When I read that this month’s challenge was to make bagels, I was very excited – I’d never tasted the famous bread and what a nice chance to do so!
I loved the dough: delicious to be kneaded and rises like no other. I also had loads of fun with the whole “making of”… I just felt sad about the look of the bagels – they’re so ugly, the poor things. Wrinkled like a Shar-Pei. :(
Anyway, I thought the flavor was really good – even though I haven’t tasted a real bagel to compare – and I’ll try to make them again, hoping to get shiny and smooth bagels as it should be.
Liked this sort of Seinfeld post? Check the other Daring Bakers’ blogs – I’m sure you’ll find some pretty good bagels there!
840-1,120g (6-8 cups) bread (high-gluten) flour
4 tablespoons dry baking yeast
6 tablespoons granulated white sugar or light honey (clover honey is good)
2 teaspoons salt
720ml (3 cups) hot water
a bit of vegetable oil
3.8 liters (1 gallon) water
3-5 tablespoons malt syrup or sugar
a few handfuls of cornmeal
First, pour three cups of hot water into the mixing bowl. The water should be hot, but not so hot that you can't bear to put your fingers in it for several seconds at a time. Add the sugar or honey and stir it with your fingers (a good way to make sure the water is not too hot) or with a wire whisk to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water, and stir to dissolve.
Wait about ten minutes for the yeast to begin to revive and grow. You will know that the yeast is okay if it begins to foam and exude a sweetish, slightly beery smell.
At this point, add about 420g (3 cups) of flour as well as the 2 teaspoons of salt to the water and yeast and begin mixing it in – use your hands or a wooden spoon; I prefer the latter.
When you have incorporated the first three cups of flour, the dough should begin to become thick-ish. Add more flour, a half-cup or so at a time, and mix each addition thoroughly before adding more flour. As the dough gets thicker, add less and less flour at a time. Soon you will begin to knead it by hand – do it in the bowl, in case it’s big enough, or on a clean and lightly floured countertop.
Add bits of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Soon you should have a nice stiff dough. It will be quite elastic, but heavy and stiffer than a normal bread dough. Do not make it too dry, however... it should still give easily and stretch easily without tearing.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with one of your clean kitchen towels, dampened somewhat by getting it wet and then wringing it out thoroughly. If you swish the dough around in the bowl, you can get the whole ball of dough covered with a very thin film of oil, which will keep it from drying out.
Place the bowl with the dough in it in a dry, warm (but not hot) place, free from drafts – I always use my microwave oven for this step when I make bread or pizza dough. Allow it to rise until doubled in volume – I let it rise for 1 hour and it was huge when I took it out of the oven.
While the dough is rising, fill a stockpot with about the water and set it on the fire to boil. When it reaches a boil, add the malt syrup or sugar and reduce the heat so that the water just barely simmers; the surface of the water should hardly move.
Once the dough has risen, turn it onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide immediately into as many hunks as you want to make bagels. For this recipe, you will probably end up with about 15 bagels, so you will divide the dough into 15 roughly even-sized hunks. Begin forming the bagels. There are two schools of thought on this. One method of bagel formation involves shaping the dough into a rough sphere, then poking a hole through the middle with a finger and then pulling at the dough around the hole to make the bagel – this is how I did it.
The other method involves making a long cylindrical "snake" of dough and wrapping it around your hand into a loop and mashing the ends together. Whatever you like to do is fine. DO NOT, however, give in to the temptation of using a doughnut or cookie cutter to shape your bagels. Just like snowflakes, no two genuine bagels are exactly alike.
Begin to preheat the oven to 205ºC/400ºF.
Once the bagels are formed, let them sit for about 10 minutes. They will begin to rise slightly. Ideally, they will rise by about one-fourth volume... a technique called "half-proofing" the dough. At the end of the half-proofing, drop the bagels into the simmering water one by one. You don't want to crowd them, and so there should only be two or three bagels simmering at any given time. The bagels should sink first, then gracefully float to the top of the simmering water. If they float, it's not a big deal, but it does mean that you'll have a somewhat more bready (and less bagely) texture – that’s what happened to me.
Let the bagel simmer for about three minutes, then turn them over with a skimmer or a slotted spoon. Simmer another three minutes, and then lift the bagels out of the water and set them on a clean kitchen towel that has been spread on the countertop for this purpose. The bagels should be pretty and shiny, thanks to the malt syrup or sugar in the boiling water.
Once all the bagels have been boiled, prepare your baking sheets by sprinkling them with cornmeal. Then arrange the bagels on the prepared baking sheets and put them in the oven. Let them bake for about 25 minutes, then remove from the oven, turn them over and put them back in the oven to finish baking for about ten minutes more. This will help to prevent flat-bottomed bagels – I didn’t turn them because I didn’t want the toppings to fall down. I baked them for 35 minutes straight.
Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks, or on dry clean towels if you have no racks. Do not attempt to cut them until they are cool... hot bagels slice abominably and you'll end up with a wadded mass of bagel pulp. Don't do it.
To customize bagels: After boiling but before baking, brush the bagels with a wash made of 1 egg white and 3 tablespoons ice water beaten together. Sprinkle with the topping of your choice: poppy, sesame, or caraway seeds, toasted onion or raw garlic bits, salt* or whatever you like. Just remember that bagels are essentially a savory baked good, not a sweet one, and so things like fruit and sweet spices are really rather out of place.
* I used coarse salt and thought that it became a bit wet on the following day.