The kids looked at me silently with big eyes. I strapped them into their car seats and read them the riot act, right out there by Bartell Drugs. As I turned the key, I heard sidewalk murmurs from the passers-by and saw a 40-something squint through his rectangular glasses at the sky above my head. He shouted something but I didn’t listen. I couldn’t get away from the curb fast enough.
Thank god for Spot Bagels, I thought as I drove off.
We’d only just been to the Spot Bagel Bakery, on the corner of 45th in the heart of Wallingford. We paid the tattooed man and sank our teeth into the most luscious bagels available in Seattle. My daughter raced around on the tumbled stone patio chasing pigeons and shrieking in a way that only a pre-schooler can while my son watched her from his stroller with adoring eyes. I basked in a metal chair, face turned to the brilliant spring sunshine. We munched on orange poppy seed bagels, our favorite flavor. We were unbelievably happy.
And then I made a mistake. I took the kids across the street to the grocery store, the Formerly Food Giant, recently transformed into a QFC. Even now I wonder: what was I thinking?
I had failed to remember one of the basic tenets of parenthood according to Dave Barry: taking small children to the grocery store is like herding goats. The kids grabbed, they pushed, they wandered, they moaned, they stamped, they pleaded and they whined. I gathered up dinner items in a tizzy, paid and got out of there quickly. That blissful moment at Spot Bagel was even then receding into the past.
As I turned the car toward Meridian I felt a shadow form over my left shoulder, and instantly afterwards came a dull thunk and the smash of breaking glass. The groceries! That whole stinking bag of groceries was on top of the car – in my exasperation I’d forgotten all about it! In my mirror I watched the wreckage scatter and bounce and break as cars tried unsuccessfully to avoid it. It was all I could do to assemble the pieces for the dumpster. The kids gnawed their bagels and fell fast asleep.
All these years later, my children are teens who are more concerned with the latest offering from Starbucks or Urban Outfitters than with great bagels. Spot Bagel has long-since folded and that spring afternoon is only misty memory. QFC has been remodeled yet again. But the taste of those orange-poppyseed bagels from Spot Bagel lingers still – so pungent with orange as you bite into the chewy center, against the crackle of poppy seeds. This recipe is my tribute.
Orange Poppyseed Bagels
Makes 12 bagels
1 medium-sized organic sweet orange
¾ cups boiling water
1 Tablespoon of sugar
26 ounces (5¼ cups) of high-gluten bread flour
3 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup water at 100º
2 teaspoons of poppyseeds
1 egg + 1 teaspoon water
Poppyseeds to coat
2 jelly roll pans or sheet pans fitted with parchment paper
Water for boiling
Make the orange flavoring: Wash the orange well to remove any dirt, oil or wax from the skin. With a sharp knife, cut dime-sized pieces of peel that are mostly orange, taking as little white pith as possible. Slice the peel finely. Add the pieces of peel to ¾ cup boiling water, add the sugar and let steep for 15 minutes until lukewarm. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into the peel water, straining any seeds as necessary.
Make the dough: This is a good dough for a Kitchen Aid mixer if you have one. Put the orange water and peel, a cup of warm water, the flour, salt and yeast into the mixing bowl. Set the spiral dough hook and mix on setting 2 for 10 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds and mix for 2 more minutes. Remove to a lightly floured counter and knead for 5 minutes.
If mixing by hand, put the flour, salt and yeast together in a large bread bowl and mix with the handle of a wooden spoon. Pour the warm water, orange juice and peel into the dry ingredients and mix well to incorporate, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary to make a stiff dough. Knead the dough in the bowl for a minute and then let rest for 20 minutes. After the rest period, knead vigorously for 10 minutes on a lightly floured counter, adding 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds in the last few minutes.
Long rise: Put the dough into an unoiled bread bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. At 65º the dough will take 4 hours; at 75º this will take 3 hours.
Stretch the dough: Once the dough has risen, move it to a work counter and press as much air out of it as you can by creating an elongated dough cigar. Curl the edge of it in on itself along the length to create a length of dough with smooth skin.
Stretch the cigar into a snake of dough around 2 feet long, curling and squeezing out the air. Pinch together imperfections along the length, spiral the dough onto the counter, cover with the inverted bowl and let rest for 10 minutes.
Next, stretch the bagel dough out to nearly 4 feet long, smoothing it by rolling on the counter with your palms. If the dough resists stretching, do not force it – let it rest before continuing. Once you have made a 4-foot long snake, cover it and let rest for a further 10 minutes.
Shape the bagels: With a serrated knife, cut the dough snake into 2 equal lengths. On an unfloured counter, roll each piece with your palms until it is 3 feet long, and cut in half again. Now roll each of the 4 pieces out to nearly 2 feet long and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut each length into three, giving you a total of 12 pieces of dough about 8 inches long, most of which have 2 freshly cut ends.
Take a piece in both hands and stick the cut ends together with your thumbs and bent forefingers, wrapping the dough around your other fingers to keep the hole open. Pinch together as best you can (no worries here, the bond will hold if you don’t pull it back apart) and set each back onto the counter. Once you have shaped all 12 bagels, go back to the first and, holding the cut ends together with one hand, stretch the rest of the bagel with the fingers of your other hand into bracelets of dough.
Note: It takes some practice shaping bagels. The trick is not to hurry the steps as you stretch out the dough, or the gluten will act like a rubber band and contract. Easy does it!
Final rise: Put the bagels onto parchment-lined pans, stretching them out one last time if the hole threatens to close. Let rise at room temperature for 40 minutes, covered with a cloth.
Heat a conventional oven: Heat quarry tiles or a pizza stone on the center rack of your oven at 450º for at least 30 minutes. For more on this, see ‘Baking bread on quarry tiles’.
Make an assembly line: Boil 3 quarts of water. Have a 12-14 inch sauté or frying pan ready on the stove. Put a rack to one side with a pan under it to catch the excess egg and seeds. Mix the egg and water until frothy in a ramekin and have a brush handy. When the bagels have risen for 40 minutes, put the water into the sauté pan and keep at a boil.
Boil and coat the bagels: Put 3 bagels face down into the boiling water, for 30 seconds only. After 30 seconds (no more!), gently flip the bagels with a spatula and boil on the other side for a further 30 seconds. Remove to the rack. Repeat with the other bagels.
After they have cooled for a few minutes brush the boiled bagels with egg wash two times to ensure a good coating. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of poppy seed onto each bagel. Carefully move the bagels back to the parchment before baking.
Bake in a conventional oven: Bake the bagels (six at a time) on the parchment paper directly on the quarry tiles for 9 minutes at 425º, turn carefully around and bake for a further 9 minutes, until the bagels are brown and lovely. Let cool for an hour or more to mature, and then devour!
For baking in a woodfired oven: See Flaming Good Bagels.
Orange Poppy Seed Bagels are great toasted for breakfast or for a snack. And if you’ve got kids around, they’ll really like them too. But I take no responsibility if you try to take your kids to the grocery store after eating these bagels – there’s just no telling what might happen!