Since moving to New York, I’ve discovered really, really good bagels… It’s the water man! (which I know pronounce ‘wah-der’ after spending too much time around long islanders and upstaters). A good bagel and scmear is sometimes all you need on a lazy Sunday morning. I’m partial to tomato on my bagels and I’ve been known to partake in a little lox if the mood strikes.
Did you know? While many believe the bagel was invented to celebrate the Polish defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the Poles had been eating bagels long before. (Though, I was even reading some articles that claimed bagel-like breads were eaten in ancient Egypt). In any event, Polish-jews are crediting in bringing the bagel to the US and most notably New York City. The whole history of bagels is one that seems really interesting though and I’d love to learn more!
And while over the past few months I’ve eaten my share of bagels*, as with most food items I’ve been intrigued how one makes bagels at home. So for Easter Sunday, we had ourselves a little brunch feast on our roof with mimosas and homemade bagels! I cannot get over how lovely our roof is…
*I recommend Best Bagel in the city though I’m always up for trying the tired and true favorites New Yorkers live by)
For these bagels, I used a great recipe on Food52, that can be found here. It’s a great resource and I highly recommend it! As with most bread making, there’s a scientific aspect that is lost on me. But, the basic method for bagels includes forming and kneading your dough, shaping it, proofing it overnight and then boiling and baking.
The combination of boiling and baking is what sets bagels apart from other breads. (Some bagel producers now steam bake them though this is frowned upon by bagel purists!). As I learned, the boiling helps set the crust and the length of the boil affects the interior texture — either more or less dense.
Anyway, the whole bagel making process wasn’t as hard as I imagined. I made bagels that tasted like bagels and fit the bill… yet they weren’t as big or fluffy as most bagels are. While these bagels may not be New York standard, they were a valiant first effort. I definitely blame the science of bread making which I’m still getting a handle of. I’ll definitely try bagels again in the future though… it’s all about experimenting and I’ve only just gotten my feet wet in the bagel making world!
- 3½ cups (1 pound) unbleached flour (see note below)
- 3 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, divided
- ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 tablespoon honey (see note below)
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons room temperature or slightly warm water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg white, optional
- Mix the flour, 2 teaspoons of the salt, the yeast, honey, and the water until everything begins to form into dough. You can use a mixer if you like, but it's simpler by hand. It'll be a stiff dough, as there's not much water, but this makes it sturdy enough to withstand a dunk in boiling water later. Feel free to add a bit more water if necessary, but you shouldn't need much.
- Let the dough rest for 5 minutes while you find a place in your tiny apartment on which to knead.
- Knead on a floured surface for about 3 minutes -- the dough will get smooth, a little tacky.
- Now put your lovely little dough ball into an oiled boil, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it hang in the fridge for a few hours, or at least an hour. (I've left it for both 45 minutes and 4 hours, and both batches turned out fine.)
- When you're ready to shape the bagels, line a baking sheet with lightly greased parchment paper. Then remove the dough from the fridge, and cut it into 6 or 8 pieces, depending on how large or small you'd like your bagels to be. (I find that 6 pieces yields my kind of bagel: not puny.) Form each piece into a ball, and then each ball into a 10-inch log, with tapered ends. (Don't use any flour on your surface! You'll need the dough to stick just slightly in order for it to change shape.)
- To shape the bagels, place one end of one dough log in between your thumb and forefinger, and then wrap it around the rest of your fingers -- the dough ends should overlap by an inch or two -- and squeeze it slightly to bind it together. Once you do this, you can also roll the ends together on a surface to enhance the seal.
- Repeat for all of the bagels, then lightly oil them and cover with plastic wrap. Put them in the fridge to proof overnight.
- About an hour an a half before you want to bake them, pull the bagels out of the fridge to come to room temperature, and fill a large pot (I use a Dutch oven) with at least 4 inches of water. Cover and bring it to a boil. When it boils, add 1 teaspoon of salt and the baking soda, then turn it down to a simmer.
- Crank the oven to 500° F.
- Now test the bagels by using the float test: fill a bowl with cold water, and place one bagel in it. If it floats, they're all ready to go. If not, you haven't failed: just return it to the baking sheet and let proof for 15 to 20 minutes more, then do the test again.
- Onto the boil. If you do not do this, in the opinion of many, what you're making is not a bagel -- it's a round roll with an unexplained hole. So never skip this step.
- Working in batches that will fit in your pot, carefully drop each bagel into the simmering water, let poach for 1 minute, and flip with a slotted spoon or a spider. Poach 30 seconds more, and then return each bagel to the baking sheet.
- Sprinkle your bagels with whatever topping you want.
- Slip them in the oven and reduce the heat to 450° F. Bake for 8 minutes, rotate the sheet, and bake 8 to 12 minutes more, until the bagels are golden brown.
- Pull them from the oven, and wait an excruciating 30 minutes before you eat them.