Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Making Bagels at Home

It used to be difficult to find good bagels, although now they're available even in small towns. In the United States, that is. But a while back I got an email from a FabulousFoods.com reader in Belgium, who said her American-born husband is going crazy looking for good bagels. She wanted to surprise him by making some and wanted to know if I had a recipe.

I did some experimenting and came up with a decent one. The thing that sets bagels apart from other breads is that they are quickly boiled, before being baked, resulting in a chewy texture. If you're not familiar with making yeast breads, you might want to check out our the FabulousFoods.com tutorial "How to Make Yeast Bread" before beginning.

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast (or 1 packet)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
4 1/2 - 5 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons molasses

optional toppings of choice:
sesame seeds
poppy seeds
kosher salt
onion bits


Combine 1/4 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Stir to dissolve then let stand for about 5 minutes or until foamy. Stir in remaining 1 1/4 cups warm water, sugar, salt and about 4 cups of flour and mix until well combined. Mix in enough of the remaining flour until you have a soft dough.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-8 minutes. Shape into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for until doubled, about an hour and a half.

Punch down dough and divide into 12 pieces. Cover with the towel again and let rest for 20 minutes.

With floured hands, roll each piece of dough into a rope 12-14 in length. Wrap the rope into a circle and pinch to close. Repeat with remaining pieces.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water, mixed with the molasses to a boil. Drop a couple of bagel into the water at a time, poaching them for about 20 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to transfer bagels to an ungreased baking sheet, (or one that's covered in parchment paper). Sprinkle with toppings, if desired, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until crusty and browned.

Notes from a Bagel Pro
My good friend Tak Kurtz, a nice Jewish boy who now lives in Japan with his beautiful wife Masami, wrote to me after I first published this recipe. It seems that in Tak's earlier years, before he became known as Japan's favorite street performer, he was a professional bagel maker. (Click here to to watch the Mr. Tak Show comedy juggling and unicycle act on U-Tube.)

When Tak gets into anything he goes full force, and so it was with bagels. He wrote with the fascinating history of bagels, tips on how the pros make bagels and how you can duplicate the results at home. I've included Tak's professional bagel baking tips at the bottom of this page.

Tak Kurtz's Professional Bagel Making Tips

-- The easiest way for someone that doesn't have years of training at hand shaping is to make a ball, stick their finger through it, make the finger and dough do a hula hoop thing, take it off the finger and shape it to look like a bagel.

Boiling -- Drop the bagels into the near boiling water before the dough has a chance to rise, insuring that the bagels will sink. If the bagels are left in the water too long, they will become gooey in the hole, so skim the the bottom of the pot to make sure that the bagels aren't sticking, and will surface. Remove the bagels when they surface and rinse off with cold water, and put the seeds of choice on your bagel (cinnamon raisin, egg, or pumpernickel bagels need a separate dough, of course).

Baking -- Here is the most important part. Bagels are cooked on Bagel boards, but for the home cooked bagel, you can do this by taking a cooking sheet and putting a wet towel on half of it, the bagels are placed on the towel( seed side down), after about 6-7 minutes of baking, use the towel to turn the bagels on to the side that is baked (so that the bagels are seed side up on the hot baking sheet, now they won't stick to the baking sheet). Bagels should not be flat and hard on the bottom, that is the reason for bagel boards. The main idea is to keep the seeds in tact until the bottom has raised enough to not stick to the pan.

-- Very important, never refrigerate a bagel! Freezing is O.K., but refrigeration will make it as hard as a rock!

More on Bagels and Bagel Making

  • A Short History of the Bagel
    Along with tips, Tak Kurtz also included a short, yet fascinating, history of the bagel. Click the above link to read up on the story behind this favorite bread and you'll be prepared should you ever get asked a bagel related questions on a TV quiz show.
  • Bagel Making at About.com --You'll find lots of bagel making recipes and resources here.
  • Bagel Making at the Joe Pastry Blog -- For a technical scientific take on bagel making, check out this tutorial.


Amanda said...

How cool Cheri, thanks for this! My son is a plain bagel fanatic. I have bookmarked this to try later :)

Cheri Sicard said...

Get him to make them with you. Baking breads of any kind always leaves you with such a feeling of accomplishment. And it's really not that hard.

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