Thursday, March 5, 2009

Homemade Bagels

Thanks to my friend Melanie (oft-mentioned in this blog) for turning me on to the bagels recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. She mentioned that Elspeth just loved them and I was curious if the effort would be worth it. I can assure you, it is! There is an extra step in bagel-making because you boil the formed bagels in a sugar-soda water before baking. However, it didn't take too long for me to get the hang of forming and boiling the bagels. I wanted to know if you could complete the recipe through boiling and then freeze the bagels (well-wrapped) so that you can bake them individually. I asked on their website and Jeff told me that he thinks it would. (I think it's so cool how responsive the authors are. They have a website and you can ask them questions. I've done this twice now and heard responses within a day.)

The deliciousness of a bagel fresh out of the oven is hard to match. They taste nothing like a storebought bagel--they have this lovely, crispy crust but still a soft, moist interior. Even reheated the next day, they are still far superior to most supermarket bagels. If you have a toaster oven, Evan hit on the great idea of toasting the bagel on a light/medium setting without slicing it first. This refreshes the crisp crust without compromising the moist interior.

I used our starter again for this, just as I do with the Delicious, Crusty Bread recipe. My starter had just been replenished and hadn't had time to charge up much, so at first I worried that my dough was 'dead'. I left it in the fridge for several days and was pleased to find that time had worked its magic and my bagels had plenty of lift.

I ended up using a hodge-podge of flours here (all purpose, whole wheat bread flour and whole wheat pastry flour) because I was running out of some things. It worked out fine. In future I'll try a mix of all purpose and whole wheat bread flour but I'm not sure what proportions I'll settle on.

An easy way to add flavor to the bagels is to sprinkle them with things like onion powder, garlic powder or even cinnamon sugar after boiling and prior to baking.

2 1/2 cups water
1 cup sourdough starter (the batter-like kind)
2 TBSP kosher or Maldon salt
1 1/2 TBSP sugar
5 3/4 c. (28.75 oz or 1 lb 12.75 oz) flour total--try a mix of whole wheat bread flour and unbleached all purpose flour such as 14 oz. whole wheat flour plus 14.75 oz. all purpose flour

5-8 quarts water
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp baking soda

Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon sugar or other seeds and spices for toppings

