Tuesday, January 20, 2009
How does working from 5AM 'till 10PM, seven days a week, in a remote location, for an entire summer sound? Ten years ago to me, it sounded like a pretty good plan…
Here’s a bit more history for you.
Flashback to 1999 in Northern British Columbia. I’m 19, no serious plans for the summer except slinging food in the mediocre bistro where I am presently employed, wishing to get out of my small town and see some of the world.
I get a phone call from George (same George as in this post but he had since moved to Vancouver) and he has a proposal.
“How would you like to be my sous-chef at a fly-in fishing resort on the BC coast for the summer? Financially, it’s very attractive.”
“What’s the catch?” I ask.
“Well, let's see, the workload is extremely heavy, there is no contact with the outside world except snail mail once in a while, and once you’re in, that’s it, you can’t change your mind.”
“Hmm, sounds like fun." I say. "I can be ready in a few weeks”.
And that’s how I found myself on a small floating fishing lodge in a quiet inlet on the Pacific Ocean, cooking three square meals a day for 35 people, and having some of the best adventures of my teenage years. Although the working hours were long and the nights very short, the benefits almost balanced out the hardships: whale watching, crabbing and fishing, sandy beaches and the sheer beauty of British Columbia's rugged coastline in my backyard.
Life there revolved around one thing: the King Salmon. Clients didn’t pay the big bucks to fly in on a little Otter float plane just to taste my cooking (although luckily for them, it was a big bonus) but for the thrill of reeling in one of these beautiful fish. While they took home anything they caught, we always had plenty of fresh-caught salmon on hand for eating that the staff reeled in. George constructed a smoker and smoked huge fillets of the scarlet fish while I baked the best thing to complement smoked salmon: bagels.
When the guests came in for lunch at 11:30, ravenous from a morning's work in the fresh sea air, they were treated to a decadent lunch of piping hot bagels, home-smoked salmon and the fixings.
No wonder the staff said that that summer had the best food they had ever experienced--probably no one else put the love into their cooking that George and I did, and everyone knows that's what makes the difference!
I made enough money in that eleven week job posting to take the next half-year off and travel and that's just what I did. I bought my first camera-a Pentax- and a one way ticket to....but wait, that is another chapter entirely and not for this post.
My family has been making these bagels for as long as I can remember and to me they are the very best I have ever tasted. While I know they might not be the definition of 'the perfect bagel', to me they are just that, and a whole lot more because I grew up eating them. My boys already love them, so things are going to stay this way for at least another generation.
Aimée's Family Bagel Recipe
(adapted from The Breads of France by Bernard Clayton Jr.)
Makes 16 large bagels
3 Cups warm water
4 Tbsps yeast
1/4 cup Sugar
2 Tbsps Salt
7 Cups All-Purpose Flour (approx)
Toppings to taste:
diced onions, poppy, sesame or caraway seeds, etc...
2 quarts water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Egg white
1 Tbsp water
In a mixing bowl, pour water and yeast. Stir to dissolve, and leave for 2-3 minutes until yeast is creamy. Stir in sugar and salt. Add 4 cups of flour, and beat at low speed for 1 minute, then turn to high for 3 minutes. Stop mixer and add balance of flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to make a thick batter. When it becomes difficult to stir, remove from bowl and work with your hands on the counter. Knead dough for about 8 minutes. Dough should be firm - add more flour if sticky.
Return dough to clean, greased bowl. Cover it tightly with plastic film and allow to rise for 1 hour. During the rising period, prepare water in a large 4-1/2 litre pot. Bring to a boil, and add sugar (the sugar will give the bagels a nice sheen when the come out of the water). Cover and leave simmer on low. Grease 2 baking sheets with oil and sprinkle generously with cornmeal. Whisk together water and egg white for glaze and set aside. Prepare toppings of choice and reserve.
Preheat oven to 450F.
Turn dough onto work surface and punch down. With a sharp knife, divide the dough into 16 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball as shown on video above. Allow to rest for 3-4 minutes.
With your thumb, press deep into the center of the ball, and tear open a hole with the fingers. Watch the video above for a complete demonstration on the shaping. Place formed bagels together on the work surface, cover with a towel and leave until dough is slightly raised - about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring your water to a low boil. Gently lift bagels, one at a time, and lower into the hot water. Do not do more than 2 or 3 at a time. Cook for about 30 seconds, then flip them over in the water using a slotted spoon, and cook for another 15 seconds. Lift out with the slotted spoon, and place on your baking sheet. Repeat with all the bagels. Brush with egg glaze and dress them up with the topping of your choice and a sprinkling of coarse salt before popping them in the oven.
Bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Keep an eye on them so that the bottoms don't burn. Remove from oven, cool on a rack and enjoy!
These bagels freeze beautifully and toast up well for a perfect breakfast.