There are some things about which I’m terribly snotty. Not wine, not books, not clothing labels. Bagels, however? Don’t even get me started. I’ve had so many bad ones, thanks to Yale University Dining Services, slathered in peanut butter and wrapped hastily in napkins en route to a track bus waiting to haul ass to Ithaca or Hanover or Providence or god knows where. They hurt my Long Island born soul. They’re all bready and light and the texture is just ALL WRONG.
Growing up, bagels were an every Sunday type of thing. They were also a twice to three times a week lunch thing, either with turkey and cheese and pickles, or with an egg sandwich. My friend Marge and I have a long history with bagels. I think we might both agree that much of our 25 year friendship in some way incorporated bagels at almost every phase. So, when Marge asked me if I was interested in going on a homemade bagel adventure with her, there was no other option. It had to be yes. Emphatically, yes.
I don’t even know why I bothered to post the recipe below (it took forever). I know you, reader. You’re not going to make these. You’re going to look at the recipe and say, bah, too complicated, I can just buy these at the store you fool. Ok, yes, you can. BUT, but…good bagels are dwindling by the month. One of our mainstays here in Bayport was recently bought out by my old boss from Subway. He expanded his empire into the next-door bagel shop and started to sell reheated FROZEN BAGELS. ON LONG ISLAND. It’s total blasphemy, and if you’re ever in Bayport, please boycott “Friendly Bagels.” You’re going to have to make the trip to Sayville for Hot Bagels. Or, you can come over and (with 3 days’ notice), you can have some of mine.
And you’ll say, holy shit Svoboda, these are better than bagel store bagels. And you’ll be right. This dough is awesome. Peppery, chewy, doughy. It’s perfect. It’s perfect and it’s such a shame that you’ll never make them. While Marge and I were making them we kept saying, this is the last time we’ll do this. Not that it was especially annoying. I mean, there’s a lot of down time, a lot of rising, a lot of refrigeration. But nothing you experienced rainbow-cookie-makers don’t know. We were just assuming it wouldn’t be worth the 3-day-span it took for all the stages to come together. BUT WE WERE WRONG.
We were so wrong, and we’ll never say such things again. I can’t even stop talking about how good these bagels are. Did I mention how peppery and lovely they are? SO PEPPERY AND LOVELY.
Do you want to know how good they are? Look at how they make my dad smile, after spending the entire morning outside in the cold rain, weeding:
Ok, so, he also just retired. But I promise, most of that is the bagel. If you need further convincing, please observe the egg sandwich I made with one of the everything bagels:
I’m sorry, is that you weeping?
from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Dough Starter (sponge)
1 tsp instant yeast
2 1/4 liquid cups water at room temperature (70 to 90 degrees F)
3 cups high gluten or bread flour (we used bread flour mostly, and some whole wheat flour)
3 tbsp unsalted butter (optional)
2 1/3 cups high gluten or bread flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp malt powder or barley malt syrup (we used brown sugar)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
Make the sponge: In a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, place the yeast, water, and flour. Whisk about 2 minutes, until very smooth; scrape down the sides. The sponge will be very thick. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Combine the flour mixture: In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, malt, sugar, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle the mixture lightly over the sponge; do not stir. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 1 to 4 hours at room temperature, or, for the best flavor development, 1 hour at room temp and then refrigerated overnight or up to 24 hours. (That’s what we did, because we are hard core).
Mix the dough: (I’m printing the hand method here, because the full recipe doesn’t fit in dinky 5-qt kitchenaids, and I’m assuming none of the people who read this blog own anything other) Add the butter, if using, to the sponge/flour mixtre. With a wooden spoon or your hand, stir the flour mixture into the sponge until it becomes too stiff to mix. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it onto a lightly floured counter. Knead the dough for 5 minutes just to begin to develop the gluten structure; use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point it will be sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.
Knead the dough another 10 to 15 minutes or until it is very smooth and elastic. It should be barely tacky to the touch. If desired, add the remaining flour until it is no longer tacky. More flour will make heavier, chewier bagels, which some prefer.
Let the dough rise: Place the dough in a 4-qt container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top. Cover the container with a lid or a plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Allow the dough to rise, ideally at 75 to 80 degrees F, for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled.
Deflate the dough by firmly pushing it down. Give it an envelope turn and set it back in the container. Oil the top of the dough, cover it, and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours, or overnight for the most flavor. (At this point it can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 2 days).
Shape the dough and let it rise: Allow dough to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Set a sheet of parchment or lightly floured towel on a countertop near the stovetop. Transfer the dough to an unfloured counter. Cut in half and place one piece, covered, in the refrigerator. Cut the dough into 5 equal pieces. Allow the dough to rest for about 10 minutes.
Shaping the dough (our favorite method): Begin by drawing up the sides of the piece of dough and pinching them together to form a round ball. Turn the ball over so the pinched seam is on bottom. Stick your index finger all the way through the center of the ball, to make a hole. Hook the bagel over your thumb and insert the index finger of your other hand into the hole, stretching and rotating it to make a hole about 2 1/2″ in diameter.
Allow the bagels to rise about 15 minutes or until they puff slightly.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F 30 minutes before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2 tbsps molasses or 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
Glaze and Toppings:
2 large egg whites
1 tsp cold water
poppy, sesame, or caraway seeds; kosher or sea salt; minced onions sauteed in vegetable oil; and/or dried garlic chips or dehydrated onions softened in hot water
Boil the Bagels: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Stir in the molasses or sugar and baking soda until dissolved. With a skimmer, transfer the bagels, one at a time, to the boiling water, without crowding them; cook them in batches of 2 to 3 at a time so that they can swim around without touching one another. If they are slightly underrisen, they may sink at first but will then rise to the surface. Boil for 30 seconds to 2 minutes on each side, gently flipping them over with the skimmer; the longer time will make a thicker crust. Remove the boiled bagels, shaking off excess water over the pot and set onto parchment or an unfloured towel to drain, then move them, using a pancake turner, to the prepared baking sheet after just 30 seconds to 1 minute, so that they don’t stick. The bagels will look wrinkled at this stage–don’t worry, their appearance vastly improves on baking.
Glaze the bagels: Whisk together the egg whites and cold water to break up the whites. Pass through a sieve into a bowl, and brush each bagel with the glaze. Do not let the glaze drop onto the baking sheet, or it will glue them down. Brush with a second coat of glaze and, if desired, sprinkle any topping of your choice evenly over the bagels.
Bake the bagels: Place one baking sheet directly on the hot oven stone or baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Lower the temperature to 450 degrees F and bake for 20 minutes. Turn off the oven, without opening it let the bagels remain for 5 minutes. Then open the oven door and leave the bagels in the oven for 5 more minutes.
Cool the bagels: Transfer the bagels to a wire rack and cool completely (or eat them when they’re still too hot to handle)
Store: The bagels will keep well for 1 day at room temperature in a paper bag. For longer storage, wrap each in plastic wrap, place in plastic freezer bags, and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.