Finding a good bagel when living abroad can be a difficult thing. It’s important to understand that a bagel is more than just a roll with a hole. It’s a entirely different category of bready goodness, characterized first by its stiff, high-gluten dough and secondly, by its double-cooking process. First boiled, which gives them that chewy, glossy exterior, then baked. As you can see, I’m serious about my bagels.
I started making bagels about 5 years ago, and believe me it wasn’t easy. I went through a lot of deflated, water-logged, tough bagels before settling on this recipe, which I’ve been using pretty much since then.
The process itself can be done in one day, but I prefer to break it into two. Make the dough the night before, let is rise oh-so-slowly in the fridge overnight and get up early the next morning and surprise everyone with hot, fresh bagels for breakfast. Is there any better feeling?
I’ve slightly adapted this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, and feel free to play around with different flours or toppings. I like to replace a part of the flour with rye flour for a more robust bagel.
Now, I’m going to give you the biggest piece of pastry advice you’ve ever had in your life. Being a pastry chef is all about being exact, but the exact opposite could be said about bread making. When it comes to flour-liquid ratio, a recipe is really just a guide. Depending on your flour, you may need more or less, let you finger tips do the judging.
4 cups all-purpose flour, if you can find high-gluten flour even better!
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp molasses or brown sugar, (ATK calls for malt barley syrup, but I’ve never found this in France nor Argentina)
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water (you may need a wee bit more depending on your flour)
Mix yeast with warm water, cover and let activate for a few minutes. If it’s bubbly, great, if not, throw it out and start again.
Mix flour, salt and molasses together in a large bowl. Add yeast/water mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a shaggy ball.
Dump out on countertop and knead for about ten minutes. The dough will be stiff and hard, but you don’t want it to be dry.
Divide into eight balls, cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes.
Now it’s time to form the bagel shape. My favorite and sure-fire way to do this is by first forming a smooth ball, then sticking my thumbing right through the middle of the dough, so I end up with a giant ring of dough on my thumb, then I kind of rotate it around my thumb while stretching it and widening the hole. You don’t want too big of a hole, nor too small, because they’ll either close up completely when rising or you’ll have a very thin bagel.
When you’ve formed all the bagels, place them on a slightly greased baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, careful not to smush! and leave room for growth and place in the fridge for at least 6-8 hours. Be sure to cover up good so your bagels don’t dry out.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 425F, take the bagels out and let them warm up a bit for 30 minutes. Boil a large pot of water, and put the bagels in a few at time, for about 30-45 seconds, turning them once during the cooking. Set on cooling rack and immediately sprinkle with toppings if you choose to use them. I like poppy seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, a bit of oregano and sea salt 🙂
Place on non-stick baking sheet and bake for about 12-15 minutes until slightly golden brown. You don’t want super toasty bread here, as you’ll be slicing and toasting again before eating.
Let cool completely on wire rack before slicing, toasting and serving with cream cheese.