As Covid cuts its swath through the area this spring, Jennifer Balin pondered her next move.
A decade ago, the creative Westporter turned an industrial building just over the Norwalk line into a green, healthy, organic, sustainable breakfast-lunch spot/ private dining room/dessert place/lounge/cooking school.
Sugar & Olives did not advertise. But loyal, passionate customers made it a very popular spot.
Until the pandemic.
With time on her hands, Jennifer experimented with a sourdough starter. She made loaf after loaf of bread, giving them to friends and mailing them to family.
One summer day, she made sourdough bagels. She soon got requests for more. There were so many, she set up a text hotline: 203-816-0028. It’s been busy ever since.
Orders come in all week. (Click here for photos of the offerings: sesame, everything, caraway everything, smoked sea salt, poppy, plain). Pick-ups are Saturdays, 10 a.m. to noon, through an easy, safe window.
Jennifer also offers 5 types of cream cheese, sourdough doughnuts and cookies, and house-cured gravlax.
Sourdough bagels taste different than yeast bagels. Badass Bagels — that’s what she calls them — are not doughy. They’re baked so that the crust is crunchy. The inside is open, full of texture — great for a schmear.
Jennifer’s artisan sourdough bagel-making process takes a lot of time. It has also evolved since the summer.
She reworked the recipe to accommodate the large number of batches she makes each week. It took months of trial and error (and many “trial bagels”) to find the special mix of flours to blend.
The starter must be perfectly ripe and active too. That takes many days of feedings to accomplish. The room temperature, feeding diet, method and schedule must all be precise.
The dough is made from a levain. It takes a day to ripen. The actual dough making takes another whole day. The dough then rests in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
Bagel-making day starts at 5 a.m. with a hop in a hot-water bath (the dough, not Jennifer), a roll in the toppings (again, just the dough), then a quick oven bake.
The change of seasons — with its drop in temperature — caused Jennifer to change the time of day she fed, and the flour combinations she used.
Jennifer’s daughter Tallulah helps. Home on break from Villanova University, she loves to cook and bake. She’s an expert is dough shaping, frying and bagel order organization.
It’s all worth it — especially when Jennifer can enjoy her favorite bagel (sesame) hot out of the oven, with pimento and scallion cream cheese.
Most weeks, unfortunately, she does not even have one extra bagel to bring home. So she does a home bake now — just for family — every Monday.