I absolutely love bagels. If it made nutritional sense, I would eat them several times each day – with butter, with cream cheese, with jam, as a breakfast sandwich with egg and cheese, as a lunch sandwich with turkey and mayonnaise. As it is, I eat one every day, half with butter, the other half with cream cheese. It’s one of my favorite meals of the day, and it never gets old.
I’ve been making my own for years. The first recipes I tried were fairly standard bread recipes with the added step of boiling the bagels between the second rise and baking. Once I discovered retarding the bagels – replacing the second rise with an overnight stay in the refrigerator – my bagels improved dramatically. They became even better when I started using a pre-ferment.
Unfortunately, all of these steps make homemade bagels a fair bit of effort. I had to take a break from making my own when my wedding became imminent, and I was moving and finishing my PhD and starting a new job. After eating perfectly good grocery store bagels for the past several months, I had to ask myself why I had bothered to make my own.
Now I remember – because mine are better. And not only are they very tasty, I can add whole wheat flour to my heart’s desire and better control the portion size. I also get to enjoy one fresh from the oven, and nothing beats that.
Bagels (adapted from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and Cooks Illustrated)
Make 12 small or 8 large bagels
Bridget notes: I’ve found that I get the best bagels when I use Cooks Illustrated’s ingredient list and Peter Reinhart’s methods. The recipes are similar; the biggest difference is that Cook’s Illustrated uses a firmer dough (i.e., more flour).
Both recipes call for high-gluten flour, which is difficult to find. You can make your own by adding some gluten flour to bread flour. Sometimes I do that. This time, I simply used about half white bread flour and half whole wheat flour.
Update 4.14.08 – I reduced the flour in the recipe to reflect more accurately how much I’m usually able to mix in before the dough gets too dry (from 11 ounces in the dough to 8 ounces).
½ teaspoon instant yeast
1¾ cup (9 ounces) bread flour
1¼ cup (10 ounces) water, room temperature
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 cup (8 ounces) bread flour (approximately)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1. To make sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the water, 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, add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add most of the remaining flour and all of the salt and malt. Mix on low speed with the dough hook until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining flour to stiffen the dough.
3. Knead at low speed for 6 minutes. The dough should be firm and stiff, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all the ingredients should be hydrated. If the dough seems too dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.
4. Immediately divide the dough into 8-12 equal pieces. Form the pieces into smooth balls.
5. Cover the balls with plastic wrap and allow them to rest for 20 minutes. Dust a baking sheet with the cornmeal.
6. Form each dough ball into a rope 9 inches long by rolling it under your outstretched palms. Do not taper the ends of the rope. Overlap the ends of the rope about 1 inch and pinch the entire overlapped area firmly together. If the ends of the rope do not want to stick together, you can dampen them slightly. Place the loop of dough around the base of your fingers and, with the overlap under your palm, roll the rope several times, applying firm pressure to seal the seam. The bagel should be roughly the same thickness all the way around.
7. Place each of the shaped pieces about an inch apart on the prepared pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pan 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), adjust the rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better). Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). Stir and submerge bagels with Chinese skimmer or slotted spoon until very slightly puffed, 30 to 35 seconds. Remove rings from water; transfer to wire rack, bottom side down, to drain.
11. Transfer boiled rings, rough side down, to parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until deep golden brown and crisp, about 12 minutes.
12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes before serving.