Month: July 2018

New England’s Only, Insanely Great Bagel

Exodus Bagels of JP, Boston's Best Bagel, Best of Boston Bagel, NY Style Bagels

BOSTON’S BEST AND ONLY REAL BAGELS ARE AT EXODUS BAGELS IN JAMAICA PLAIN MA.

After writing and rewriting this post about fifty times I have concluded that I must keep this about how incredible Exodus Bagels are and not anything about the despair in New England that preceded their arrival, and made “Exodus” the perfect name for the end of the bagel drought.  

THE BAGELS AT EXODUS are a revolution and a revelation. They are nothing short of perfect.  They are what bagels are supposed to be, and have honestly, not been for years. And yes, that’s my opinion, but it’s the opinion of a baker, a New Yorker and someone with at least forty years of experience in bagel shopping, toasting and eating.

WHAT MAKES THEM SO GREAT
The bagel itself fulfills the bagel’s original and highest purpose: to be a workout for your mouth and mouth muscles. THE BITE of an Exodus Bagel, toasted or straight, in all its regal crispy-ness is a delight: Crunchy, but not hard; chewy, but no pushover.  Satisfyingly made of the best ingredients.

AMAZINGLY they have something that no other Boston bagel has: flavor.  From the humble plain to the remarkable “Everywhere” bagel (seeds ‘n’ stuff inside) you can actually taste the bagel while you’re chewing it (which could be a while).   

THEIR BOUQUET (especially after adding Exodus’ Scallion Cream Cheese) is intoxicatingly salty; garlicky; oniony.  As is common at brunches in New York, one could swoon from the aroma of too many in one place; waiting on line in Exodus’ JP Store has made me weak in the knees several times.  

The bagels themselves are not just conceived correctly; they are deployed with the utmost care and excellence to create an “insanely great” bagel that is actually BETTER than any bagel from New York that I have had in recent memory.  YES I SAID BETTER.   Their pedigree announces itself: from their hand-made shapes; their size; their color(s); their seed to bagel ratio; and their sheen.  These bagels have been created by a dedicated staff of talented artisans.

I’m sorry to say that if you enter Exodus bagels, your commitment to abstinence from carbs will likely have to come to an end. Forever, as mine has as long as Adam Hirsch is producing bagels.

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Lemon Bar, Lemon Bar Recipe

My Magnolia Lemon Bars

Lemon Bar, Lemon Bar Recipe

Delicious lemon filling reminiscent of a Hostess Lemon Pie. 

It is no exaggeration to say that my father shaped me culinarily. My love of spicy, International foods comes from him, as does my insatiable curiosity for anything in a bottle with a foreign language on it.  (This has led to an unsustainable refrigerator door problem, but more on that later).

Many a morning there was a demonstration of this hot sauce, that salami, France’s most popular caper, and and perhaps the breakfast of champions.   He had an artisan’s palate but also a taste for the common thing,  like a taco, slice of pizza or a Hostess lemon pie.

As a family, we obsessed for decades over the Hostess Lemon Pie.  Why? Probably because of its inside, which contained a near-perfect lemon meringue filling, its flavor straddling the razor’s edge between the sweet and sour line and its outside: a sugar-glazed crunchy and soft pie crust that never crumbled.  (That was 35 years ago– I make no claims for today’s product).   Trying to recreate that taste and mouth-feel of the lemon filling (less so the crust) has been a goal of mine for quite a while.

This recipe makes lemon bars that come pretty close, although it’s up to you whether you want to take some sugar out or add some lemon for extra tartness.  In my last attempt, I used a combination of bottled organic lemon juice and fresh squeezed.  You must have a lemon squeezer to even attempt this. I recommend this one because years of fishing out bitter lemon pits has taught me it’s a best practice.

After looking through about two dozen recipes, many in really old cookbooks, I stopped at the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. Since I have daughter named Magnolia and she is my junior sous chef, it seemed appropriate to appropriate their recipe. I misread the recipe though and made the crust they envisioned for a jelly roll pan in my 9 x 13 pan.  So, too much crust (as the photo above reveals).  I want more lemon filling than crust, so I have conveniently halved their recipe here.  (For pop-tart like crusts, you can try the hand pie recipe)

Also, I found that I needed not only more lemon but some vanilla and salt to add depth of flavor to the bars; I want the filling to delight, not just amuse you.

Crust

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4  tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Lemon

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • ~6 teaspoons lemon zest

Directions

It’s simple: make the crust and cook it.  Make the filling while the crust is cooling and add it.  Then bake everything together.  Then try not to eat it while you’re waiting for it to cool.  You can’t do it.

  • Preheat the over to 350 degrees.
  • Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper; spray with PAM.
  • Combine crust ingredients and when combined, press down with wax paper/cling wrap or a sprayed-with-pam spatula to form crust of consistent height.
  • Bake for about 13 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from oven and begin working on filling.
  • Beat all “Lemon” ingredients together in the bowl of an electric mixer.  When fully incorporated, pour over baked crust.  (There is another lemon filling like pudding that involves stovetop hijinks but this isn’t it).
  • Bake new combined crust and lemon filling at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until filling is set.
  • Let cool in pan, and then if there’s any left, chill for 30 minutes.
  • Sift powdered sugar over remains before serving.

Blueberry Muffins…et tu?

Blueberry muffins with a sugar top

Summer in Massachusetts means berries (it means other things but this is a baking blog). Because strawberries aren’t great for casual baking (except for Strawberry Rhubarb pie, which is how all of this got started) it’s all about Blueberries.  Blueberry Muffins are so common that I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t excited about them.  Your standard blueberry muffin at a Starbucks, Panera, etc. is basically a mechanism for the delivery of sugar.   Even if the muffin (read: cake) is good, the blueberries themselves whether fresh or frozen, have all the taste profile of a winter tomato.   Which is to say they are nothing but blue in color, gel in texture and zip in flavor.   Some bakers avoid this by using frozen blueberries (picked at peak season) or wild Maine blueberries but it rarely makes an appreciable difference.   For this reason if I have to eat a muffin I usually go for the corn or coffee cake.

But it’s July and there are incredible blueberries around and blueberry pie isn’t my favorite and blueberry pancakes are great but labor-intensive and a caloric car-crash (especially when you add the bacon and maple syrup) so it’s blueberry muffins.  It’s a regional obligation.   But how to avoid the problems of blueberry muffins of the past?  Especially perhaps the New England legend of Jordan Marsh?  The answer was found in another recipe, by Sally’s Baking Addiction.  Starting with King Arthur’s Department Store recipe, I found ways to shore up its shortcomings with Sally’s.    Neither of them in my opinion, used enough sugar (it’s more than a cup, but I’ll leave that to you– probably 1 and 1/4 cups) and each suggested milk where I think buttermilk is better.  Of course I always use a tablespoon of vanilla where they call for a teaspoon and you can probably always go north on the salt.  Lastly, I felt that lemon zest is a great addition to anything that might be ‘cloyingly’ sweet and a little bit of nutmeg should nearly always accompany cinnamon.

Three last things:

  1. CRISPY TOPS ARE AWESOME. Sally’s Baking Addiction had the world-rocking suggestion to bake the muffins at a higher temperature for a short period of time— this has a ‘searing’ effect, like in cooking meat.  That plus the course sugar result in a crispy top– not the soft top that years of sprinkling a sugar-cinnamon topping have resulted in.
  2. TOSS YOUR BERRIES. I also made note that in an interview with Jordan Marsh’s muffin man WCVB anchor Maria Stephanos reported that you must toss the blueberries in flour so they don’t sink to the bottom.  Her piece here.
  3. DON’T OVERMIX. Don’t overmix ever but especially after you’ve combined wet and dry ingredients and then you go to fold in the blueberries.  Don’t overmix!

INGREDIENTS

 

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1-1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/2-3 cups blueberries (washed, dried and tossed thoroughly in flour)
  • Sparkling sugar for topping  (sparkling sugar is coarse and different from other sugars you might use in cooking– it looks like kosher salt.  I have a rock-vanilla sugar and several colors that I picked up on sale but most commonly King Arthur and other fine baking supply companies have white coarse sugar that is excellent).

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin and line the tin with papers.
  2. Beat together the oil and sugar until well combined.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time.  
  4. Add the vanilla.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt.
  6. Combine wet and dry ingredients; fold in the blueberries. DON’T OVERMIX.
  7. Scoop the batter into the tins; knock the muffin pan to eliminate air pockets.
  8. Sprinkle sparkling sugar on top.  Use a lot, it’s worth it.
  9. Bake the muffins for 5 minutes at 425; then for 25 minutes at at 375, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean (of batter, it almost certainly will be blue).
  10. Remove the muffins from the oven, and let them cool for five minutes in the tin.
  11. Yield: 12 muffins.