Plain Bagels

by Beth on November 8, 2009

I love to bake. In recent years, I conquered my fear of yeast and have found the process of transforming basic ingredients like flour, water, yeast and salt into beautiful, flavorful breads to be quite enjoyable. I did less baking during the summer, but I’ve been anxious to try new recipes as the cool fall weather has rolled in. I’ve had my eye on a few varieties of bagels that Brown Eyed Baker has made during the past several months.

When I told one of my friends that my husband I and I had made our own bagels, she asked me “Are they hard to make?” As with most homemade items, they’re not hard to make, but they do take some time and a little planning. Each step is not difficult, but there are several steps that must be followed over the course of at least two days. You need to prepare the sponge, prepare the dough, divide the dough and allow it to rise, shape the bagels and let them rise, throw them in the refrigerator to rise slowly, boil them and finally bake them. See? No single step is overly complicated.

I must admit that while I was boiling my bagels two at a time, I thought “This had better be worth it!” Then, as the bagels baked my house became filled with the warm, yeasty aroma of fresh-baked bread. When I finally bit into a warm bagel, I saw the light! Store-bought plain bagels are good, but these are amazing! I don’t know what it is, but they’re soft (not too doughy) and far more flavorful then their mass-produced plain counterparts.

It’s true that it takes a bit of time to make bagels at home – certainly more time than it takes to grab a bag of bagels at the grocery store. After my first foray into the world of homemade bages, I can attest that the extra time and effort is well worth it!

You’ll find the full recipe below the break.

Bagels
(Source: Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread)

Yields 12 large of 24 mini bagels

Sponge
1 teaspoon (.11 ounce) instant yeast
4 cups (18 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 ? cups (20 ounces) water, at room temperature

Dough
? teaspoon (.055 ounces) instant yeast
3 ? cups (17 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 ? teaspoons (.7 ounce) salt
2 teaspoons (.33 ounce) malt powder OR 1 tablespoon (.5 ounce) dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar

To Finish
1 tablespoon baking soda
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, rehydrated dried minced garlic or onions, or chopped fresh onions that have been tossed in oil (optional)

Make the Sponge
1. Add the flour to a 4-quart mixing bowl (or the bowl of your electric mixer) and stir in the yeast.

2. Gradually add the water, whisking only until it forms a smooth, stick batter (like pancake batter).

3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should nearly double in size and collapse when rapped against the counter (the whole sponge may not collapse, but some bubbles will burst).

Make the Dough
1. In the same mixing bowl, add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir.

2. Add 3 cups of flour, all of the salt and malt. Stir (or mix on low speeds with the dough hook) until the ingredients form a ball. Slowly work in the remaining ? cup flour to stiffen the dough.

3. Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6 minutes by machine). The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour ? all the ingredients should be hydrated. If the dough seems dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achiever the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feels satiny and pliable but not be tacky.

Form the Bagels
1. Immediately divide the dough into 4 ? ounce pieces for standard bagels, or smaller if desired. Form the pieces into rolls.

2. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.

3. Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Using your thumb, create a hole in the center of the bagel and stretch it out until it’s 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The resulting bagel should have a fairly even thickness all around.

4. Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pan. Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

5. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the ?float test?. Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. if it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.

Finish the Bagels
1. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda. Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.

3. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). After 1 minute flip them over and boil another minute. If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side.

4. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-line sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. (If you decided to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface.)

5. If you want to top the bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water.

6. When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450 degrees F and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown.

7. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.

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