Lifestyle & Culture

Weekend Reading, Part 1: King Solomon’s Table

Okay, King Solomon’s table probably did not showcase bagels. But we do—though you may want to wait until after Passover to indulge. And who better to skillfully blend scholarship and good eating than the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Joan Nathan, who must be considered the Queen of Jewish Cuisine. In King Solomon’s Table, published earlier this week by Alfred A. Knopf, Nathan explores the story of the Old Testament’s King Solomon, who was said to have sent emissaries to all parts of the ancient world to bring back cultural—and culinary—delights that have enriched all cultures for 3,000 years.  

Joan will appear at a ticketed event at the Philly Free Library in Philadelphia on Thursday, April 20. Another ticketed event, a dinner sponsored by DC’s Politics and Prose, will take place on Friday evening, April 21, at Buck’s Fishing & Camping; see details. That same afternoon she will do a cooking demo at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Saturday, April 23, finds Joan at Beth El Montgomery in Bethesda, Maryland, in the morning and, in the afternoon, at a tasting and signing with the Jewish Food Experience at Moti’s Market in Rockville, Maryland. 

IN NORTHERN California, East Coast transplants are producing crunchy, chewy, dense bagels on either side of the Bay. In Paris, the French are making bagels thanks to Disneyland’s arrival in Europe. And Israel, a bagel desert until forty years ago because of the lack of water, now has bagels everywhere.

Right near where I live in Washington, D.C., Mark Furstenberg and his avid young bakers at Bread Furst are making a Montreal-style bagel—thinner and smaller, but with salt and less sweetness. This “new” type of bagel is what bagels used to be like. The water may not be New York’s, but I argue that the bagels are just as good, and maybe even better.

After years of bagel baking and watching the wonderful evolution taking place today, I believe that you have to use high-gluten baking flour, and that after the dough rises, you should let the formed bagels rest in the refrigerator as long as possible to allow the flavor to really develop. I now boil my bagels in a malt syrup solution, which gives them a nice shine and helps the sesame and poppy seeds adhere.

The result: perfectly seasoned, brown, crusty, chewy bagels to serve with smoked salmon or gravlaks, red onion, and, of course, a ripe tomato.

New Old-Fashioned Bagels 

yield: 12 bagels

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

5 cups (675 grams) high-gluten bread flour, plus more for dusting

2 teaspoons salt, plus more for boiling

1 tablespoon plus 2 heaping tablespoons malt syrup or honey

½ cup (72.5 grams) poppy seeds

½ cup (75 grams) sesame seeds

  1. Put the yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer with 1-2/3 cups (395 ml) lukewarm water. Add the flour, 2 teaspoons of

    Author Joan Nathan. / Photo by Gabriela Herman.

    the salt, and the tablespoon of malt syrup or honey and mix on low speed for 5 minutes using the dough hook. The dough will be slightly sticky. Cover the dough and allow to rise at room temperature for about 2 hours.

  2. Punch the dough down and turn it onto a floured surface, lightly kneading in up to 1/2 cup more flour to keep it from sticking if necessary. Shape the dough into a rough rectangle about 1-1/2 inches thick, and about two times longer than it is wide. If you are having trouble forming the dough, stretch it, wait for the gluten to relax, and re-form.
  3. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with flour. Cut the dough into 12 pieces. Roll each into an 8- to 10-inch rope, tapering the dough at each end. Circle the dough around your hand, pinching the ends together and rolling under your palm once or twice to seal. Put the bagels on the prepared baking sheet. Cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 10 hours, or up to 24 hours.
  4. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and heat the oven to 450 degrees. If you have a baking stone or brick you use for baking, put it on a rack near the bottom of the oven; it will retain heat and produce a crisper bagel. Pour the poppy and sesame seeds into a bowl wider than the bagels and have ready a cooling rack positioned over the sink or another baking sheet (to drain the bagels). Cover a large wide pot of water and bring to a boil; once it reaches the boiling point, toss in about a tablespoon and a half of salt and the remaining 2 heaping tablespoons of malt syrup.
  5. Using your hands, carefully add just enough bagels into the boiling pot to cover the surface of the water, making sure that there are no bagels resting on top of one another. Boil for about 3 minutes, then use a spatula or wide slotted spoon to remove the bagels to drain on the cooling rack.
  6. Working very quickly, dip the bagels one by one into the poppy and sesame seeds. Arrange the bagels back on the floured baking sheet.
  7. Bake on the second-to-lowest shelf of the oven for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until they are golden brown.

Note In Washington, D.C., Frank Ruta, chef [recently] at the Grill Room at the Rosewood hotel, experimented with my recipe and added his own topping of sautéed onions that he puts on the bagels in his wood-burning oven before baking. You can also experiment with other seeds besides poppy and sesame, like nigella or caraway seeds, or even rosemary. Go to your favorite Indian or Asian market and come up with your own bagel toppings.

Malt syrup (Eden brand) is available at most grocery stores and online.

—Joan Nathan

Excerpted from King Solomon’s Table by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2017 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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