Remember how embarrassing it was in, say, the seventh grade when the object of your affections found out how you felt? Maybe the note that you passed to your best friend was diverted, and said object found out that you heart-ed him, and thought he was “really cute.” Perhaps you told a friend, who told a “trustworthy” friend who told everyone else in the seventh grade, including the apple of your eye.
Eventually, most of us learn to play things a little closer to the vest, and to wait until we are reasonably sure we have a chance before we make big gestures. If I want to get to know the group of fellow moms standing outside at pickup time, I restrain myself from interrupting their conversation about why Betsy is traumatized by Mrs. Friend’s teaching methods in order to yell “I’m here now, and I have far more interesting things to say than the rest of you put together!” It simply isn’t done. If you want to get the guy, or hang with the cool kids, at 12 or 45, you have to act like you don’t care if they like you. Until they do, at least a little.
I’m having a problem with that right now. There is a group of baking bloggers that call themselves “The Daring Bakers,” and once a month one of them sets a baking challenge and they must all attempt the recipe, and report back on the process and the finished product. I believe this group is by invitation only, and that it includes real ( gasp) pastry chefs and other professionals. I have no more business in their group than I have playing pickup basketball with Kobe Bryant, but I want to play with them in the worst way. There, I admitted it.
So, although am not a Daring Baker, just a sort of pretty okay ordinary home baker, I wanted to see if I could do their last challenge, which was to make bagels. They used this recipe, and so did I. In a nutshell, you make dough, let it rise, shape it into bagels, let it rise again briefly, cook the bagels in simmering water for about six minutes, top as you choose, and bake.
I did it, although there were tough moments along the way. I usually use my KitchenAid mixer for bread, but the Real Daring Bakers kneaded by hand, and so did I. Forever. Then, on the second rise, my bagels got so puffy again that their holes pretty much disappeared. It looked I’d fashioned several rows of pregnant bellies with XL belly buttons.
Nevertheless, I soldiered on. The recipe says that, when dropped into the simmering water bath the bagels should sink and then rise; mine floated gracefully on the top as soon as they hit water. It seemed like cheating to weight them with the collection of rocks and stones I keep on a shelf in the kitchen, so I took a deep breath and let them float. They were not pretty after their bath.
I made the three ways: plain, with sesame seeds and with coarse kosher salt. I baked them, and they came out looking, well, individualistic. That’s a nice euphemism for “funky.” They tasted great though, although it turned out that I had forgotten to add the salt called for in the recipe. We just salted our cream cheese a little, and were perfectly satisfied.
So, Daring Bakers: my bagels are lumpy. I forgot the salt. I am not worthy. If I keep trying, someday, maybe, I’ll be good enough to hang with the cool kids.