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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Baking Bagels

It’s sort of an anomaly that I’m enamored with bagels. I grew up in the Midwest, which surely doesn’t explain it. And, although I’ve been carb-centric my whole life, I didn’t experience a REAL bagel until I was nearly twenty (thanks to my move to New York when I transferred colleges).

It was an edible epiphany…the reality of a B-A-G-E-L was so different from anything I’d experienced before. I realized that I’d been duped for all these years by rolls with holes, fictitiously labeled “bagels” in the grocery aisles I’d grown up in.

To me, the perfect bagel has a chewy, crunch of an exterior that your teeth pierce through, almost with a snap. A bagel has spring and depth to it, and I love mine topped with sesame seeds. There is something about the seeds’ slight texture and sweet undertone that complement the doughy orb perfectly.

Now that I live in San Francisco, I’ve been bagel frustrated for almost a year. The bagels that I’ve encountered in the Bay Area are imposters. I had almost decided to give up when (luckily) my bagel libido was revived. I realized that I could overcome this bagel dilemma…all I had to do was MAKE them.

The recipe I used called for a “poolish” which is a pre-ferment that needs to hang out for at least 12 hours before using. When it’s ready, you make the bagel dough, which you then form and rest (for another ~6-12 hours).

Then, it’s time for boiling in a molasses-baking soda bath (the key to a bagel’s chewy exterior) and baking.

My first bagel attempt was only a partial success…I’d let my dough rest for too long, and the result was a slightly over-darkened, craggy specimen (though still tasty).

But, I was determined to perfect the art of bagel making. And, on Sunday morning, I basked in bagel glory. The little golden bagels were plump (so plump that their holes were nearly squashed closed) and chewy and divine…topped with a little cream cheese, butter or homemade strawberry–rhubarb jam…mmmm. Any takers?


1 c. bread flour
1/8 t. instant yeast
1 c. water (at the temp specified on your yeast package...mine was 120-130 degrees F)
Mix well, cover and leave at room temp 3-5 hours; refrigerate overnight

Final Dough:
1 c. Poolish (from above)
1/2 t. instant yeast
1/2 c. water (at the temp specified on our yeast package...mine was 120-130 degrees F)
16 oz. bread flour
1 T. vital wheat gluten (I found this at Whole Foods Market)
3 t. kosher salt
1 1/2 T. Malt Syrup (I also found this at Whole Foods Market)
Cornmeal (for dusting sheet pan)
Toppings, if desired (sesame seeds, poppy seads, onion, salt, etc.)

Add to Water for Poaching:
1 T. Molasses
1/2 t. baking soda

Allow poolish to come to room temp.
Stir yeast into the water just to dissolve.
Combine the poolish, flour, gluten, salt, syrup and water-yeast mixture in the bowl of electric mixer with the dough hook.
Mix 1 minute at low speed, 10-12 minutes medium speed. The dough should be slightly stiff, dense, smooth and dry. Add additional water if needed.
Cut dough into 10 equal pieces (3-4 oz each). Roll pieces into balls; cover: let rest 5 minutes.
Line a sheet pan with parchment and dust lightly with cornmeal.
Roll each ball into a 6 inch rope, loop it around your hand with the ends slightly overlapping in your palm. Roll the ends on the counter to seal.
Place the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the prepared pan.
Enclose the pan in a plastic bag and let rise 1 1/2 hours until they have increased by about 25%. Refrigerate the dough at least 6 hours, or overnight.
Position the oven rack in the middle and preheat to 475. Have a sheet pan lined with parchment sprinkled with cornmeal near the stove. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and reduce heat until the water shimmers; add molasses and baking soda to the water.
Gently drop the dough into the water, cooking in batches. Flip them after 1 minute and poach on the other side for one minute.
Remove the bagels with slotted spoon to the prepared pan. Sprinkle seeds or toppings if desired.
Bake bagels 10-12 minutes until light brown, rotating the baking sheet as needed for even dough color. Let them cool 30 minutes before eating.

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