50 Years Ago Sandy Koufax Taught Jonah's Dad How to Make Bagels (Here's the Recipe)

Worthy of your last packet of dry active yeast.
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Rose Gold Cooling Rack (similar here)

Rose Gold Cooling Rack (similar here)

Family legend has it that Jonah's dad Arthur met Sandy Koufax, the world-famous baseball player, at a gas station in Maine in the early '70s. He recognized Sandy the moment he saw him—he came from a baseball-loving family (his mother is the one who threw out the first pitch for the Brewers last season for her hundredth birthday!) and the entire town had been talking about Sandy, their newest resident. Everyone had been told not to bother the "celebrity" so they didn't make him feel awkward, but Arthur approached Sandy anyways to make friendly gas station banter. 

Sandy immediately lit up and said, "You're the first person in this town to talk to me!" He had been surprised that, for a town with a reputation for being so friendly, everyone seemed to be going out of their way to ignore him. After determining they were two of the few Jewish men in Maine at the time, they met again to make bagels from Sandy's family recipe, which he passed along to Arthur. It's been decades since Arthur moved from Maine, shuttering the commune he co-founded there, but Sandy's recipe has found its way into countless kitchens since, with some small tweaks along the way.

When Jonah and I were deciding how to spend our final packet of dry active yeast (before finding more online!), bagels felt like the perfect thing. We'd been put off from making them for years, discouraged by the long proofing process and 24 hours of refrigeration, but one of the few joys that's come from sheltering in place has been the seemingly unlimited time to cook the things that have scared us (and then stress-eat the fruits of our labor). Here's how to bring Sandy Koufax's bagels to your own kitchen:

(Mostly) Sandy Koufax's Bagels

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
5 cups bread flour, or unbleached white (we used half of each)
3 tablespoons salt, divided
1 tablespoon diastatic malt powder*
2 tablespoons baking soda
One egg, beaten
1/4 cup poppyseeds (we mixed and matched with harissa, Maldon, and furikake)

Method:

1. Put the yeast in a bowl of standing mixer. Pour 1 2/3 cups warm water into the bowl and wait 5 minutes for the yeast to activate. It will appear muddy and or bubbly. Add the flour, 1 tablespoon salt and malt powder. Mix at low speed for 5 minutes with the mixer’s dough hook. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise about 2 to 3 hours at room temperature. 

2. On a floured surface punch the dough down and shape it into a rectangle about an inch and a half thick and about twice as long as it is wide. You may need to stretch the dough past the size you need and let it relax into the right proportions. 

3. Cut dough into ten pieces around 3 ounces each. Roll each into an 8-inch long rope. The ends of each rope should be tapered. Wrap the dough around your hand, and pinch the ends together, and roll under the palm of your hand to seal the ends better. Place the bagels on a parchment or other non-stick making sheet. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and put into fridge for between 10 to 24 hours. 

4. Preheat oven to 425° F. If you have a baking stone or brick put these near the bottom. These can make the bagels crisper by retaining the heat. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add remaining salt and baking soda. Carefully place only enough bagels in the water to cover the surface. No bagels should lie on top of another. Float them on one side for a minute and flip them for another minute or two. [Jonah and I found that they initially sank, but floated to the surface after a few seconds.] This is killing the yeast. Remove them and drain them on a cooling rack. Paint the egg onto the tops of the bagels, and dip them into a bowl with the seeds, or not if you want plain bagels. The seed bowls should be wider than the bagels. Place them back on the baking sheet/ pan with the seedy side down. 

5. Bake on the second highest shelf of the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Then flip the bagels and rotate the pan, and bake for another 8 minutes or till they are golden brown and look like bagels. I usually have one of two “sinkers”, that didn’t rise much and is much tougher to chew. Eat these early. They taste great but don’t show well!

*You can make these without the malt powder if you don’t have it. It helps them rise and produces more air bubbles in the dough.

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Mosser Glass Salad Plates, Anthropologie Sardine Plates

Mosser Glass Salad Plates, Anthropologie Sardine Plates

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A Note from Arthur: This recipe is exactly what I got from Sandy Koufax, but without the malt powder. I added that. It was virtually identical to one I saw a number of years ago in the NY Times. There are more advanced and complex ways to make bagels. This seems to be the easiest. There are more perfect temperature controlled steps with the dough in those recipes. I’ve never used those. This one takes long enough! So when these come out of the oven it’s hard to resist eating half of them in the first 20 minutes. They freeze well. Cut them in half first if you plan to freeze them as you might want to just toast one half.