Very Good Bagels

  • Serves: Makes 10 - 12 bagels
  • Baking Temp (degrees F): 500 initially; then 450
  • Views: 9828
  • Comments: 2

Very Good Bagels
Bagels and photo by Kelly Hong © Sarah Phillips 

The quintessential elusive Jewish water bagel has a thick crackly exterior and a chewy interior. It is called the water bagel because it is poached in a kettle of boiling alkalized water. High gluten flour provides the elasticity and chew, while malt or barley syrup, a thick molasses-like syrup, helps give bagels their unique flavor by hastening the release of natural sugars bound up in the flour starches. Bagels are made from very stiff and stretchy dough, which allows it to be boiled without deflating or losing its shape. When boiling bagels, some use plain water while others insist on putting either baking soda, salt, sugar, honey milk or some combination of them into the water. I like to use a small amount of baking soda because I find it induces more shine and a richer caramelization of the crust on the bagels when they bake.

MsBreez, Premium Member, Says: "Sarah's Very Good Bagel's made with cinnamon and raisins!...I did add 1 tablespoon cinnamon and 1/2 cup raisins. I think they turned out great..."

1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon dark or light malt syrup or honey (or dark brown sugar) or 2 teaspoons malt powder
1 1/2 cups warm (105 to 110 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups high-gluten flour (about 14 percent gluten), such as Sir Lancelot Unbleached High-Gluten Flour from King Arthur Flour or bread flour
About 1/2 cup cornmeal, for dusting the pans

1 tablespoon baking soda
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon water
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, crushed garlic, etc. for toppings

1. Proof the yeast by placing it in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer and adding half of the malt syrup and the warm water. Stir well and set aside until a slight foam forms on top. Add the remaining half of the malt syrup and stir well. If the yeast doesn't foam and/or the mixture doesn't smell yeasty after this time, the yeast has expired. Discard and start over with a new packet of yeast.

2. Fit the mixer with a paddle attachment, and with it on low speed, gradually add the flour, at the side of the bowl, 1 cup at a time. Add the salt with the second cup of flour. Switch to the dough hook when the mixture is like a very thick paste.

Continue to add most of the flour, slowly at the side of the bowl, and slowly on low until most of the loose flour has been worked into the dough and the ingredients form a ball. Slowly work in any remaining flour to stiffen the dough.

3. Transfer the dough to the countertop and knead for at least 10 minutes by hand or 6 minutes by machine. The dough should be stretchy, pliable and smooth, and not floury or tacky. Test a piece of the dough - it should stretch in long strands without breaking - those are gluten strands and means the dough is properly developed.

4. Shape the dough into a ball, place it in a large oiled bowl, and turn it to coat in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm place, until it is noticeably puffy and springs back when you poke it, about 20 minutes. (The dough will not double in size.)

5. Meanwhile, arrange the one oven shelf in the lower third and the other in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and mist lightly with spray oil.

6. Turn the risen dough out onto a dry surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, about 3 ounces each. (While you work, keep the dough you're not handling covered with a damp towel to prevent drying.) Roll each piece into a 9-inch-long rope, lightly moisten the ends with water, overlap the ends by about 1 inch, and press to join so you'’ve created a bagel. As necessary, widen the hole in the middle so it is approximately the size of a quarter. Cover the shaped bagels loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a large, wide, shallow pan (about 3 to 6 quarts) with water, bring to a boil over high heat, and then add the baking soda. Have a slotted spoon or skimmer handy.

6. After resting, stretch the dough to retain the quarter-size hole (the dough will have risen a bit) and boil the bagels. Using a wide, slotted spoon, drop the bagels, 3 or 4 at a time, into the water; they must not touch. Do not overcrowd the pot; leave plenty of room in between each bagel. They should float within 10 seconds. Boil on one side for 1 minute. Turn the bagels and boil on the second side for another minute -- for extra chewy bagels, boil 2 minutes per side. The bagels should have a shriveled look. Adjust heat as necessary so the water stays at a simmer.

Meanwhile, sprinkle the parchment paper lined baking sheets with cornmeal or semolina flour. Whisk together 1 tablespoon water and the egg white until combined.

7. Place the bagels on the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Immediately brush the bagels all over with the egg wash, then sprinkle with the desired topping(s).

Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. Immediately lower the oven heat to 450 degrees F and bake for about 5 - 10 minutes more or until the bagels are a light golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire cake rack for at least 15 minutes before serving, so the interiors finish cooking and the crusts form a chewy exterior.

Bagels are best eaten within and hour of making and cooling!

To store for 2 days, place in a cotton or paper bag. They also freeze well for up to a month.

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