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Food and Film, an Oscar Celebration: Ben-Hur and Bagels

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The Oscar's, or Academy Awards, have become an international yearly tradition for film fans the world over. Millions of people look forward to the one day of the year when a gold plated little naked bald man takes over the media universe. Whether you love or hate the choices of the academy members, the fact-of-the-matter is, the Oscar's are a cause for celebration -- and what better way to celebrate than with food! This year we'll celebrate with some great food from the films which have taken home the Oscar for Best Picture.

Ben-Hur (Best Picture, 1959): Considered by many to be one of the greatest epics in Hollywood history, Ben-Hur is the perfect film example of the fusing of adventure, drama and history (albeit loosely based history). In 1959, when Ben-Hur won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, it also made history. Up until that point, no film had ever won eleven Oscars. This record has since been eclipsed by Titanic and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, each of which garnered twelve Oscars. Aside from Best Picture, Ben-Hur also won Oscars for Best Actor (Charlton Heston), Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith), Best Director (William Wyler), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Special Effects and, Best Music.

Since the premise of Ben-Hur is Jewish history, it only makes perfect sense that one of the foods associated with this film is bagels (though they are not eaten in the film). Real bagels, not those dough things you buy at the market in plastic bags.

One of the great culinary mysteries of life is, why do bagels make people happy? Watch people when they eat a bagel. They are smiling, there is a glimmer in their eyes and if they were in a bad mood when they took their first bite, they are not after the second bite. Simply put, the bagel is the international food of happiness.

When I was visiting Israel, I found out that there are as many recipes for bagels as there are Jewish families. It seems as if each family has their own little secret for these rotund morsels of doughy goodness. So the question is: Is there an original bagel? I'm sure some culinary historian can go back and find the original recipe for the first bagel but until that time, have fun making your own version. The bagel recipe I will share with you I received from an elderly lady who invited me into her kitchen when I was touring Israel. It is very basic (add whatever toppings you like) but she was emphatic about one of the steps -- you must boil the bagel before baking it!

So, what can you do with leftover bagels? If stored in an air-tight container (or a bagel keeper) they will retain decent moisture for about 2 days and you can simply toast them. You can also make bagel chips by slicing them into thin rounds, tossing them in some herb infused olive oil and baking them until crunchy. You can also make bagelcrumbs, just as you would breadcrumbs but with the bagels! Or if you're like me, there won't be any leftovers!

Ingredients for Bagels:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp. yeast
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 3 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. cold water

Steps:

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the milk, butter, sugar and salt. Stir until the butter has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to tepid.
  2. In a large bowl add the yeast and tepid milk mixture and whisk to combine. Let sit 5 minutes for the yeast to proof (foam).
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy. Stir the egg white into the yeast mixture.
  4. Stir the flour into the yeast mixture to form a dough.
  5. Remove the dough to a floured surface and knead about 5 minutes. WARNING: The dough will be rather stiff, very unlike a typical bread-like dough.
  6. Place the dough back into the bowl, cover and let rise 1 hour (it's actually resting as it won't rise that much).
  7. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat.
  8. Remove the dough from the bowl and cut off a piece big enough to form into a 7-inch rope. Bring the ends of the dough rope around to meet each other and pinch the ends to secure them. Yes, they'll look like an anorexic doughnut! Let the bagels rest 5 minutes.
  9. Place, in batches, the bagels into the boiling water for about 4 minutes per side.
  10. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  11. Place the boiled bagels onto the prepared baking sheet.
  12. In a small bowl whisk the egg yolk and the cold water. Brush the egg-wash onto the bagel and top with poppy seeds (or whatever topping you choose).
  13. Place in oven and bake until golden brown.
  14. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

The internationally bestselling cookbook from Chef Larry Edwards, "Edwardian Cooking: 80 Recipes Inspired by Downton Abbey's Elegant Meals," is now in it's third printing and available worldwide in both hard cover and e-book versions. The paperback version will be released March 4, 2014.

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