Five secrets to making fresh bagels at home
It's time to ditch the prepackaged bagel.
When Daniel Thompson, inventor of the bagel machine, died about a month ago, we were reminded of the ease and convenience with which his contraption brought bagels by the bagful into American homes.
In fact, it has become too easy. Too easy to forget what a real, hand-crafted bagel tastes like, those glossy, toothsome rolls with a hard crust and a chewy inside — classic New York-style bagels, with roots in Europe but largely borne of this country's Jewish cuisine. Those soft, pale, bagged rolls laden with preservatives hardly resemble the real thing.
You don't have to settle for those in your kitchen. Instead, try making your own bagels.
There are a couple of key secrets to bagelmaking — fudge any one of these steps and you could end up with dense rounds of dough. But once you master them, the entire process is pretty straightforward. Heck, the actual dough contains just five ingredients: flour, yeast, water, sugar and salt. The most laborious part may be summoning the patience to let the dough rise — twice.
It is more work than picking up a package at the grocery store, but armed with the following knowledge, you'll be able to crank out hot, fresh deli-ready bagels in your own kitchen.
Step 1: Use bread flour
Most bagel recipes call for bread flour, or high-gluten flour, which helps create more gluten in the dough. This is what gives bagels their signature chew and texture. Bread flour is found in most grocery stores near the regular flour.
Step 2: Add sugar
Most bread products need sugar to activate the yeast, but bagels especially benefit from some sort of sweetener. Adding sugar to the dough gives bagels their shiny brown crust, and provides an extra kick of flavor. Regular sugar or honey work well; the recipe below calls for both. Some recipes call for malt syrup, which health food stores typically have on hand if your regular grocery store doesn't.
Step 3: Shaping them
Getting that distinctive bagel shape can be the toughest part about making them yourself. There are a couple of different methods. The rope-and-loop method calls for rolling the dough with your hand to form a long snake shape, then looping it around your hand to form a circle, then rolling the part where the dough meets itself on the counter to seal it. The other way, the stretch-and-poke method, calls for stretching and shaping the dough into a round, bagel-like shape, then poking a hole in the middle with your finger. I like the first method because it tends to produce a rounder, less flat bagel.
Step 4: Boil them
What sets a bagel apart from, say, a roll? Bagels get a bath. Traditionally, they are boiled in a pot of bubbling water before they are baked, which helps set the crust and keep it hard (but not too hard) and chewy. Make sure your water is generously salted. Some recipes also call for the addition of sugar (I like to use brown sugar) or baking powder to help give the bagels more color or shine. Boil each bagel on one side for about 1 minute, then flip and let them boil on the other side for the same amount of time. When they're done, transfer with a slotted spoon or fork to a baking sheet. Tip: This is the best time to add your toppings, because the bagels will still be sticky from the water.
Step 5: Oven temperature
Bagels require a really hot oven to cook properly, at least 400 degrees. It also helps to turn the bagels over onto the other side halfway through baking, so they cook uniformly, but this isn't necessary.
From here, knowing how to store your bagels is important. Like most homemade bread products that don't contain preservatives, these bagels taste best a few hours after they are cooked. To keep them longer than that, store in a sealed container or zip-top bag. You can stow one or two on the counter for breakfast the next morning, but in general, if you're keeping them longer than two days they should go in the fridge or freezer. In the latter case, slice the bagels first before freezing, then when you're ready to eat, pop one out and into the toaster, which revives them nicely.
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After you take the bagels out of the boiling water bath, place them on a piece of parchment paper or a wire cooling rack, and sprinkle on some toppings. Whichever of these you choose, be generous.
• Sesame seeds
• Poppy seeds
• Dried minced garlic
• Cinnamon and sugar, equal parts
• Flaky sea salt
• Everything blend: 2 parts sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried minced garlic; 1 part dried minced onion, coarse salt
JAZZ THEM UP
Once the bagels are baked, here are five ideas for how to prepare them.
The Classic: You can't go wrong with lox (or smoked salmon), cream cheese and red onion. Go with 1 slice lox, 1 tablespoon cream cheese and a few slices onion for each half. Top with a tablespoon of roughly chopped fresh dill or chives.
More Cheese, Please: Treat yourself to some fancy cream cheese with your homemade bagels. Hint: It doesn't take much. Blend 2 ounces of plain cream cheese with one of the following (per one bagel): 1 tablespoon diced fresh chives and 1 teaspoon dried minced onion; 1 tablespoon honey, ¼ teaspoon vanilla, 2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts; or 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
Butter and Herbs: Jazz up some real butter by mixing about 2 tablespoons with a combination of finely chopped fresh herbs like parsley, oregano, thyme and lemon zest.
Just Jam: One of my favorite things on an everything bagel is strawberry jam. It hits the spot for any salty-sweet craving. Use 1 tablespoon per half bagel.
PB and B: Top each bagel half with 1 tablespoon peanut butter, a drizzle of honey and a handful of thinly sliced bananas. Best on plain or salt bagels.
Bagelmaking varies from place to place. This recipe goes for the classic New York-style bagel. There is also the Montreal bagel, which differs in size (they're often larger, with a more pronounced hole) and texture (harder, chewier). They also tend to be sweeter. And what about the bialy, so often considered a sub-category of bagel? The chewy, bready flat rolls are really their own thing, usually recessed in the center instead of entirely holed out and filled with some sort of onion mixture. Bialys are also just baked, whereas bagels are boiled first. Start to finish these bagels take about 3 hours to make, so they are doable for a brunch party. Get ready for lots of "Where'd you buy those?"
4 cups bread flour
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 tablespoons honey or malt syrup
4 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 ½ cups warm water, about 110 degrees
1 tablespoon brown sugar (for the boiling water)
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water (optional)
Add the first five ingredients to the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer and pulse until mixed, about 10 seconds. With processor running, slowly add the water; process until dough comes together and rides up over the blade, about 30 seconds. Continue processing until dough becomes satiny and elastic, about 30 seconds more.
Transfer dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
After dough has risen but before you divide and shape it, prepare your water bath: Add the brown sugar to 6 quarts of water over high heat and let it come to a boil as you continue with the following steps. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
After dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and press down with your fingers to expel the gases. Divide dough into 10-12 equal portions.
Ball a portion of dough, then roll it into a "rope" about 7 inches long and about 1 inch thick. (Place any dough you're not working with under a damp towel to prevent drying.)
Wrap the dough around the back of your hand, overlapping the ends in your palm. Place your hand, along with the dough, palm-down on the work surface and roll dough back and forth until ends crimp and seal together. Place dough ring under a span of plastic wrap or the same damp towel while you repeat rope-and-loop process with remaining dough portions.
You can brush a little water on the ends to help them stick, if desired.
Allow bagels to rise again for 10 minutes. At this point, your brown sugar-water should be boiling. Use a skimmer or slotted spoon to carefully add bagels, one at a time, to the water. (Note: No more than three in the pot at a time.) Bagels should sink but then rise again after a few seconds. Simmer for 1 minute, flipping bagels at the 30-second mark.
Remove bagels from water with skimmer or slotted spoon to a clean kitchen towel. Pat dry.
Now is the time to add toppings. Place bagels on wire cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet or simply on parchment paper. Brush bagel tops with egg-water mixture. Shake on desired toppings. (See suggestions below.)
The baking sheet will collect excess dry toppings (such as sesame or poppy seeds). Simply pour them back into their containers for reuse.
Place bagels on prepared baking sheet. Bake until light brown and shiny, 15 to 20 minutes. Flip, and bake until reverse side is golden-brown and shiny, about 10 minutes more.
Source: Adapted from Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads