I’m in the middle of a creative non-fiction class with Minnie Bruce Pratt right now. It’s a Maymester class, which is a cutesy way of saying that the work you would do over the course of a typical 15 week semester gets condensed over the course of ten (10!) days–4 hours of class a day, five days a week, for two weeks. Plus homework. It’s intense, but it’s also been a great experience so far. Since it’s a writing class, it feels a lot like a day camp version of a writing retreat. Given the pace of the class, which is compounded by the fact that most of us are writing about deeply personal and emotionally heavy topics, I was totally exhausted by Friday. So Saturday was, by necessity, a day of relaxing and unwinding. I stayed in my pjs for most of the day, finished seasons 3 and 4 of The Guild, did some knitting, danced around to Adele, and made some bagels.
I’ve been wanting to make bagels for awhile, but have been a little hesitant about the process. It turns out that it’s not any harder than throwing together a loaf of white bread–there’s just a couple of additional steps involved. I was also surprised at how little time was involved making these, especially since I used the bagel recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible which is a book that contains a lot of recipes that take 8-10 hours or that are even best made over the course of two days. I started these around 5 and pulled them out of the oven at 11:30. The recipe begins with a sponge, which you let activate for a bit before you finish and knead the dough. After the dough rises, you shape the bagels, which only sit for a few minutes before you boil them and then they’re ready for the oven.
When these were done baking, I was more than skeptical. I was convinced I had a flop on my hands. First of all, the bagels just didn’t look good. They got really brown while baking, even though I reduced the baking time by five minutes. They are also, as Aidan quickly observed, significantly flatter than the bagels I’m accustomed to buying. To shape the bagels, I rolled the dough out into snake-like shape and then pinched the ends together in a circle. When they were boiling, a couple of the bagels came undone and then I stupidly tried to pinch them back together post-boil. The result was definitely not pretty. What you see above is the prettiest bagel of the bunch. Second, the bagels felt really hard. They didn’t have the soft, pliable crust I’m used to but felt more akin to a crusty bread. I was sure they would be a disaster. I questioned whether I even wanted a bagel that would be more authentic that what I was raised on. Aidan was surprised that I bagged them up to try in the morning rather than dumping them straight into the garbage.
I’m was really, really wrong because these are damn good. The outside is much chewier than I’m used to, but I realize now that this is a very good thing. And while the inside of the bagel is also chewier, it’s deliciously soft in a way that creates a really pleasing contrast between crust and crumb. These bagels are flatter simply because they aren’t as bready as the bagels you’d buy at the grocery store. I also recognize that these bagels aren’t as ugly as I first thought–they just don’t have the pale crust that I’m used to seeing on a bagel. (I would still reduce my oven temperature the next time around. I think my oven runs a bit hot.) The flavor is also fantastic. In addition to the malt powder that contributes to the distinctive taste of bagels, this dough is seasoned with a bit of black pepper, which doesn’t overwhelm but provides a nice hint of spice. For breakfast this morning, I lightly toasted one of the bagels and topped it with a bit of butter. Best bagel experience ever. These aren’t perfect–I need to work on my shaping technique and play around a bit with bake times and temperature and I’d like to try out these with some different toppings–but this is definitely a recipe that I’m coming back to again and again.
Weekend baking = win. Now back to work.
Levy’s Bagels (from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible)
Note: the original recipe includes separate ingredient lists for a full batch (which makes 10 bagels) and a half batch (which makes 5 bagels). I’ve only included the instructions for the half batch here, but it would be very easy to double the recipe–just don’t double the ingredients for the water bath. Beranbaum warns, however, that if you’re using a KitchenAid mixer to mix and knead the dough, a 5 qt. mixer will only accommodate a half batch. Also, I’ve included the original bake temperatures and times, although I reduced the time by five minutes when I made these. Next time, I think I would reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees since I think my oven runs hot. Also, I realized while typing up this recipe that I accidentally skipped a second rise in the refrigerator. My bagels were fine without it (although perhaps this accounts for the flatness?), but I’ll probably try it next time to see what happens.
- 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 1 c plus 2 tbsp lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 c high gluten or bread flour
- 1 c plus 3 tbsp high-gluten or bread flour (reserve the 3 tbsp to add in while kneading)
- 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 1 1/2 tsp malt powder or barley malt syrup (I used malt powder)
- 1 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter (to be added when you begin kneading the dough)
Water Bath and Glaze:
- 2 tbsp molasses or 1/4 c sugar (I used molasses)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 large egg white
- 1/2 tsp cold water
- Optional: 3 to 4 tbsp toppings, which could include seeds, kosher salt, sea salt, minced sauteed onions, and/or dehydrated garlic chips or dried chopped onions that have been soaked in hot water for a bit.
In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the starter and whisk for two minutes to incorporate air. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the flour mixture (reserving 3 tbsp of the flour to add in while kneading) and gently sprinkle the mixture over the starter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 hours. For even better flavor, let the bowl sit at room temperature for 1 hour and then refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours. If you refrigerate the mixture, let it sit at room temperature for half an hour before you begin kneading the dough. Allow the butter to soften at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before kneading it into the dough.
Add the butter to the starter and flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon or your hand, combine the starter and flour mixture. When a dough starts to form in the bowl, dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for five minutes. Turn your bowl over the dough and let it sit for twenty minutes. After resting, knead the dough for 10-15 minutes, until smooth and elastic. While kneading, only add in as much of the reserved flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or to the counter. The dough should still be slightly tacky to the touch.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover the bowl with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap, and let the dough rise until doubled, which should take 1-2 hours. Deflate the dough, flattening it into a rectangle, and then fold the dough in thirds (like you would fold a letter) twice. Oil the top of the dough, cover it, and refrigerate it for four hours or even overnight. [Note: this is the step I missed. If I make these again, I might do up to this step the night before, refrigerate them overnight and then finish the bagels in the morning.]
Cut the dough into 5 equal portions and shape the portions using one of two methods. Method 1: Pull the sides of the dough into the center and pinch them together. Make a hole in the center of the dough using your index finger and then gently stretch the hole until it is about 2 1/2″ wide. Method 2 (the method I used): Roll the dough back and forth on the counter until you have a 12″ rope. Twist the dough around your hand until the two rope ends overlap. Roll the dough back and forth on the counter at the point where the two ends overlap to join them. Set the shaped bagels on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover them with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap and let them sit for 15-20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boil. When the water is boiling, add in the molasses or sugar and the baking soda. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, gently add the bagels to the water, boiling two bagels at a time so as not to crowd the pot. Boil the bagels for 1-2 minutes on each side, keeping in mind that the longer you boil the bagels, the chewier the outer crust will be. After boiling, return the bagels to the parchment paper to drain.
Lay the bagels on a fresh piece of parchment on the baking sheet. Whisk together the egg white and cold water. Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the bagels with the glaze. Brush with a second coat, and if using, sprinkle your toppings over the bagels. Bake the bagels for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 450 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes. (I only did 15 minutes because I was concerned about the rate at which they were browning.) Turn the heat off and leave the bagels in the oven with the door closed for 5 more minutes. Open the oven door and leave the bagels in the oven for 5 minutes. Allow the bagels to cool completely on a wire rack.