Bagels have always been some what of a mystery to me. I absolutely adore eating them but it’s not something you find a lot around London. My first (and only) attempt a few years ago were such an utter failure that they never even crossed my mind again until last week.
There’s a lot to learn when it comes to bagels and I really wanted to get it right. I spent hours reading recipes and watching videos on traditional bagel making methods. The dough needs to be firm and smooth to create a light but tight crumb along with the ability to mould and retain its shape.
What distinguishes bagels from regular bread is the boiling process. It feels almost sacrilege to put fresh proved dough into boiling water but its crucial to achieve that iconic texture. As you boil the dough you release some of the starches in the flour which then gelatinize and form a barrier around the bagel. By cooking the starches beforehand, you won’t lose as much moisture in the oven and have partially set the outside of the bagel resulting in a chewier and denser crumb.
A regular appearance of fresh puffed bagels with a generous schmear of cream cheese is very much welcomed in my kitchen. Since I can’t hop on a plane anytime soon, these will have to transport me to the busy pavements of New York.
Ingredients – makes 8 bagels
- 470g strong bread flour
- 8g sea salt
- 25g malt extract
- 5g dried yeast
- 265ml room temperature water
- 30g malt extract (to boil)
- 1 tbsp. baking soda (to boil)
- optional toppings: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion flakes
- Mixed Seed topping: 2 tbsp black/white sesame seeds, 1 tbsp poppy seeds, 1 tbsp onion flakes, 1/2 tbsp sea salt
- a little oil or cornmeal to dust the trays
The night before
- To begin making the bagel dough, place the bread flour and sea salt into a medium bowl. Stir together to distribute the salt. In another bowl mix together the water, 25g malt extract and dried yeast. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix together using your hand until a shaggy dough forms. It’s ok if not all the flour is incorporated. Tip the dough out onto your worktop, along with any excess flour left in the bowl. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until you have a smooth, shiny and firm dough. You wont need to add anymore flour to the dough as it won’t stick to the worktop. The dough is ready when you press the surface and it indents but springs back quickly, this is when you know the gluten has developed sufficiently.
- Oil a bowl that is big enough for the dough to double in size. Place the dough into the prepared bowl and cover it with a kitchen cloth. Leave to prove for 1 hour at room temperature.
- Once doubled in size, tip the dough out onto your worktop. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. I like to weigh each ball to ensure even sizes; each bagel should weigh 95g. Roll each piece of dough into a tight ball and leave for 5 minutes under a kitchen cloth to relax the dough slightly. Prepare a tray with parchment and either coat with a thin layer of oil or a dusting of cornmeal so the bagels don’t stick.
- Now we are ready to shape the bagels! For this there are two options. My preferred version is the traditional way of shaping which is what I have photographed in the below photos to help (see bottom of recipe.) Firstly, you wont need any extra flour for this shaping, this will create a dry skin on the dough. Start by taking one of your dough balls and flatten into a rectangle. Roll the rectangle into a log, then continue to roll the log out until its long enough to fit around the middle of your hand plus a few extra inches. Lay the log over your knuckles and overlap the ends on your palm so the dough is creating a ring around your hand. Pinch the ends of the dough together and roll the bagel back and forth between your palm and the table so there is no seam. Continue to roll until you’re left with a smooth ring of dough, the hole should be approx. 1 1/2 inches wide. The hole will seem large but you need to allow enough space so that the dough can grow during proving and baking but still be left with the iconic bagel shape. *
- For the ‘easier’ but less traditional shaping; take your dough ball and poke a hole through the centre with a finger. Force both index fingers into the hole and gently rotate your fingers around each other to ease out the dough until you have an even ring with a 1 1/2 inch hole.
- Place the shaped bagel onto your prepared trays, leaving enough space for the dough to double in size overnight. Cover the bagels with a layer of loose clingfilm and place in the fridge overnight (preferably 10-12 hours.)
The next morning
- Pre-heat your oven to 200°C and place a baking stone inside to heat up if you have one. Prepare a baking tray with oiled parchment as well as have your desired toppings ready to sprinkle onto the bagels.
- The next step to New York style Bagels is creating that iconic chewy texture, golden colour and shine. To do this we need to boil the bagels before baking (strange I know.)
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Choose a large pan that can fit a few bagels in at a time. Whisk in the 30g malt extract and baking soda. When you’re all set up, take the proved bagels out of the fridge. Once the water is on a slow boil, drop in as many bagels as fits comfortably. They shouldn’t be touching each other and should have enough space to puff up. Cook the bagels for 1 minute, flip over and cook for another minute. Using a slotted spoon, carefully scoop the bagels out from the water and place onto the prepared baking tray.
- While the bagels are still wet, quickly sprinkle over the toppings. You can prepare bowls of your toppings and dip the whole bagel into the seeds while still wet. If I were doing all the bagels the same I would opt for this however, if you’re doing a variety, I find it easier to just sprinkle. If like me you don’t have a very large pan to boil a lot of bagels at once, boil 4 bagels (2 at a time) and start baking them while you repeat the process with the other 4 so that they are not hanging around.
- If using a pre-heated baking stone; slide the baking parchment with the bagels on onto the stone. If you don’t have a baking stone, simply place the bagels on their baking trays into the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown.
- Leave to cool before cutting. Keep in an airtight container, best eaten the same day and with a big shmear of cream cheese. If eaten the day after, cut in half and toast.
*I find watching people demonstrate this technique makes it much easier to grasp. I highly recommend watching a few YouTube videos to get the hang of it.