Thursday, March 22, 2012
Monterey’s Steve Souza started baking bagels out of a specific kind of anger.
About five years ago, he received a bread maker from a friend after expressing interest in yeasts and crusts. But he had trouble slicing the final product, especially when in a hurry getting ready for work.
Using his flimsy and dull kitchen knife, he grew more and more grumpy as his slices emerged crooked, and bread chunks and crumbs collected around his kitchen. The guy takes his slicing seriously (though he didn’t invest in a new knife). Instead he gave up and walked to Plume’s Coffee for a bagel. There, he realized a bagel’s slicing demands are more manageable.
“Bagels are bread and it’s one slice!” he says. “I get really excited when I start talking about bagels.”
Today Souza, who crunches numbers by day as a financial analyst, has grown into a prolific bagel maker versed in flavors that number more than 50. He makes bagels in his small apartment and often greets acquaintances on the street in downtown Monterey with a homemade bagel pulled from his pocket.
“I am bigger than the loaf!” he says.
People like his dentist, who gets a bagel every visit, and Erica Fox, a fellow member of the Kelp Krawlers open water swim group, are glad he didn’t just invest in a better bread knife.
“He makes some exceptional bagels,” Fox says. “I wasn’t totally into bagels before, but now I am.”
Souza’s first flavor was sun-dried tomato and mozzarella. Now it’s everything from “the Greek,” with hummus and feta cheese, to banana-bread beer.
“I get inspiration walking down the potato chip aisle,” he says. “Teriyaki basil? That could be a bagel flavor!”
Or chocolate chip. Or habañero lime.
“It’s a chemistry project,” he says. “Ingredients deal with moisture differently and you play around with recipes and find out what tastes good.” He presents bean and cheese as an example.
“I basically took the fixings for a burrito – refried beans, cheddar cheese and chile verde – and made it into a flavor as a joke, but it tasted good.”
Other flavors come from stranger places.
“I brought some bagels to a family barbecue and gave one to a homeless woman,” he says. “She rolled over and blurted, ‘Barbecued bacon!’ and then rolled back over.” After the Occupy UC Davis pepper spray incident, he blended different peppers – a combination of red pepper, yellow pepper, chili powder, jalapeño powder, red chili and cayenne, plus a little cheddar cheese to hold it all together – and the “Crowd Control” bagel was born. He’s currently incubating ideas for “Ragin’ Cajun” and peanut-butter-and-jelly-bean tastes.
“I just want to try,” he says. “If you can eat it, I want to make it into a bagel.”
For now, it is a hobby, but Souza wants to start a business: “Most people keep photos of their kids on their phones. I have photos of bagels.”
Visit “Cafe Steve” on Facebook for more information.
Cook Nook | Steve Souza identifies bagel skills.
“Utilizing high-quality bread flour is the best. All-purpose flour can be used in a pinch, but it falls short in taste and character.”
“Non-stick baking pans are a must. The residual moisture from boiling will cause the bagels to stick to your baking pan. Otherwise, you will end up getting a chisel from the garage to remove them from the pan. I sprinkle a pinch of flour on the pan for peace of mind.”
“Use a large bowl for boiling the bagels. This cuts down on the amount of time you spend during the process.”
“You gotta have an oven mitt that can handle the heat. You don’t need to drop the pan of bagels on the floor because you have inferior tools. That would be so disappointing after two hours of work, unless you like to feed the ducks at the park.”
“Patience and persistence are key. It took me several months to get the bagels to come out attractively. It takes practice to create a perfectly round bagel. It’s all in the wrist. Each recipe has different moisture content and will develop slightly differently. The bagels may not bake as well either. Essentially, everything should be measured out properly straight from the get-go. This is where practice comes in handy.”
“A few hungry friends to help you with the extras. Trust me, no one will ever turn away free fresh bread!”