I apologize for the back-to-back theme weeks; anyone who knows me will likely be surprised by this, seeing as how in the areas of thinking of themes and executing them, I'm pretty weak. When I was planning my wedding, I didn't know that you're supposed to pick colors, and even once I was clued in, I still didn't. But still inspiration has struck me in a pretty big way, and people who know me also know that once I get an idea, I grab onto it and won't let go in pretty frightening fashion.
Which officially brings me to theme week 2 here at Veg Baker, J.D.: Being Fancy on a Budget! I hesitate to call this do-it-yourself week or something like that, because, well, anyone who's baking from scratch is doing it themselves! So I've decided that this week will be about surprising things you can make from scratch, that taste delicious and are inexpensive, and that will wow the socks off of most of your family and friends.
The "fancy budgeting" idea arose after a conversation I had with Greg last week. Greg is absolutely one of the most generous people I know; when it comes to donations or fundraising or doing something special for a friend, he doesn't think twice and jumps right into action. Greg, however, hates wasting money; that is, blowing money on stupid things for apparently no particular reason.
Greg and I were talking about the latter category when Greg was reviewing our credit card bill last month and noticed I had made a daily habit of spending $6-8 every morning at Starbucks. This seemed weird to him for a number of reasons. First of all, I don't drink coffee, tea, or hot beverages of any kind. Two, I hadn't been treating friends or co-workers, something he would have wholeheartedly supported; nope, I'd been going on these morning excursions all by myself. So seriously, what the heck was I spending my money on? It's easy: orange juice, chocolate-covered graham crackers, and a multigrain bagel. Needless to say, I had to scrape him off the floor when I told him the 11 ounces of orange juice I was buying cost $3.25/bottle. (Lesson learned there: now I've stashed a 55 ounce bottle of Simply Orange in my office fridge, which means I get a week's worth of OJ for $3.)
So was it ridiculous to spend this amount of money for not much? Yes. But here's the thing...those Starbucks multigrain bagels are SO GOOD. I went and bought some bagels from the store, and they were kinda gross and didn't cost that much less. Greg conceded that spending $1 for my bagel was reasonable, but after the orange juice fiasco, the wheels were already turning in my head. Could I make bagels myself at home?
The answer is a resounding yes! After reading a great article about whether it makes sense to make or buy certain items at Slate.com (http://www.slate.com/id/2216611/pagenum/all/), I was pleasantly surprised to learn that homemade bagels are easy to do, have more flavor than those at the store, and they only cost a quarter to make on your own. A quarter? I had to give this a try!
Making my own bagels is more momentous than it sounds. You see, as much as I love to bake, I have never baked with yeast before. I have this fear of yeast that makes no sense. It just such a foreign ingredient to me that seems like it can be easily screwed up, and that was enough to keep me away. Two of my closest friends make bread and pizza crust from scratch all the time, and they were great and showed me how to do it, but I was still scared. I was at a friend's wedding shower last spring, and she smartly sat me at a table with all of her Greek relatives who love to cook, and they explained to me how to use yeast. A sweet gesture, but I was still freaked out.
After finding the recipe below at Tammy's Recipes online, though, I felt like this was something I could do, so I finally decided to confront my yeast fear head-on. Plus, I was pleased to learn that the basic recipe for bagels is almost vegan; there was only an egg wash so ingredients will stick to the outside, so all I did was omit the wash and, per Tammy's instructions, fold the ingredients directly into the dough instead. And you know what? I'm not sure I'll ever go back to Starbucks...well, at least until Greg stops surveying credit card receipts. And I will most definitely start to bake with yeast more; it's not so scary after all. I'm still working on my technique a bit, so I've put my struggles in footnotes below, but honestly, even if you don't have the technique quite right, the bagels will still turn out fine and be tasty.
Bagels (adapted from tammysrecipes.com)
Yields: 6 bagels (although I should say, the original recipe was doubled, so I assume this is easily doubled as well)
3/4 c. warm water
1 Tbsp. dry yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 Tbsp. salt
2 c. bread flour
anything tasty you like in a bagel - cinnamon, raisins, dried cranberries, nuts, flaxseeds, oats, whatever
1) Mix water, yeast, and sugar; let sit for 3 minutes.
2) Mix 1 c. flour with salt; while mixing, add yeast mixture, and then slowly add the rest of the flour.
3) Knead dough on a flour surface for 5 minutes (add flour if the dough is sticky); the dough will be smooth and firm. Place in a greased bowl and cover with a towel until dough is doubled in size, about 50-60 minutes.
4) Punch down the dough. If adding ingredients, knead them in until just mixed.*
5) Split up dough into 6 balls. Let rest for 5 minutes.
6) Poke a hole in each ball and pull the ball apart by two inches, making a bagel shape. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
7) In batches of two at a time, boil the bagels in a 8 quarts of boiling water for 45 seconds, flipping halfway through. Place the bagels on a wire rack to dry.
8) Put the bagels on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 18 minutes. Flip the bagels over and bake for another 17 minutes. Cool on wire rack.
* I must admit, I think I failed kneading in the ingredients. I didn't want the dough to get too tough, but I didn't add enough ingredients and I didn't mix them consistently throughout. I think I also should have probably given the dough a couple of minutes to rest again after mixing in the ingredients and before I cut them up into little bagel balls. That said, I still polished off two bagels when they came out of the oven, so I won't mind making more batches...you know, to practice. :)