Before I begin this delightful romp into bageldom, I have an announcement: I am officially starting the sale of baked goods for the holiday season and beyond! I’m super excited to finally put myself and my creativity out in the world, and to share delicious baked goods that are made with local, well-sourced ingredients, sustainable practices, and, of course, love for you and the planet. Yay! Information regarding ordering is under the Order link on the top of the page, as well as on my Facebook page. Go. Do it!
Shameless plug over. On to bagels!
There isn’t much I love more than a good, crispy, chewy bagel, and not much more that I dislike than a sweet, doughy, weirdly bready one. I might go America’s Test Kitchen writer here on you in a second (and probably only husband will get that one), but the problem with store-bought bagels is that it can be kind of a crap-shoot when it comes to what you’ll get. If you want cheap bagels, you’re more likely to get the latter kind, and they probably have an ingredient list longer than the last book you read, because preservatives. If you want a decent bagel of the former type, you’ll have to head to an actual bakery or bagel shop, and you’d better eat or freeze those suckers fast before they mold. (Our favorite bagels that we don’t make ourselves seem to go moldy about a day after we bring them home if we don’t freeze them. It’s a good sign regarding preservatives, but pretty heartbreaking when you just. Want. A danged. Bagel.) For the good bagels, you’ll shell out at least a dollar or two for each bagel, not including whatever you want to top them with.
Alternatively, you can make your bagels at home. Yes, you. I’m talking to you. And it’s easier than you might think.
Bagels are essentially a good, tough, hearty dough that is boiled briefly before it’s baked, giving the bagels a chewy interior and a crispy, shiny exterior that set them apart from your regular sliced bread. Pretzels are done in much the same manner, with a slightly softer dough, but that’s for another post. Bagels are basically bread with a few extra, but simple, steps, and take about the same amount of time to prepare as a loaf of yeast bread.
I avoided making bagels for a while because I was wary of the extra boiling and shaping steps, and once again, like Homemade Crackers, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the bagels came together. Even ugly bagels (and yes, you’ll have some ugly bagels) are delicious, so what are you afraid of? Make your own bagels, and you’ll never have to go out to get a sub-par or overpriced bagel again when the mood strikes.
I’ve experimented a bit with other tougher doughs (specifically, Danish Raisin Beer Bread, or Ølbrød) with very pleasing results, and the recipe below can take additions and toppings like a champ. Like the aforementioned favorite bakery bagels, these don’t have preservatives, so they last about 24-48 hours after baking if you don’t freeze them before going stale or moldy.
These go fantastically with Homemade Fromage Blanc, as well as other traditional toppings (lox, cream cheese, hummus, etc.).
Ready to try your hand at bagels? Oh yes.
Toppings and variations below the recipe. A kitchen spider or slotted spoon is most handy for turning and removing the bagels during boiling, but tongs can work in a pinch. A mixer or food processor is handy for mixing the tough dough, but if you’re feeling up to it, get yourself a hardy wooden spoon and do it by hand, macho (wo)man!
You will need:
- 3 1/2-4 c all-purpose flour (you can sub up to 1 c wheat flour)
- 2 1/4 tsp yeast
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 1/2 c lukewarm water
- 2 tbsp sugar or malt syrup
- Whisk the sugar, yeast, and water into the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl until the yeast dissolves, and allow to sit for five minutes, or until the mixture is bubbly and smells like yeast. Add in the flour and salt.
- If using a mixer: With the bread hook attachment, mix at medium-low speed until a tough, elastic (meaning, it bounces back when you press it with your finger), very slightly sticky dough ball forms. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t form a ball, add flour, 1 tbsp at a time, until the dough reaches the aforementioned state, either with the mixer running, or kneaded into the dough by hand on a lightly floured countertop. If the dough is too dry and doesn’t come together, you can add water, 1 tbsp at a time, until it becomes smooth and elastic. You can also do this old-school and knead with your hands.
- Lightly grease a large bowl with neutral oil (such as canola, sunflower, or vegetable oil), then place dough in bowl and turn so all sides are coated with oil. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise at room temperature until roughly doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.
- Lightly flour a clean countertop, then turn the risen dough out onto the floured surface. Flatten the dough and deflate air bubbles (I like to lightly poke them with a toothpick) until the dough is about 1 inch thick. You can use your hands, a rolling pin, or a combination of the two, to achieve this.
- Using a large round cookie or biscuit cutter, or the rim of a drinking glass (you want them to be about 3 1/2-4 inches in diameter, unless you want baby bagels), cut circles into the flattened dough, flouring the cutter or glass between shapings. Flour a finger and poke a hole in the center of each bagel, and spin them on the floured countertop (or around your finger like a hula-hoop) until a hole of your desired size forms (it will shrink back during the second rise, so you may want to make it bigger than you think). Alternatively, you can cut and shape the dough into 10-inch ropes and stick the ends together with water to form circles. Place shaped bagels on a lightly floured cutting board or counter, cover with a tea towel, and allow to rise for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. If you’re using a pizza or baking stone (which I highly recommend), place the stone on the upper middle rack, and a cast iron skillet (or other oven-proof skillet) on the bottom rack. Otherwise, lightly grease or line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Lightly grease a wired cooling rack and place it on a kitchen towel – you’ll use this to set the bagels after their bath. Bring a large pot of water (3 quarts or more) and 2 tbsp sugar to a boil.
- Carefully place bagels, 1-3 at a time (do not crowd the pot) into the boiling water, and boil one side for 45 seconds. Flip the bagels in the water, and boil for another 45 seconds, then remove the bagels to the greased cooling rack. Repeat with remaining bagels.
- If using the baking stone, place bagels onto the stone, then carefully pour 1 c hot water into the skillet in the oven (it will sizzle and hiss – watch for steam!). Otherwise, place boiled bagels onto the prepared baking sheet, and bake at 400 degrees F for 25-30 minutes until golden brown, turning the pan or stone as necessary to achieve even browning. If you want a shinier exterior, spray the bagels with water right out of the oven. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and eating.
- Toppings: We’ve topped our bagels with everything from sesame seeds to za’tar seasoning to dried bruschetta mix. We’ve also done an “everything” mix, which combined sesame seeds, onion powder or dried onion, garlic powder or dried garlic, and poppy seeds. You can essentially put any dried seasoning you want on top of your bagel, and can do it one of two ways. First, you can pile the topping onto a small plate, and dip each bagel right after its boil bath into the topping. Second, you can spoon the topping onto each bagel right after you place them onto the oiled rack. I prefer the second method, as it keeps the topping mixture dry, keeps your hands from getting sticky or burned, and gives you more control over the topping.
- Cinnamon Raisin Bagels: Add 1/2 c raisins or other dried fruit and 1/2 tsp cinnamon into the dough mixture in Step 1. They won’t be overly sweet.
- Sourdough Starter Bagels: Want another reason not to throw out extra spent sourdough starter? Enter the tangy sourdough bagel! Reduce the amount of flour to 2 1/2 c (you may need 3 c overall to get the tough dough needed) and the amount of water to 3/4 c, and add 1 c spent (as in, unfed) sourdough starter to the dough in Step 1. Proceed with recipe.