It never once occurred to me to make my own bagels. Not until I picked up Jennifer Reese's book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. In the book, she outlines her advice for which foods are worth making yourself and which ones are better left to the professionals. I was surprised to find bagels in the "make yourself" category. I flagged the recipe for later.
Later never came.
But last week, Husband brought home some bagels from the grocery store and they were god-awful: chalky with an unpleasant flavor. Even I can do better than that, I declared out loud, not sure if I really could but knowing that you have to talk tough if you're going to show your below-average bagel who's boss. I pulled out Reese's book and flipped to the bagel section with an overly dramatic flourish.
Here's what I learned. Making bagels is just like making bread except you boil the dough rings for a few minutes before baking them to a golden brown. (I had no idea you boiled bagels.) The toppings, if you want them, go on after the boiling part (duh) but before the baking (aha!). Otherwise they won't stick. I found it hard to get the dough rings perfectly round. I tried forming the dough into a ball and poking my thumbs through the center as well as rolling the dough into a thick rope and joining the ends. Results were mixed. Most of them came out charmingly misshapen, but, boy, were they delicious, especially warm right out of the oven. They're fun to make, too, all speckled with various toppings.
So, do I agree with the author that homemade bagels are worth the work? If you don't live in New York City, then yes, absolutely. If you do live in NYC, let's face it, you're going to be comparing them to your favorite hallowed bagel place the whole time and nothing will ever live up (and even if they do, you won't admit it). Don't bother. For the rest of us, though, here's your next Sunday morning project!
Husband sure picked the wrong week to go back on the South Beach Diet. :(
3-1/2 cups high-gluten or bread flour (I used 4 cups all-purpose flour)
1-1/2 Tbsp. instant yeast (I used active dry and it worked fine)
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1-1/2 cups water or warm whey from making yogurt or cheese
2 Tbsp. barley malt syrup or brown sugar (I used date honey)
Coarse cornmeal for sprinkling
Optional toppings: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, coarse salt, caraway seeds, dried minced onion, dried minced garlic
In the bowl of a mixer, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add the water or whey and beat hard with the paddle for a few minutes until it comes together into a stiff dough (add a little more flour if necessary). At this point, either switch to the dough hook at your own risk (I busted my KitchenAid this way once) or knead the dough by hand on a floured counter for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth, supple, and spankable (my words—don't blame the author for my colorful descriptors). Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a clean, damp dishtowel, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While the water is heating, sprinkle a rimmed baking sheet generously with cornmeal (use more than you think or the bagels will fuse to the pan). Lightly grease a second pan.
Punch down the dough with floured fists and divide it into 10 more-or-less equal pieces. Roll each piece into the neatest, roundest ball you can and then, with your thumb, poke a hole in the middle and coax the dough into a bagel shape. Alternatively, you can roll the dough into a thick rope and then join the slightly overlapping ends with a little water. Set the bagels on the lightly greased sheet to rest for 10 minutes.
When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the malt syrup (or brown sugar). Drop the bagels into the water three at a time. Let them simmer for a minute, then flip them over and simmer one minute more. Remove them with a slotted spoon, return to the oiled pan to dry a bit, and repeat with the remaining dough. Transfer all of the bagels to the cornmeal-coated pan and sprinkle on your toppings, if desired.
Bake the bagels for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Store them in a paper bag at room temperature for a few days, or freeze, tightly wrapped, for longer storage. If you end up with some stale bagels, you can always make bagel chips (which are also great in salads and panzanellas).
Source: Adapted from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese who got it from The New Complete Book of Breads by Bernard Clayton, who adapted it from the erstwhile Jewish restaurant in Paris, Jo Goldenberg's.