Bagels, the delicious chewy rings of bread were a culinary discovery about 6 years ago on a conference trip to Chicago, staying at my sisters. Of course we had eaten bagels before, mainly from the UK supermarkets, with one of the lines even named on the lines of NYC bagels. But the UK bagels are slightly sticky and bready rings and don’t even justify the name.
When my sister brought out a large bag of bagels for breakfast, I was so crest fallen, how was I supposed to survive the morning on those bread rings and manage the conference which I was going to till lunch time? She buttered each half and placed it in the toaster – no not the pop up toaster we get in the UK, but these are the US style toaster ovens, with horizontal shelves where you can place lightly buttered bagels with the butter side up with no risk of a fire. Put a buttered bagel, toast or whatever into a popup style toaster and you have a self made instant fire hazard! I digress. The toasted bagel with another top up of just butter was delicious… why did I not have this all these years? And why do UK bagels taste so awful?
Coming back to the UK, the hunt was on to find the shop which makes proper bagels. We found the next best thing in a place we often visit but have overlooked the bagels assuming they are not going to be good … Costco! Visits to costco, which I have also named “temptation island” as you go to buy bagels and come out with a TV or a table or some thing or the other … result – expensive bagels at a few hundred pounds each time. But tasty. The family favourite is the jalapeño bagels. So started this family’s addiction to bagels. If you are from NYC or the other bagel centres of the world that I don’t know about, and think, what is he talking about, costco and bagels? You have been spoiled and we can only judge by the best thing available here. So there.
Having mastered basic bread baking, I was very keen to make bagels at home. At one point it became a sort of a challenge. Wasn’t easy. Following many an recipe, got round rings of bread of varying textures but none to beat the costco stuff, which became a sort of goal to aim for. After a few attempts and much research, gradually came to appreciate the little nuances of bagel making, till one fine day, it was eureka …. or whatever chefs scream while running naked on the streets after a successful bake.
Basically, Bagels are just shaped double cooked bread, once boiled and then baked. Now what you put into the dough and how you cook make the bagel. Because they have to be boiled and have to be chewy to eat, the dough is a bit stiffer than for bread, which means less water. The one single ingredient which makes a bagel taste like one is malt syrup, which can be found in health food stores. Malt powder can also be used, say many cook books, but I have not tried it as it is available only in specialist bakery and brewery supplies shops.
Home Baked Bagels
A brinskitchen Recipe
- 750 gms strong white bread flour
- 2 tbsp malt syrup
- 2 tbsp olive oil (optional)
- 2 1/2 tsp easybake/instant yeast
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 325 – 400 ml of water
- Mixing and Resting: Mix all the solid ingredients. Initially add 325 ml of water and mix, adding little water only if needed – aim to wet all the flour and to make a smooth but stiff dough. Let it rest for 5 mins. This resting aids to wet the flour throughly as well as relax it so kneading is easier. This resting I found was also useful if you are using a mixer.
- Kneading: Knead well for 8 – 10 min if by hand and if like me you are lucky to have a mixer about 5- 6 mins. To judge if your kneading is enough, collect the dough into a ball and with a floured finger press on the surface. If you leave a indentation which gradually fills in, you are done.
- Flavouring: At this point you have 2 options:
- Leave the dough plain
- Flavour the dough, for example jalapeño (use 100 gms drained jalapeño, finely chopped ) or cinnamon and raisin(100 gms raisins +1tsp ground cinnamon) – add during the last 2 minutes of kneading to incorporate.
- Rising: At this point there are 2 options. One day or Two day bagels!
- Two day bagels are just that takes two days to make, shaping immediately after kneading without a first rise and you slowly rise the bagels in the fridge overnight and boil and bake them the next day. I have yet to see the day when there was enough space in our actually large american type fridge to hold a dozen bagels in baking trays, so by shear lack of fridge space, I am a one day bagel person.
