life is just a bowl, er… bagel full of cherries

I'm so proud of me, I'm practically all verklempt here. Why? Because I'm breaking out of my social-media dweeby hermit shell yet again. Go me! I know I started this silly blog mainly for myself, as a way of documenting my quest to improve my bread baking skills, but truth be told, I'm kinda getting into it (the blogging, I mean) and hoping it takes off somehow. Like maybe people other than my family (who haven't been terribly cooperative so far and they'd better buck up otherwise the bread stream may dry up, if you get my drift) and a couple of friends should read it? This, of course, means that all those other peeps on the interwebs actually need to know it's here, which does not happen just because you think it should. If you build it they will come? LIES, ALL LIES! One must actually CONNECT with these interwebs peeps somehow. Which I'm trying really, really hard to do. I don't have a great social media track record, that's for sure. I failed miserably at Facebook. I signed up for Twitter, never followed anyone and certainly never twitted (tweeted?), yet somehow I have followers–go figure. I've only posted–rarely–on four message boards, one of which is now defunct, and until recently, my Pinterest was under a made-up name and mostly hidden. Not a great way to connect, is it? But…wonder of wonders, I'm really enjoying this baking and blogging thing and I've decided it's more fun when you can share with others. So I'm putting myself out there by (gasp!) posting comments on other people's blogs, taking part in challenges and joining baking groups. So far, I've participated in Joy the Baker's Baking Bootcamp and baked along with the Bread Baking Babes as a Buddy. And now I'm joining the fine people at #TwelveLoaves.

#TwelveLoaves is the brainchild of Lora at Cake Duchess. Every month, she picks a new theme and everyone bakes, blogs and shares what they've done. And we're talking about some seriously great baking here, stuff that's both inspirational and aspirational. So when this month's challenge was announced, I thought I'd jump in.

#twelveloaves challenge: cherries

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The theme for June is cherries. I've got a bit of a love/hate relationship with cherries. I love them on their own, especially when I can get them at the farmer's market. I don't mind dried cherries, particularly the tart ones that are sweetened with fruit juice. But in almost any other state? Not so much. The memories of the cherry flavored cough syrup my mom used to give me when I was a kid are just too strong. Great month to start, then, with cherries as a theme. But I'm not one to back down from a challenge, so what to bake then, hmmm?

One thing that came to mind was Panera's Pink Ribbon Bagel, one of those limited-time specialties they bring back each October for Breast Cancer Awareness month. It's a slightly sweet, awareness-ribbon-shaped bagel, studded with dried fruit and whatnot, and it's something I always look forward to. So I decided to create my own, minus the ribbon shape. A quick Google search told me that Panera's original is made with brown sugar, vanilla, dried cherries and cranberries, as well as cherry chips. What, pray tell, are cherry chips? Like chocolate chips only cherry, silly person! Only not as easy to find. The Yeti and the Loch Ness monster are probably a snap to locate compared to these damned chips. Now I'm sure you can make the bagels without said cherry chips (and I will next time) but of course, this time I HAD TO HAVE THEM. Well. You can buy 6 bags on Amazon for 38 smackers but while I may be obsessed, I'm not THAT obsessed; I ended up finding and buying one bag on eBay. Once the chips were in my hands and I could stop having anxiety attacks, it was time to decide on a bagel recipe.

I seesaw back and forth between two: one from my Artisan Bread course at the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute) and one from Peter Reinhart. Reinhart's is always a crapshoot for me. Sometimes, the results are approaching bagel nirvana but other times, they always seem to deflate on me after boiling (not an uncommon problem according to the posts on the Fresh Loaf.) The ICC bagel, on the other hand, gives me pretty consistent results, but at 48% hydration–which is practically drought-like–it's not the easiest dough to handle. It's so dense that I won't chance it in my Hobart-era Kitchen Aid, but I'm still afraid I'll kill my Assistent mixer, which is the tank of home mixers. (I have to keep a firm grip on it to keep it from walking off the counter.) I decided to adapt the ICC recipe anyway–mainly because I didn't want to risk wasting a bunch of fairly pricey ingredients in a potentially flat bagel–and up the hydration closer to the average (I went with 55%).

The dough actually came together nicely and I had no trouble with it, even after adding the fruit and chips. The chips did leave pinky streaks throughout the dough but it worked here so no biggie. Usually, I bake these bagels right away but I stuck them in the fridge overnight and went to bed instead (it was a loooong day at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party in Madison Square Park–awesomeness!)

GADGET ALERT! It's no secret that I love a good gadget, most of which normal people could probably easily do without. But I did get to use something I'd bought that really did come in handy so I'd like to recommend it. I always hate having to waste plastic wrap when retarding bagels overnight in the fridge, plus it's a pain to have to find room on the shelves for more than one sheet pan when you can't stack them lest you squish what's on 'em; even if you have a second fridge like we do, those pans take up a lot of space. So a while ago, I bought a couple of rigid plastic sheet pan covers and…problem solved! They're not only reusable, but you can stack one pan right on top of another which is a great space saver. Definitely a handy thing to have around (good for croissants and other baked goods too, as long as they don't go bonkers when they rise–these covers probably give you a 3" clearance.

On baking day, I preheated the oven and put a big pot of water and malt powder on to boil. Once the bagels went in, the water definitely started to look like something Macbeth's witches were cooking up, since it turned a rather gruesome shade of red, courtesy of those bleeping cherry chips, and I now had a batch of um, interesting looking pink bagels to pop into the oven. But funky looking or not, the resulting bagels were pretty damned good, if I may say so myself. Nice and chewy on the outside and just right on the inside, not too dense but not too airy. The brown sugar and vanilla hit the right notes and the tangyness of the fruit played nicely against the sweetness. The only "meh" part was the &#@!* cherry chips. First, as I said they sort of melted in the poaching water. Second, the ones that didn't melt in the water pretty much melted away in the bagels and left holes in their wake, which didn't look so bad on the inside, but the ones one the outside weren't terribly attractive. And third, the melty bits that oozed out made my bagels look like they were bleeding. Just… no. (LOVE to know how they keep their chips from getting all melty.) The chips have sort of a fake candy-ish taste that's not really necessary, so given the issues and the fact that they're not exactly easy to find, you might as well just leave 'em out. I do think overall these bagels were a pretty good approximation of Panera's original and a sweet breakfast treat.

Thanks for the challenge, #TwelveLoaves! Looking forward to next month.

brown sugar cherry bagels*

Ingredients

  • 1000g bread flour
  • 550g water
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 20g non-diastatic malt powder
  • 40g brown sugar
  • 14g fine sea salt
  • 8g instant yeast
  • 2 cups mixed dried cherries and dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup cherry chips (optional)

Directions
Add all ingredients to bowl of a mixer. Blend together at low speed, then increase speed and mix until dough is smooth. Add dried fruit and cherry chips (if using) and mix until incorporated (you may have to need by hand in order to fully incorporate the chips and fruit). Weigh dough and divide into 12 equal pieces. Preshape, then cover dough balls and let rest for 15 minutes. Shape into bagels and place on sheet pan lined with parchment. If baking right away, cover and let rest for 45 minutes. Otherwise, cover and refrigerate right away.

Preheat oven to 450. Fill a large pot with water, add malt powder or baking powder and bring to a boil. Drop bagels a few at a time into the water, boil for 10 seconds, flip and boil for another 10 seconds. Remove to sheet pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating pans if necessary.

*(Inspired by Panera's Pink Ribbon Bagels, bagel recipe adapted from International Culinary Center's Artisanal Breads course class materials)