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.
Contact Michelle Stark at [email protected].com. Follow @mstark17.