Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bagels: A students reflection on baking

My name is David Wolfe, and I approve this message.

Hi, my name is Allison Davis, and Dave was kind enough to invite me into his kitchen to make bagels this past Sunday. As Dave notes in his previous post, teaching is difficult. Baking with him worried me a little—he is very hard on himself, and I was afraid I’d ruin his efforts. So I’m extremely honored to write not only about our bagel-making experience, but about Dave the bread-making, Dead-listening legend.

Dave has posted about Daniel Leader’s bagel recipe from Bread Alone before on the blog. This time around, the only significant changes include replacing the whole wheat flour with whole rye flour, which has slightly less gluten, and skipping the cooling process between boiling and baking the bagels.  

I’ll leave it to Dave to note the technicalities of baking. I’d instead like to illustrate the passion and humor Dave brings to bread. As I weighed out the rye flour, Dave reiterated one of his favorite lessons: caraway and rye are different! Reader, put your right hand over your heart and repeat after Dave: “Most rye sourdough breads do not include caraway seeds. Let me repeat that: Most rye sourdough breads do not include caraway seeds.”

After the dough was mixed, Dave gathered it and put in a bowl to rise, pinched-side down, and stretched a sheet of plastic wrap drum-tight across the rim. When I asked Dave if the position of the dough was important, he said “No, it’s just how I do it. Mickey Mouse—like how people cross their legs differently when then do push-ups.” The term “Mickey Mouse” is not in Hearth Baked Tunes’ glossary, but in case you ever bake with him, it roughly means “an idiosyncrasy.” And as for the push-ups—Dave’s biceps are a sight to behold!

We affectionately called the half-dome of rising dough a “falsie,” a term coined by our friend (and the person who encouraged Dave to start this blog), Alex.

Dave’s house only had partial electricity at the time of baking, so we carried the dough two blocks down Neil Avenue to my house. I don’t remember what we talked about on our walk, but probably music. Dave has immaculate taste in music—two amazing songs that he introduced me to are Wild Mountain Home and Graceland.

At my house, we form the bagels into rings, allowed them to rise again, and then boiled them in honey-sweetened water. Montréal-style bagels are often boiled in honey-water—this process reminded me of the bagels I ate for breakfast during family trips to Quebec. The Jewish side of my family came from Poland to Quebec in the early 1900s. Polish Jews are credited with introducing bagels to America. And according to this fascinating wiki article on bagels, the word bagel is derived from the Yiddish take on the Middle High German word 'böugel,” which means “ring.”

After the bagels got their honey bath, we sprinkled them with za’atar, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds before baking them. When I asked Dave how long to set the timer for, he said I didn’t have to.

“But Dave, how will we know when to take them out of the oven?”
“I just know it. I smell it.”
The bagels were delicious. All of Dave’s bread is delicious and reflects Dave’s kindness, knowledge, and enthusiasm. Each time I’ve been lucky enough to receive a loaf of his bread, I think: anyone can buy a gift, but it is really special when someone gives you something infused with his own time, his own passion, and his own wisdom. Making bread is spiritual for Dave. While the bread was rising, Dave randomly exclaimed, “I think feeding people is the greatest thing in the world!”

Before I sign off, I’d like to list of few of my favorite lines from Dave’s blog, especially his love-letter to onions:

“This pot luck spectacular is not for several days, but this is a loaf that really deserves about 48 hours to sit and come to terms with its complete awesomeness.”

“I just had a thought: What would this bread be like if the berries soaked in a dark ale?”

“If you are afraid of commitment, this bread is not for you!”

“Eating is secondary to the giving.”

“Remember, it is not the destination, it is the ride. This bread will teach you a lot about fermentation; a little about life; and a whole lot about love!”

“He is like the Dalai Lama with knife skills and if you know me at all, you know that I love the Dalai Lama.”

Dave’s general love for Levon Helm—I was with during the last days of Levon’s life, and I can testify that The Band has no fan more passionate than Dave.

“I always find caramelizing onions to be a transformative and spiritual experience. I love watching the starches in the onions slowly being transformed into sugars. Watching as the white onion slowly turns into the color of wet autumn leaves is pure bliss. The smell that is released, is something that I associate with joy. I come from a long line of onion caramelizers. My Grammy Shanie's oatmeal stuffing combines an obscene amount onions which are caramelized in chicken fat for a very long time. Oatmeal and flour is then added with a bit of salt and chicken stock to create one of my favorite foods in the world. In the words of John Steinbeck "It is a roof over the stomach, a warm cloak against economic cold". The smell of those onions cooking just brings be back to my childhood, and it is a real joy. Onions are truly the pillar of my cuisine, I would be a lost cook without them. Onions are the roots of the tree of my soul.”

“That being said, there is NO WAY that I am going to be drinking skim milk anytime soon.  You might as well ask me to drink water flavored with White-Out.”

“I am here to tell you:  If you are buying bread because you are afraid to make your own, you are living a lie.”

”I am so glad I was able to bake with you and spend the afternoon with you guys. I try to stay hard on my self in terms of my bread, mainly because it pushes me forward, and helps me become better.

“when I arrived back into my apartment building I was satisfied the smell of caramelized rye berries. This is one of the greatest smells in the world. I am not a fan of scented candles but they need to a make a black pumpernickel cooking scented candle, because there is nothing quite like it.”

I am a huge fan of caraway, but I need to be sure that you do not associate caraway seeds with rye bread…We can thank the pathetic American store-brought bread for this misunderstanding.

“While I am a die hard Pig Pen fan mainly for his ability to sing like an African-American man, this show really sheds light on Keith as a player.”

“This bread sounds so intense! (Like camping....get it?)”

And the line that started it all on Oct 11, 2011: “Every one has a new years resolution, but this year I had a very different one. I decided that I would go through Jeffrey Hamelman's book Bread: A Bakers Book of Techniques and Recipes from cover to cover.”

Dave is one of the most passionate, caring, hilarious people I know, and making bagels with him was nothing short of spectacular. Thanks for reading—I know I’m looking forward to Dave’s next post already.

Bake on-


  1. Ahhh bagels were so delicious :D

  2. Replies
    1. This post brings out some of my finest baking memories! I laugh every time I re-read it!

  3. I love you both.
    There is more to say but that's it for the moment.

    Alliy-I didn't know your family went to Quebec first! My dad's family did too, my grandfather was born in Montreal and lived there til he was like 7 or so.