Category Archives: Bagels

How to Make Bagels

I don’t think I’ve ever made a bagel that’s a flawless torus, but nobody’s perfect. They’re crunchy, chewy, deep brown and taste great with cream cheese, which is all you need to get into bagel-maker heaven when you die.

As I’ve mentioned previously, there are a lot of bagel dough recipes out there, and when you start to compare the really good ones, you begin to see that there’s not a whole lot of difference between them. The main difference is usually the amount of water in the dough (hydration), otherwise the thing that really makes one bagel different from another is technique. That said, here’s how they’re made. Beginning with your dough, you first use a bench scraper or a knife to cut it into pieces…

…weighing about five ounces each.

Next, roll the dough pieces into balls using the same technique for buns and rolls that I demonstrated in my post on that subject.

The balls need not be perfectly smooth, for believe me, they’re going to get a whole lot bumpier. If you’re wondering what those flecks are in the dough, they’re cracked black pepper (I add about a teaspoon to the dough since I like my bagels a little spicy).

Now then, there are two basic techniques for shaping bagels, and they produce very different breads. I’ll show you both of them since, well, different strokes for different folks. First, the one I prefer. You start by rolling your dough out into a log. Notice I’m not using any flour, not even a little. The reason for this will be clear in a second. Fortunately good bagel dough is very stiff.

Once you’ve made about a six-inch log, you wrap it around your knuckles like so, holding the two ends in your palm. (WARNING: Does not work the same as brass knuckles in a street fight).

Then you just give the bagel a couple of quick rolls to seal it. Here you can see why I’m not using flour on my board, since if the two ends of the bagel were coated with a dusting of flour, they wouldn’t join.

This method is a bit more involved that the other method I’m about to demonstrate, but it produces a flatter and denser bagel for the simple reason that the pressure of rolling breaks more gas bubbles.

Method II begins by poking a hole in the center of the dough ball with your finger…

…then stretching the dough ring out with both hands (some people twirl it on the end of their finger…whatever floats your boat). This method has the advantage of being easier if your dough is on the sticky side, though the bagels tend to puff up to a more roll-like shape since more gas bubbles are left intact.

Now then, while all this rolling has been going on you’ve had a pot of sugary water on the boil, yes?

Gently drop your bagels in a few at a time and boil them for about two minutes on the first side…

…then giving them a flip with your spider, about a minute on the other side. Pretty bumpy, yes? I told you. But don’t worry, all those crinkles will bake out.

Transfer the bagels to a wire rack and paint them with an egg white-water glaze (doing it on a rack keeps you from spilling the glaze on the baking sheet, which would stick the bagels down).

Now if you wish you can apply toppings. A few poppy seeds…

…some sesame seeds for the wife.

Me, I like mine plain. Again the advantage to doing this on a rack is that it prevents you from spilling the seeds onto your baking sheet where they’d certainly burn. That wouldn’t really hurt anything, but it smells sort of nasty. Now then, all you need to do is transfer your bagels to a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 450 for about twenty minutes until brown. Cool on a wire rack while you head out to get the lox. Eat!

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Notes on the recipe

If you’re in the mood for bagel-making this week or weekend, there are a couple of things I should mention about the recipe below. First, you don’t strictly need malt powder, nondiastatic malt, or malt syrup to make great bagels. But then they don’t hurt either. Any of them are useful for bagel-making. Malt powder and nondiastatic malt add more flavor that sweetness. Malt syrup adds more sweetness than flavor. Of the three, the syrup is the easiest to get. It should be available at any health food store (Whole Foods, if there’s one in your area, usually carries it).

The other issue is the flour. You want the highest protein (gluten) flour you can find. Typically that means bread flour. It doesn’t have to be King Arthur of course, though that frankly is about the best flour you can buy (better than most bakeries). Just make sure whatever you buy is unbleached, since the bleaching and bromating process affects protein strength. If you’re lucky, you might be able to turn up a bag of flour specifically marked “for bread machines”. That stuff, regardless of the brand, usually has the highest protein content of any commercially available flour.

If you’re feeling gutsy, you can go for the gold and hit up a local bakery or pizza place for some real high-gluten flour. High-gluten flour isn’t available in stores, since it’s only useful for bakery breads, bagels and pizza crusts. But it’s the thing to have when you’re trying to replicate bit of the Bronx in your kitchen.

Why all the concern over gluten? Let’s just say it means the difference between a good honest bagel and a dinner roll with a hole in the middle. Much more on the chemistry of gluten as the week progresses.

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Bagels, shall we?

It happens every time we go to Manhattan. The wife visits her favorite bagel shop (Second Avenue Bagels) and for the next six months I’m under the gun to produce fresh bagels at home. It’s funny, there are actually some pretty decent bagels made right here in Louisville (some truly awful ones too), but then nothing beats a hot fresh home version. King Arthur’s site doesn’t allow hot linking anymore, so I’ll just put up the URL to the recipe I’ll be using this week:

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