April 3, 2020
When I was younger I struggled to make a good bagel. They never came out right. They were gummy and tough and the ends that I thought I'd rolled together often popped apart.
I read up on it a bit and decided that the problem was that I wasn't using high-gluten flour like the recipe advised.
Spoiler alert: that wasn't it.
I went to my favorite local bagel shop and asked the owner if I could buy five pounds of his flour from him. He smiled and went in the back and brought back five pounds that he just gave me.
I have no idea what I was doing because now bagels are something that I make all the time and they come out great.
The hardest part of making bagels, if you use high-gluten flour, is kneading them. I now have a machine that I use for kneading, Mark Bittman suggest you use a food processor. In fact, you may prefer his recipe so here's the link.
I prefer Jeffrey Hamelman's recipe. Jeffrey was the head baker at King Arthur for years and his book "Bread" is something you should add to your library at some point. Part of my purpose in this series of posts is to transition you from beginner to experienced enough baker that books like Jeffrey's will make more sense to you.
Yesterday I did a test bake to see if we could use all purpose flour instead of high gluten. When Maggie and I did the taste test we decided that it had the the same texture and great chew as the high-gluten version though Maggie thought that if we tried them side-by-side we might notice a difference.
Before you get started, my suggestion is you mix the dough in the afternoon or evening and refrigerate the bagels overnight and then bake them in the morning.
I love this approach because I put the pot on to boil and pre-heat the oven. By the time I've fed the dog and had my morning coffee everything is ready to go. Thirty minutes later I have fresh bagels.
OK - so let's get started.
To make eight bagels start with 526 grams of high-gluten or all-purpose flour (4 1/3 cups). Add 10 g salt (1 1/2 teaspoons), 3 g yeast (1 teaspoon).
If you have it, add 3g Diastatic Malt Powder (1 teaspoon). If you don't have it you can add 4 g sugar (1 teaspoon). I noticed that once I ran out of malt powder I just skip this ingredient and don't add sugar and I love the end product without the sugar. By the way, if you want to make Montreal style bagels they add extra sweetness at this step.
Finally, that brings us to the water. Add 305 g warm water (1 1/3 cup).
Mix or knead the dough until it is a strong, tough, uniform ball of dough. You're looking to develop the gluten so if you tug at the dough it should pull but resist.
At this point there are many things you can do. I'll describe my process then give you variations at the end.
Cover the dough in a bowl and let it rest an hour.
Divide the dough into eight even pieces. Mine are about 105 g each.
Cup your hand over each piece and rotate your hand parallel to the counter pressing down lightly so the piece becomes a nice round ball. If this method doesn't work, roll it between your hands or any other way to get eight nice round balls.
Remember when I talked about my failures making bagels? The other shaping technique is to roll each piece into a log instead of a ball and then join the ends together. When you watch videos of professional bagel bakers that's how they do it. That's not how I do it.
I take the ball in my hand with my fingers on top and my thumb on the bottom and poke a hole using my middle finger until it touches my thumb on the other side. I then pull lightly with the other hand as I rotate the bagel with my middle finger and thumb joined until I have widened the hole a little bit bigger than bagel size. The ring will be much thinner than the finished bagel.
You may get the hole size wrong the first time. It will still taste like a bagel. The first time I got a great tasting bagel my holes were too small and the finished bagel met in the middle. The second time my holes were too big. Now they are consistently pretty close to what I want.
Put the bagels on sheet pan. I cover it with a silpat but you can use parchment paper or a light coating of cornmeal, semolina, or if you have to flour. The idea is you don't want it to stick. Cover the bagels with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator overnight.
Alternatively, if you don't have room in the refrigerator, instead of letting the dough rest an hour, cover it and put it in the refrigerator overnight. You won't be able to have bagels for breakfast but you can let the dough come to room temperature, divide and shape them, and then let them rest for a half hour while you boil the water and pre-heat the oven.
Or, you can skip the refrigeration step all-together. Let the dough rise for two hours, divide and shape them, and then let them rest for half an hour while you boil the water and pre-heat the oven.
I like the technique of refrigerating the shaped bagels the best.
OK - we're almost there.
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit / 260 degrees Celsius. If you have an oven stone go ahead and use it. You're fine without one.
Boil a pot of water with two tablespoons of honey mixed in. Fancy recipes call for malt syrup but who has that sitting around. I've also used molasses.
When the water is boiling, start a timer. I put two or three bagels in the water. They should float, if not you may have to coax them off the bottom. I boil them for 45 seconds to a minute on each side. Fish them out with a strainer or a spoon and put them on a rack above a plate or something - you're letting them cool and drain.
I put the next two in. If I'm topping them with poppy seeds or sesame seeds or an everything mix, I top the first two while the second two are boiling - usually after I've flipped them because then the first two are cool enough that I can handle them. There's no rule here of when to top them. I have the seeds on a plate and I coat one side of the bagel by lowering them onto the plate a couple of times. Then I place those bagels top side down on a sheet tray. If I've used parchment or a silpat I put them back on the same sheet tray they came from.
When all of the bagels are back on the sheet tray I put them in the oven for a few minutes.
Then I flip them using tongs. If I'm using a baking stone I flip them and put them on the baking stone. Be very careful at this step as the bagels are quite soft and you need to handle them gently.
Bake for about 15 minutes - check on the progress at about 12 minutes.
I use the baking time to wash everything else up. That way I have fresh bagels and no cleanup left.
The bagels should look like bagels. They should be beautifully browned and considerably bigger than when you took them out of the refrigerator.
The hardest part is letting them cool. This is always the hardest part about bread. Give them 20 minutes to a half hour and they still will be warm and delicious.