True job satisfaction, according to Dan Pink, comes from autonomy, mastery and purpose according, and I agree. In search of satisfaction, I therefore set out to do something I’d never done before. Bake bagels for brunch.

I used to live in the same road as one of the great remaining bagel bakeries in East London, and I’d studied how to make “proper” bagels in theory and how to eat them in practice. Now I was ready to make them. But which recipe? In the end I plumped for one from a source with a truly awesome reputation, St. Viateur in Montreal. There was a recipe and a long discussion over at The Fresh Loaf; how hard could it be?

Pretty hard, at least as long as I kept following instructions. One delight was the dough. I hadn’t made a dough that needed a good seeing to in ages. It’s all been gentle folding and stretching around these parts for far too long. The bagel dough was very dry, just 46% (not counting the liquid in the egg) once I’d decided that describing 434 grams of water as 460 ml was a mistake and plumped for the larger figure. As I kneaded it though it slowly developed that silky smooth elastic texture that takes on a life of its own, and it was fun to have a dough like that under my hands again.

Shaping, however, was a nightmare. Most advice said to roll the dough into strips, wrap the strips around your hand and then roll the ends together on the bench to seal them. This resulted in some of the most malformed objects I have ever made. Still, I thought maybe my mutants would somehow resonate with canonical bagels down the ages and develop the correct morphology.

They didn’t. Furthermore, because I had elected to refrigerate the bagels overnight, they were pretty tightly stuck to the baking parchment on which I had placed them. Ever hopeful, I boiled and baked a first batch, during which it became clear that no matter how hopeful, monsters they would remain.

Plan B: I reformed the remaining bagels using the “other” method. Roll the dough into a small ball, punch a hole through it with a finger, let it rest for a few minutes and then gently enlarge the hole. And that works perfectly, for me, which means it is my sad duty to disagree for the first time with Susan the home bakery goddess. She says:

There are two schools of thought regarding bagel shaping. As with boxers vs. briefs, Mac vs. Windows, or over-the-roll vs. under-the-roll, people seem to fall uncompromisingly into one camp or another. Yes, I have tried the punch-a-hole-in-a-ball-of-dough-and-stretch-it-out method, but the roll-the-ends-of-the-snake-together method is far superior. It just is.

Oh no it isn’t.

The rest was plain sailing. My autonomous decision to reshape, indicating clear mastery of a new aspect of my craft, with the ultimate purpose of feeding friends, was truly satisfying. And our guests agreed that these were “the best bagels in Rome,” which isn’t actually saying much as I’m not aware of any other bagels in Rome. Oh, and in addition to all the fun of actually making and eating the little darlings, we made a video too. Enjoy!

The Great Bagel Bake from Jeremy Cherfas on Vimeo.

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