We love bagels around here. Particularly for weekend brunches, but they are delicious every day, for just about any meal. I actually craved bagels for most of the first half of this pregnancy. But I had never made bagels. It just seemed... complicated.
Until I started reading The Bread Baker's Apprentice. After my success with the cinnamon buns, and reading his bagel recipe, I knew that this would be my second experiment from this book.
The recipe called for two specific ingredients that I did not have on hand, and that are actually somewhat tricky to find. The first is high gluten flour. While many supermarkets have a variety of flours available, high gluten flour is not usually among those options. Luckily for our endeavor, we have a local store with a bulk-goods section, where I can generally find some of my more obscure baking needs. Including high gluten flour.
Unfortunately, we did not have the same luck in the bulk section with the second hard-to-find ingredient - malt syrup or malt powder. This is a barley product, and, according to Peter Reinhart, gives the bagels a more authentic taste. He did offer substitutions, if malt syrup or powder could not be found, but also recommended looking in natural food stores. I called our local natural pharmacy/food market and was pleased to hear that they did, in fact, carry both the syrup and the powder. I chose the powder, as the syrup was sold in larger quantities, and, as of right now, I do not have any other uses for it.
All ingredients in hand, I was ready to begin. Unlike bagels made at bagel shops and bakeries, this recipe begins with a sponge of yeast, flour and water which is fermented for a couple of hours, and is then kneaded together with the remainder of the ingredients, including additional flour, yeast and the malt powder, to create a very thick dough. This dough was so stiff, as a matter of fact, that after about ten minutes in the mixer, I began to worry about my trusty KitchenAid overheating. So I decided to pull the dough out of the mixer and finish kneading it by hand. Little miss was very happy to help me knead, and is even beginning to develop really good form at it!
Once the dough was kneaded, it was divided into balls of equal size and set to rest for about 20 minutes. The recipe specifies the weight for each of the dough balls (four and a half ounces, in case you are curious), but I don't have a kitchen scale, so I eye-balled what looked like it might make a good size bagel, then did my best to divide the dough evenly. I wound up with fourteen dough balls of what I considered to be a good size. These were covered with a damp cloth and allowed to rest.
After the brief rest period, it was time to shape the bagels. The book offered two methods - one involving poking a hole in each ball and the other involving rolling each ball into a snake, wrapping it around your hand and rolling the edges together to form a circle. Guess which method appealed more to the four year old baker in the house? She was intrigued by the concept of poking her thumb through the dough, so that is what we did. Once your thumb creates the guide hole, you carefully stretch and roll the dough to create your basic bagel shape. The shaped dough is placed onto a lightly greased, parchment paper covered baking sheet and left to once again rest for 20-30 minutes, after which they are to be placed into the refrigerator overnight. The recipe offered a very interesting way of testing the dough to determine at what point they are ready to be refrigerated, and that is called the "float test." After resting for the appropriate amount of time, the dough rings will have incorporated enough air that, when placed into a bowl of water, they will float. And amazingly enough, they did! I tested one bagel from each pan, and each floated right away. So all three pans were transferred, loosely covered in plastic wrap, to the refrigerator to allow the flavors to fully develop and await completion in the morning.
The next morning, which happened to be a Sauturday, planned very strategically on my part so that the whole family could take part in the process, we were excited and very ready to turn the shaped dough into actual bagels. The first order of business was to bring a large pot of water to a boil, as bagels are first briefly boiled and then baked in a very hot oven. While the water was coming to a boil, my trusty assistants prepared the toppings for our bagels. Luckily, in our family, we all happen to like everything bagels, so daddy and little miss mixed up sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried minced garlic and coarse kosher salt to be ready to sprinkle on the bagels after they were boiled.
The process of boiling the bagels was very interesting. Once the water came to a boil, a tablespoon of baking soda was added to the water to add a bit of acidity. In bagel shops, they generally use a lye solution to boil their bagels, so the baking soda added to the water, like the malt powder, adds a bit more authenticity to the flavor of the bagels. I boiled the bagels two at a time (so they would not touch in the pot) for about two minutes per side, the guidelines for making the bagels a bit chewier. The bagels puffed a bit in the water, and began looking more and more like "real" bagels. After their boiling water baths, the bagels were transferred back to the baking sheets where my assistants had the job of topping them with the prepared seed/salt/spice mix. They took their job very seriously and made sure that each bagel was fully covered for maximum flavor.
Once the bagel were boiled and topped, they were placed into a very hot oven - 500 degrees. After five minutes, the pans were rotated and the temperature was dropped to 450 degrees for another five minutes to finish baking. My bagels took a little longer to turn the goldn brown that they were supposed to, but after about three additional minutes, they were ready. And we were excited by what we saw when we took the pans out of the oven. After allowing them to cool for a few minutes, we soon had a delicious breakfast of fresh and totally professional tasting bagels. Little miss had hers spread with peanut butter while daddy and I opted to have one half with butter and the other half with cream cheese. The next morning we had bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches on these bagels for breakfast. However we served them, they were fantastic, and I am really looking forward to making them again. I think I know a few people who are looking forward to eating them again, too.
5 hours ago