Ok, so let me start right off with a full disclosure: Not-So-Great is more like it. At least that was the general consensus of this last round; said consensus consisting of two friends, both of whom gave my latest trial a quick & painful two-thumbs down.
I was disheartened and disappointed. But not dissuaded. I just know that I’m onto something…
The way I see it that it’s the third phase in my ongoing experimentation. For some, the world is their oyster; for me, the world is currently my BageLaboratory.
And so, let me rewind to a couple of months ago when I dove into phase two. I was on the other side of the world, in Montreal, uncontested global headquarters of the best bagels in the world (if you’re a New Yorker, I apologize for raising your wrath, but c’mon!)
Off to the bagel bakery I went, carrying little baggies into which I’d stored my secret ingredients. Only when I arrived at the undisclosed location did I realize that I’d imprecisely labeled the bags, leaving me slightly miffed and puzzled about the now-unrecognizable contents therein. But never mind that, I carried on.
Max the Manager and Kanga the Baker invited me into their bagel-making lair with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism. Perhaps my arrival before dawn helped quash their outright nixing of the idea, and imbued them with a sense of sympathy and readiness to assist.
As if we were about to embark on an adventurous caper – all while Max continued to serve bleary-eyed coffee-hungry customers – Kanga and I huddled, schemed and planned. Using an oversized butcher’s knife (or one that looked just as intimidating), he sliced off a long chunk of dough.. and I went to work while Kanga rolled dough and supervised my sophomoric attempts.
Once my clothes were thoroughly covered with doughy dust and my hands reeking of smells foreign to that bakery (but not , I suppose to the bakers themselves), I was done. Kanga loaded the bagels – looking oddly more like hot cross buns – onto the long paddle and slid them into the fire-burning brick oven. (They remind me of my dragon-boating days, those paddles, aw shucks, how I miss them…)
In the end, the supposed bagels looked nothing like bagels (except, perhaps, for the microscopic holes that were barely distinguishable in the center of two rolls). And, except for one tropical species that turned out surprisingly well, on the whole I confess they were duds. But boy was I grateful to the baker-men…
The family duly and supportively bit into little morsels, then offered wan smiles and the metaphorical pat on my back. Better luck next time was the underlying message. And so, the experiment went dormant in Montreal (I’ll do better for/with Kanga next time!) while I regrouped, debriefed and assessed the damage.
It was time to head for other shores, other flavors, other heating elements. I thought I might fare better with bagels in Bali. Ha. Famous last thoughts.
And so it was that I found myself in a kitchen from where two chefs are known to churn out one gastronomic feast after another. Even breakfasts are finger-licking delicious. Imagine my timidity in requesting that they conspire to assist me and my hobbling experiment in bagel-making. But agree they did. And off went Made to buy the ingredients.
So once where I had Max and Kanga… here I was beholden to Made (pron. Mah-day) and Widi (pron. Wee-Dee, who isn’t kitchen staff but loves to get his hands dirty when given the chance), who rolled up their sleeves and did their utmost to humor me. Especially when I pulled out two recipes that slightly differed; Made anticipated problems from the outset, but I persevered.
Never mind that their unilingual exchanges (in Basa Bali no less, the one language that I don’t understand) served only to render me even more self-conscious about my clearly pathetic bagel-baking skills. But my exuberance and willingness to mess up over and over again, seemed to win them over. Ok, maybe not win them over, but at least keep them from running to the rice fields.
Made made many corrections. Widi gently tried urging me to use less egg, modify here and there. Still, I persevered. (Read: stood my ground).
But of course they were right. And of course I ought to have yielded to Made’s professional wisdom. But the recipes had worked for the authors/paperback cooks, so why not for me? Then again, how was I possibly deserving of their continued patience and help? Makasih Made, Matur Susksma Widi.
Turns out that there are a whole host of reasons why not for me: For one there’s the wok instead of the pot, and the spatula instead of a slotted spoon. Then, of course, no brick oven in sight. But the biggy, no doubt, is this: Ingredients.
Differences abound; flour is different here, water is different here, sugar, ovens, eggs and everything is different here. Then go ahead and introduce even more new elements into a recipe – most of which have not been tried in such combinations, hence will naturally require adjustments; a recipe that you’re so utterly remote from replicating to a “T” and you inevitably start asking yourself.. What Was I Thinking??
You’d think I was Desperately Seeking Disaster.
I assure you that my days of bagel-experimenting are nowhere near over. Even though I’m light years away from clinching the recipe, I have that quietly niggling feeling that I mustn’t give up, that I need to tweak, study and adjust some more – and, yes, fail with enthusiasm yet again – because I seem to be onto something. Others seem to think so too.
And so, as I count my doughy blessings, and continue to express thanks for all the crazy hands-on help, the BageLaboratory paddles (or spatulas) still lie in wait… ;)