- To make bagels in a day, let the kneaded dough rise for about 1 hr in a warm place. Just a little rise is enough, just to get the yeast going, as you do not want it to be too bready.
- Shaping: Now shaping the bagels. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Now you have 2 options to shape the bagels:
- Make smooth balls by rolling between your palm/fingers and the thumb on the kitchen surface. Slightly flatten and insert your index finger into the centre and rotate the dough around to stretch and smoothen the bagel shape – easy but does not give you the perfect shape.
- Roll on the surface with both hands, fingers spread out, to give you a large rope of dough, ends slightly tapered if you can. Then bring the rope around three middle fingers of one hand so the ends meet and overlap by about 2 inches at the palm. I splay the ends to get wetter dough from the center and press gently and roll on the surface with your palm/fingers to seal. Some times a little moistening may be necessary but too much wetness is will make the dough stick to the surface when rolling to seal. You may have to press the seam closed with your fingers if the dough is too dry and when you are beginning to make bagels.
- Second rise: Once all the bagels are shaped, cover with the same cling film and place in a warm place for about 1/2 hour, the second rise. If you making two day bagels, no second rise, just the first rise overnight in fridge of shaped bagels, boil and bake straight from the fridge.
- Boiling: About 15 mins into the second rise, keep a wide shallow pan with about 2 inches of water on the hob and bring it into a gentle boil. Once it starts to boil, add 1 – 2 tsps of bicarbonate of soda into the water, it will froth immediately and then settle. Swithch the oven on to 220˚C. Now ease the bagels into the gently boiling water one by one without overcrowding. Wider pans will get the job done in fewer batches. Boil for 1 min and flip over and boil for another minute, take out and leave on a lightly oiled baking sheet or siliconised oven proof paper to prevent sticking. I drain the water on a kitchen towel by force of habit, but I think it may not be necessary.
- Topping: At this point you have 2 options
- The boiled bagels straight out of water will be sticky so it is the right time to top with poppy or sesame seeds, onions, garlic.
- If not topping, can be baked as such for a slightly matt surface finish or brush with egg wash for a really shiny finish.
- Baking: Once all the bagels are boiled and kept on the baking trays, the oven hopefully must be ready now. Put the bagels into the oven and bake for a 20 mins, turning the baking trays around half way.
- Cool on a wire rack.
- Enjoy toasted with butter or cream cheese or however you like your bagels.
- Malt syrup is thick and gooey, you could mix with a little bit of the water and add, but I don’t bother, just coat a little vegetable oil on the spoon before dipping into the malt syrup and it will glide away and you don’t have to struggle to get it out of the spoon.
- I have tried many ways of halving and halving again to divide the dough, but in the end settled with roughly cutting a long roll of dough and using the weighing machine to get roughly 100 gms apiece.
- If you find the dough springs back when shaping, just the rest the dough for 5 minutes.
- Always keep the dough and the shaped bagels as you work, covered with either with a just damp kitchen towel or with oil sprayed cling film to prevent drying out.
- I use a flat wide sauté pan about 3 inches deep filled with about 2 inches of water, wide enough to hold 4 bagels, so it is done in 3 batches.
- When boiling, you may have to keep adjusting the hob to get the water to simmer as the bagels cool the water and it no longer simmers by the time the minute is done. So I keep it slightly higher, in a gentle boil so when bagels go in it simmers.
- If you want chewer bagels, try to boil for 2 mins each side.
- These bagels stay for 2-3 days, in an air tight box. We store them in an airtight box in the fridge, they last easily for a week and are as good after you have toasted them.
- Sourdough bagels on the other hand last a week with out refrigeration, but that is for another post.
- Experiment with any flavour or toppings you like.
Is all the trouble worth it? Absolutely, evidenced every time I see the children dig in as well as I myself taste them. I looks long winded, but once you have made it, you will see that it is quiet straightforward.
Please let me know your favourite toppings and flavours in the comments so everyone benefits.