  1. You'll need a clean 6 qt container that is not absolutely airtight. I use a Rubbermaid 'Servin' Saver' 6 qt square container and have been very happy with it
  2. Put the water, starter, salt and sugar in the container and give it a mix
  3. Put the container on your scale and zero it out
  4. Add the whole wheat flour to make the total 14 ounces
  5. Add the unbleached all purpose flour until you have a grand total of 1 lb 12.75 ounces on the scale (or 28.75 oz if your scale works that way)
  6. Use a large wooden spoon to mix the flours into the water. You are not aiming to knead the dough and you should expect a pretty wet dough. After I mix as much as I can with the spoon, I went my hands and mix the dough with them until the flour is incorporated. Again, you're not kneading, you just don't want dry and wet patches
  7. Place the lid on the container loosely and put the dough in the fridge for a day or two. Using the starter makes the rising take longer but the flavor is superb. You can speed things up slightly by leaving the dough out at room temperature for 8 hours.
  8. You know your dough is active when you see air bubbles in it and it has risen
  1. Set out a baking tray lined with Silpat or parchment for your dough lumps
  2. If you're going to bake your bagels right away, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F with a pizza stone set on the middle rack and a broiler tray on the shelf underneath
  3. Remove the dough container from fridge and sprinkle with all-purpose flour
  4. Weigh out as many 3 oz (or smaller) dough lumps for the number of bagels you wish to make. Because I want to try the boil-n-bake-later approach, I'd weigh out all of my dough and would expect about a dozen and a half bagels (always less than the authors say--maybe it's the starter)
  5. Working quickly, shape into a flattened ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you do this (that's nearly verbatim from the book but is still hard to explain until you've done it)
  6. Place on your lined baking tray and cover lightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 20 minutes (I've let them sit for longer with no ill effects). Proceed to the boiling step
  1. Prepare another baking tray lined with a tea towel and sprinkled with flour
  2. If you are going to use the freeze-ahead method, you'll need a baking tray lined with Silpat or parchment
  3. If you are going to bake the bagels right away, you'll need to prepare a peel to get the bagels in the oven by sprinkling it with flour. I highly recommend the Super Peel; I don't think I could use a regular peel successfully. If you don't have a peel, take a baking tray and line it with Silpat or parchment and either put the whole tray in the oven or lift out the lining and put the lining directly on the baking stone
  4. Using a large Dutch oven (ours is 7+ quarts) or a stock pot, bring the water to a boil. The authors suggest 8 quarts, but we don't have a pot that big and it seems extreme. It's true that my bagels do sink to the bottom of the pot and stick for a while until they float, but I'm guessing they'd do that in any size of pot
  5. Once the water has boiled, lower heat to a simmer and add the sugar and baking soda
  6. Now you'll form your bagels. I was surprised at how easy this was--the dough felt wonderfully silky and behaved well. Take each dough lump and use your thumbs to make a hole in the center. Work the dough around the outside so that it's evenly distributed around the hole. The hole needs to be 2-3 times the width of the bagel wall or it'll close up entirely during baking
  7. Drop the bagels gently in the water one at a time trying not to crowd them too much (I can do six at a time in my Dutch oven)
  8. Simmer for two minutes. Most times, the bagels will sink to the bottom and then float up before the two minutes is up. If they haven't, I gently prod them with a slotted spoon and ease them off the bottom of the pot
  9. Flip the bagels over and simmer for an additional minute. Test for doneness by using a slotted spoon to lift the bagel out. Several of mine have been really squashy so I've let them cook a bit longer. The bagels shouldn't be hard or anything, but you'll get the hang of it once you've handled a squashy one
  10. Remove the bagels to the tea towel sprinkled with flour to absorb some of the water
  11. Proceed either to the FREEZE FOR LATER or BAKING DIRECTIONS sections
Bagels are the one bread that should be eaten hot from the oven. The texture is incomparable! Thus, I am going to try boiling all of my bagels and then freezing them to bake at will.
  1. Once your bagels have sat on their tea towel for a moment, line them up on your baking tray with Silpat, parchment or waxed paper. You're going to freeze the bagels on this tray first so that when you bag them, they won't stick together
  2. Put the tray in the freezer (we're lucky to have an outside freezer with lots of room. If you've got a small or full freezer, you'll have to improvise) and freeze until solid
  3. Transfer the bagels to a very thick freezer bag, or you could wrap them in foil and then bag them. They'll be susceptible to picking up odors/flavors from the freezer, so wrapping them well is key
  4. On the day you're ready to bake them or the night before, set the desired number of bagels onto a metal tray (this helps them to thaw faster) and leave until thawed. It may be possible to bake from frozen, but I suspect you'll have a better result if you thaw them fully first
  5. Once the bagels are thawed, proceed to BAKING DIRECTIONS
  1. Twenty minutes before you want to bake the bagels, preheat the oven to 450 degrees if you haven't already done so. You want the rack in the middle, preferably with a baking stone on it (hence the preheating for so long). A second rack should have a broiler tray or something that can hold water.
  2. Boil 1 cup of water or have really hot water from the tap and have it ready by the oven
  3. Prepare your peel by sprinkling it with flour if you haven't already done so. If you don't have a peel or Super Peel, take a baking tray and line it with Silpat or baking parchment
  4. Place the freshly-boiled or thawed bagels on your prepared surface and sprinkle with the desired toppings
  5. Use peel to transfer the bagels onto the baking stone. Alternatively, put the whole tray in the oven or lift out the lining and put the lining directly on the baking stone
  6. Quickly add the boiling water to the broiler tray and close the oven
  7. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the bagels are golden
  8. Eat immediately or refresh later in a toaster oven without slicing

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