“We’ve lost a lot of culture with marketing and manufacturing where we don’t do things anymore because supposedly machines can do them better, and supposedly it’s all labor saving. And we give away our capacity to do things with our hands, and with our bodies, that actually give us health and vitality — to use our hands, to knead the bread, to make things, to touch things, to smell things — we give it away, and then how are we going to feel alive?”
— Edward Espe Brown
For this month’s foray into bagels, I had in mind an egg version. I’d just seen a documentary, How to Cook Your Life, that centers on Edward Espe Brown, an American Zen teacher and author. He’s popularly known for his cookbooks and workshops, both of which focus on cooking as a meditative practice. Baking particularly lends itself to this and, as synchronicity would have it, there’s a recipe for egg bagels in his influential book, The Tassajara Bread Book.
“Make a sincere, honest effort and see how it comes out.”
I noticed the part of the recipe that said “Makes 12 bagels,” and proceeded to portion the dough out by weight, and ended up with a baker’s dozen of 13. Somehow, though, I missed the instruction to “Cut the dough into thirds and shape each piece into a ball…. Cut the first ball into twelve pieces.” Which would, as written, actually make this a recipe for 36 bagels. These did seem a little larger than usual but, in any case, by the time I discovered my mistake, it was too late to redo them. I left them to proof overnight in the fridge, and hoped for the best.
“Sincerity is the quality where your imperfections show. It’s tempting with food and ourselves to be perfect.”
It’s disconcerting to work with cold dough. The next morning the bagels felt clammy and listless, and had less structure than I’m accustomed to with bagels. Even after blanching, they still looked unpromising. I was relieved then, once they were out of the oven, to see they’d puffed up and taken on some color, becoming something edible after all.
“We’re cooking the food but in terms of practice the food is cooking us.”
The documentary portrays Brown as gentle, wise, funny and kind, but doesn’t shy away from showing him in surprising moments of impatience and crankiness. They’re unsettling scenes, but he would probably be the first to admit that he’s imperfect — not so different than the rest of us. As I contemplated the results of the morning’s baking, I glanced down and noticed there was something familiar about the calligraphic marks the bagels had left behind. Of course, I thought, how fitting for this lesson in mindfulness. They were bagel ensōs, the Japanese word for circle, the Zen symbol of enlightenment.
- The recipe for Egg Bagels from The Tassajara Bread Book can be found online. I failed to divide the dough as instructed, and ended up with 13 bagels; they were on the large size, but not monstrously so. The next time around, I will try halving the recipe, and making the bagels smaller.
- I substituted honey for the sugar, and used bread and all-purpose flour in equal proportions. The bread flour gave the bagels tooth, while the all-purpose ensured a lighter texture more characteristic of egg bagels. The dough was slacker and stickier to work with compared to that for water bagels.
- After the first rise, the dough was divided into 120 gram portions, and formed into bagels. They were placed on parchment in a large lidded container, and left in the fridge overnight. The next morning, they were blanched briefly in boiling water with some malt added. I omitted the egg wash, and baked at 425°F for 20 minutes, turning the sheet pans halfway through.
- As for the results, these were a nice change from water bagels. They kept well, improving in texture and flavor over time.
Submitted to YeastSpotting.