Just-Right Bagels

by Janice on March 25, 2009

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Sometimes, I swear I feel like Goldilocks.  And never more so than when I tried to find the perfect bagel recipe.  One recipe turned out too dense.  Another recipe turned out too bready.  Finally, I found the recipe that was just right.  I had to kick myself.  I found it on Smitten Kitchen.  Go figure.  A New Yorker and a bread baker (among other things, obviously).  Of course Deb had an amazing recipe for bagels!  But I didn’t look there first, or second.  However, if I had, I would have missed the gorgeous step-by-step photos and techniques on this site.  I am forever grateful to Kimberly for sharing what she learned at culinary school.  Unfortunately, the bagels I made from that recipe turned out too heavy and dense.  I had a blast making them, but I was so disappointed in their flavor and texture, and the fact that no one in my house would eat them.  Since I had never attempted bagels before, and I had a whole bag of Diastatic Malt Powder, I decided to try again.

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I’m somewhat amazed that I had never tried to make bagels before, considering that I truly dislike the bagels in the grocery store and at local bagel shops.  I can only chalk it up to the fact that we all went carb-avoiding crazy, and that I preferred to save my carbs for desserts and sweets, or good bread.  I think I was also under the misunderstanding that bagels are difficult to make.  Which they are not!  After all the sticky, wet bread dough I’ve been working with all these years, I found bagel dough to be a breeze.  It’s a stiff dough, and very forgiving, and worth every minute of work, once you find the right recipe.  You just need to spread the work out over at least two days, so the dough has time to develop flavor.

The next recipe I tried was this one from King Arthur Flour.  I found these too white-bread-like for my taste.  Pretty enough, and my family did eat each and every one, but they just weren’t the crispy crusty chewy bagels of my New York dreams.  However, on this try, I did perfect my bagel technique, and you can see that the shape is more traditional (smaller holes).  Perfectly edible, but not incredible.  This time, I used a larger pan for the boiling water bath, which made the process go faster (boiling more bagels at one time).  I know, I know, you’re thinking a boiling water bath, she must be crazy!  But it’s simpler than it sounds, and the end result is worth the effort.  (You simply drop the risen bagels in boiling water that has been enriched with malt for 2 minutes per side prior to draining and then baking.  It’s not much more difficult than boiling pasta, and I know you know how to do that!)

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On my third attempt to make bagels, I again searched the internet, and came up with this recipe.  (See the picture at the top of this post.)  I’ll consider it my reward for being patient and persistent.  Because it’s perfect.  I mean it.  I made half the recipe into mini-bagels and the rest into large bagels.  I made the recipe with regular bread flour, because my high-gluten flour is still on the way from King Arthur.  The exterior is so crispy and the interior so flavorful and chewy that my household doesn’t want me to “ruin” the bagels with toppings.  (But I’m pretty determined to try the cinnamon raisin variation in spite of them.)  The only thing I did differently from Deb’s posted recipe is that I added a couple of tablespoons of malt powder to the boiling water bath.  I boiled the bagels for 2 minutes on each side.   After the water bath, I drained the bagels on a cooling rack to ensure crispness, as Kimberly suggested.  I baked the bagels for an extra 5 minutes.  I used Kimberly’s technique for shaping the large bagels, and I just poked a hole in and stretched the mini-bagels.  Both ways worked just fine.  My dough was dry enough and too stiff to add in the last 1/2 cup of flour.  My KitchenAid mixer would not have been able to knead the dough if I’d added that much, and the dough would not have soaked up that flour.  (The moisture level in your flour and in your kitchen can affect bread dough, so trust your instincts.)  I’m not going to type out the whole recipe, since I’ve given you the link above, but it’s not because I don’t love you.  It’s because I love Alex for typing Peter Reinhart’s entire recipe (complete with notes from Deb).

Extremely Stiff Dough

Extremely Stiff Dough

After Resting, Prior to Shaping

After Resting, Prior to Shaping

After the Boiling Water Bath

After the Boiling Water Bath

Ready for the Cooling Rack

Ready for the Cooling Rack

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