You master the leaven; time to try bagels, bialys and dried lox at home

Cover of “Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish” by Cathy Barrow.Document/Linda Xiao

Cathy Barrow grew up in Toledo, Ohio, on bagels her grandmother Bea bought at Brookline, where she lived, packed in a large hatbox and carried on planes when visiting family in the Midwest. As an adult, because of those warm memories, Barrow decided to start making his own. “Bagels, Schmears and a nice piece of fish: a whole brunch of recipes to make at home” is the result of years of experiments on bagels. This evolved into making traditional creamy spreads for chewy rounds, then salted and smoked fish, also essential on a classic Jewish charcuterie board. Barrow is a talented storyteller and an exceptionally good recipe writer whose formulas work (in that regard, she’s in a very small club, even among best-selling authors).

There are plenty of good bagel shops in the Boston area, so I never wanted to make my own, but bialys, lost treasures of the Jewish table, are hard to come by. These yeast discs are filled with sautéed onions and poppy seeds. Turns out they’re pretty easy to make, shape, and bake, best on a pizza stone, and the results are awesome. To get the right texture and shiny exterior for bagels, Barrow’s secret is to mix a little gluten booster, called Vital Wheat Gluten, with all-purpose flour (you can buy it at Elmendorf Baking Supplies at Cambridge). I made bialys successfully without it – they were great – but in another batch, where I used the gluten boost, the texture was remarkably good.

Bialys photo from “Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish” by Cathy Barrow.Document/Linda Xiao

All of Barrow’s recipes yield small amounts (six bialys, six bagels), so you don’t find yourself shaping a dozen pieces of dough and then filling your freezer with baked goods. They’re supposed to eat right away, with a schmear – cheese with chives or shallots are two choices – and a slice or two of fish. The recipe for homemade smoked salmon, for which you start with a piece of salmon and refrigerate it covered in salt and sugar (the only three ingredients), is spectacular. Lox is not smoked fish. It’s more like gravlax, which is more herbarium. The only thing you need for the lox is time: two to three days. You flip the fish every 24 hours, and like magic, you get silky, smooth, brightly colored fish. Making lox felt like magic; he healed exactly as Barrow said he would. The hardest part was slicing thinly enough “to read the newspaper through the slice”, according to the author’s grandfather. Just follow its instructions.

Barrow also offers salad recipes, such as smoked whitefish, and egg salad tossed with pickle relish, chives, sour cream, and Balaboosta mayonnaise (balaboosta is a Yiddish term for a good housewife). Pictures by Linda Xiao are simple and beautiful, although I started to obsess over my bialys looking like the one on the page. But no bialy looks like another. Relax, I tell myself. They are not going to be hung in a gallery. They go in your belly, hot, with or without a schmear.

“Bagels, Schmears and a nice piece of fish: a whole brunch of recipes to make at home”, by Cathy Barrow, Chronicle Books ($24.95).

Photo of homemade smoked salmon from “Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish” by Cathy Barrow.Document/Linda Xiao

Sheryl Julian can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.

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