They used to call me “the bagel queen.”  See, growing up on Long Island (NY) and in other various parts of the 5 boroughs  kind of makes you a bagel guru.  There is a bagel shop or bagel deli in practically every single strip mall on Long Island (I may be overgeneralizing but probably not) and when you live there, you know which ones have the best bagels.  You know these places so well, you could find them in your sleep.  It’s just a way of life. Same goes for pizza places.  Unfortunately, in addition to it being impossible to find garlic knots in Connecticut, it’s next to impossible to find even a decent bagel; forget about finding good bagels.  People bring bagels from a certain chain donut store to morning meetings…and these bagels leave quite a bit to be desired.  For shame. And I feel sorry for those who only know a bagel to be one of these. But I digress…

So after hemming and hawing for a whole year, I finally bucked up and made my own bagels.  And it wasn’t difficult.  In fact, it was a fun process that yielded some of the best bagels I’ve ever eaten.  These bagels were chewy and flavorful and were slightly crusty, just the way I yearn for them to be.  Peter Reinhart is a genius. He promised these would be as close as you could get to NY bagels and he didn’t lie.    The recipe is a flexible one that gives you the option of using a variety of ingredients should you not have the “first choice” ingredients on hand such as bread flour or malt syrup.  In fact, the recipe is so flexible that after I chose to use brown sugar instead of malt syrup, I forgot to add the sugar before the kneading began and I only threw it in during the last 1 1/2 of kneading.  And you’d never know I made that mistake based on the end result.  As far as toppings go, put whatever you’d like to on top.  On half of these I sprinkled everything bagel topping (which you also make at home) and on the other half, toasted onion bits.  We love bold flavored bagel toppings but these bagels would be just as incredible plain so don’t fret if you don’t have anything on hand to top them with.  Add-ins to the dough are also a possibility.  I plan to attempt Reinhart’s cinnamon raisin adaptation next but as you can see, there are other options as well.

These bagels made me very happy.  I’ve been working my way through my initial fear of yeast and this is my biggest accomplishment to date.  I’ve found the perfect bagel and will continue to make this recipe on a regular basis, freezing them as needed, but looking forward to having fresh-baked bagels almost as often as my NY-girl-at-heart desires them.  Just the way a foodie’s life should be.

A couple of things to note from my experience:

  • I used bread flour (12% protein) and boiled the bagels for 2 minutes per side to achieve the level of chewiness I was going for; high gluten flour (14% protein) should help yield a chewy bagel with just 1 minute boiling per side;
  • The dough is very stiff and my stand mixer almost didn’t make it through the process but I added a little bit more water during the kneaded away and that seemed to soften up the dough just enough;
  • Be sure to press the toppings into the boiled bagel a little so that the topping bakes into the dough to prevent losing so much of the topping when you cut the bagel;
  • The next time I make this recipe, I plan to bake them for 6 minutes at 500 degrees then 5 minutes at 450 degrees.  I would have liked the bagel to be toasted a little more on the bottom, especially after tasting a toasted one.

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Bagels

source: Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Yield: 12 large or 24 mini bagels

Ingredients:
For the sponge:
1 teaspoon (.11 ounce) instant yeast
4 cups (18 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 ½ cups (20 ounces) water, at room temperature

For the dough:
½ teaspoon (.055 ounces) instant yeast
3 ¾ cups (17 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 ¾ teaspoons (.7 ounce) salt
2 teaspoons (.33 ounce) malt powder OR 1 tablespoon (.5 ounce) dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar

To finish:
1 tablespoon baking soda
cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting
sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, rehydrated dried minced garlic or onions, or chopped fresh onions that have been tossed in oil (optional)

Directions:
1. To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart mixing bowl.  Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter).  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly.  It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.

2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir.  Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt. Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining ¾ cup flour to stiffen the dough.

3. Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6 minutes by machine).  The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth.  There should be no raw flour – all the ingredients should be hydrated.  The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 to 81 degrees F.  If the dough seems dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading.  If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achiever the stiffness required.  The kneaded dough should feels satiny and pliable but not be tacky.

4. Immediately divide the dough into 4 ½ ounce pieces for standard bagels, or smaller if desired. Form the pieces into rolls.

5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.

6. Line two sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil.  Proceed with shaping the bagels by pushing a hole through the center and stretching out the hole to 2 ½ inches in diameter.

7. Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pan.  Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and slip each pan into a food-grade plastic bag, or cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the “float test”.  Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water.  The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water.  Take one bagel and test it.  If it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days).  If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats.  The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.

9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500° F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda.  Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.

10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds).  After 1 minute flip them over and boil another minute.  If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side.  While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-line sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour.  (If you decided to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface.)  If you want to top the bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water.  You can use any of the suggestions in the ingredients list or a combination.

11. When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven.  Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation.  (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.)  After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450° F and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown.  You may bake them darker if you prefer.

12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.

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  • January 6, 2010 at 7:39 AM

    These look delicious! I love bagels, not sure I’d have the energy to make them myself though.

  • January 6, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    Wow! I live way too close to an H&H to make making my own bagels worth it, but these look AMAZING!

  • January 6, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    these look fab! i *still* haven’t made my own bagels after years of wanting to! maybe this spring! 🙂

  • January 6, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    I keep telling my husband I want to make bagels but then chicken out. I need to overcome my fear.

  • michele
    January 6, 2010 at 11:03 AM

    I lived on LI for 35 years and just moved to AZ 2 years ago. I can not find anything that even comes close to a real bagel here so these are on my “to make” list. Thanks for a great post!

  • January 11, 2010 at 6:06 AM

    […] yeast and this was the recipe that made me feel confident enough in my abilities to try out some bagels. I took Rebecca’s suggestion of pairing the rolls with some cream cheese icing rather than […]

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