although we don’t have cable television, I figured out how to stream the men’s and women’s NCAA games over the laptop and then run a cable from the laptop to the big TV Ron and Jeanne gave us when they left for a great viewing experience. And this week, I’m doing the same watching the Master’s golf tournament. I admit I have enjoyed watching hours of television after not doing so for decades as I’m more of a radio listener.

Bagel making is becoming old hat, and still interesting at the same time. Bagels are a nice alternative to bread, and a great platform for the jams and canned salmon and sausages.  I continue to like making them because the two cook stages leave a lot of room for error. They are not perfect but always edible – except for the time I tried making them out of 100% rye flour, which I later learned is not a good flour to use on it’s own because it doesn’t have the gluten to feed the yeast and make the dough rise. I still ate them, of course, but in some sort of soup or stew, as they were too heavy to enjoy on their own.

I don’t much go by measuring amounts of the ingredients anymore. For each batch, I use about a cup of sourdough starter, yeast, sugar and warm water for the yeast sponge,a 1/4 cup of sweetner  (honey and molasses, maple syrup, or the traditional barley malt syrup), 1 to 3 cups of moisture provider from the freezer (pureed blueberries; chopped rhubarb with sprinkled sugar and roasted in the toaster oven for 20 minutes and then pureed; pureed fiddle heads;  or chopped bull kelp stipe or frond), and about 4 to 6 or more cups of flour – usually organic whole wheat bread flour which I can buy in bulk from our local health food store, where we are shareholders.

I use Sara’s kitchen aid mixer with dough hook and the bowl that comes with the mixer. I know a “batch” in this bowl will be about 4 cups of flour, but will vary alot depending primarily on what moisture provider is used. I put the activate yeast sponge, sweetner and moisture provider in the bowl and start the mixer. I add the first 4 cups of flour a cup at a time to the bowl. As the dough forms, if dry flour is stuck to the bottom of the bowl, I stop the dough hook and scrape it from the bowl side and start the hook again to hopefully pick it up in the dough ball. If the dough is very sticky I just continue to add flour a little at a time until it forms a single ball and takes on a drier texture – about as dry as I can make it and still have the dough form a single ball in the mixer. I use warm water to fine tune everything if I need to.

It’s all down hill after this. The dough goes in an oiled bowl and covered with plastic or a damp town to rise. I fold the risen dough in on itself in about four inward folds, and let it rise again.

From here, the bagels get formed. I used to flatten the dough mass into a big rectangle about 3/8 inch thick and then cut it with a dough cutter along the long side of the rectangle in about a 3/4 inch strip, then roll the strip into a rope and attach the rope ends. This last time, I did everything the same until the last step, and simply made a ball of dough out of the strip of dough, flattened it, and put my thumb through the middle and rounded it out to make each bagel. This seemed simpler and easier to make a more uniform size bagel.

The bagels are laid out on a flat baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and covered with plastic where they’ll rise a last time. After all the bagels are formed, I start a pot of about a gallon of water with a 1/4 cup of sugar to boil. Then I make an egg white wash with about one egg per batch. By the time the water boils, the bagels have risen on the sheet.

From here, each bagel is boiled for 3 minutes on each side for a total of 6 minutes total. Boiling time can vary alot by recipe. When I first started making bagels, I started out boiling them for just 1 minute as that’s what the recipe called for. Over time, I have found that 3 minutes seems to make the best texture for my liking, and they freeze well after baking.

At the end of 6 minutes, the bagels are removed with a slotted spatula to a drying rack set on a baking sheet to catch the drips.

When the I turn the next batch of bagels into the boil at 3 minutes, the bagels on the drying rack have shed their water and I brush them with the egg white wash and put them back on a flat baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

When the sheets are full – usually about a dozen bagels per sheet, depending on bagel size and sheet size – they go into a 425 degree F oven for at about 20 to 25 minutes. If I can fit my whole session of bagels into the oven at once, I bake them for 20 minutes and turn off the oven and leave the bagels to continue to bake in the residual heat. Like boiling time, baking time doesn’t seem to be precise. Sometimes my bagels might be a little underdone but I know I will be first freezing them and toasting them anyway.

This last session I made bagels using chopped kelp frond in one batch and pureed rhubarb in the other. When the kelp bagels were formed, the dough had turned sticky and I had to use a spatula to help get them off the parchment paper and some I had to reform before dropping them into the boil. I think the kelp may have been a tad frozen when I made the dough and released more moisture during the three rises. The bagels held together just fine through the boil and the bake, although they were a little lumpy instead of rounded in the end. Again, bagel making seems so forgiving.

I started making banana bread in earnest in Craig about 2 years ago, using the recipe on the bag that the over ripe sale bananas came in from the lone grocery store in town. I’ve started using almond flour to replace the whole wheat bread flour as Sara is trying to limit refined wheat flours and sugars in her diet. And because Costco has started carrying the almond flour it in bulk. As a 1 for 1 replacement for wheat flour, the bread has come out nicely edible – maybe a little more crumbly and grainy, for sure, but still tastes good and a great use for ripe bananas.

Nearly half way into April here, and lots of people are getting twitchy and begging for spring. I’m happy to have the snow hang on as long as it will and ski the nice long days and hear the male hooters starting to call up the mountain at the end of the ski trail. Grouse love won’t wait for the snow to melt.

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