Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Poppyseed Bagels

My favorite breakfast, hands down, is a warm poppyseed bagel with cream cheese. Years ago, I used to enjoy the formerly-frozen bagels from the supermarket (until they discontinued the poppyseed ones, for some reason) and Dunkin Donuts's ... but over the years, I've become more picky, and only fresher and bagelier ones will suffice. When I lived in New York I used to get them from Whole Foods - the only thing I could afford to buy there regularly - and these days I very occasionally, if I'm in Saratoga, stop in at Healthy Living for some of the bagels they buy from local café Uncommon Grounds.

(When I was in New York, I also tried one of the famous Murray's bagels. I have to admit, it seemed pretty dry and hard and we just didn't get on.)

Bagels aren't great for you. They're practically the definition of carb-loading! But they make me feel nice and full in a way that eggs & toast, cereal, and oatmeal don't, and so a few months ago I realized it was possible to make your own bagels and therefore ensure a steady supply.

After searching, I found this recipe from Chow that looked like it ended with exactly the kind of bagels I like best. I've had to adjust it a bit in order to get exactly the bagel I wanted, though, and its taken me more than a few batches to work it out.


1 1/2 cups of warm water
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (one packet)

4 cups flour
2 Tbsp honey
2 tsp salt
4 tsp sugar

The Baking:

The first step is, of course, to get the yeast going. Mix it with the water in a small bowl, and let it sit while you start the dough.

Put all of the other ingredients into the mixing bowl together. If you are me, don't measure the salt, just grind some right into the bowl.

The original recipe called for malt syrup, and from what I've read online people have a lot of feelings about malt? One time I tried using Ovaltine - I didn't think to adjust in the flour for the extra dry ingredient, oops, so I added a bit more water. It didn't make much of a difference to the taste, I thought, but the bagels did turn out much more brown. It's just simpler to use honey instead.

Once the yeast is foamy, add it to the dry ingredients and mix them together just long enough to form a sticky dough.

You don't need all of the flour to become incorporated, because when you tip the bowl over to start kneading, the extra dry stuff can be used to flour the surface. Eventually you'll pick it all up.

Knead the dough for ... a while. There's a lot of information out there on kneading: the basic point is to make the gluten in the flour develop so that the dough is stretchy. When you first start kneading, if you try to stretch the dough it just breaks off - keep going until you can stretch a piece of it so thin that it's translucent. Your arms will ache a bit by the time you get to that point.

Allow the dough to sit in a greased bowl (you should put it in, then turn it over so the whole thing is greased, although it's probably not necessary) for about twenty minutes to rise. It doesn't rise very much, just gets kind of soft and puffy.

The next step is to form the bagels. The original recipe called for a dozen to be made, but I've gradually decreased that to eight so that they can be bigger. Break the dough into sections first, so that you can make sure they're about an even size; pull each section into a rope and twist it around your hand into a ring. Set them on a lightly greased baking sheet, leaving space for them to rise. (You could dip the bagels into cornmeal - I haven't tried that yet.)

For the rising, I set the oven to "warm" (150F) and let the bagels sit inside it for about ten minutes. If it were warmer out I would just let them sit on the counter under a cloth, but as it is there isn't really a warm place in the house for them to sit apart from in the oven.

The dough doesn't rise a lot this time, either. However, you really should stretch out the rings again before baking, because that's when they will rise.

In the original recipe, there's an intermediate boiling step which is the traditional way to make bagels. However, the results have been very mixed for me. When it works, I get a nice shiny exterior; when it doesn't, they go into the oven kind of soggy. Either way, boiling does stiffen the bagels enough to prevent them from rising any more.

I like a fluffier bagel, though, so I decided to stop with the boiling step. I've found (through trial and error) that the crust/finish is unsatisfactory when you do that, and have had to add an egg wash.

(The egg wash was used in the original recipe, but I never found it necessary when I boiled the bagels. Of course, I was making them plain until very recently, and I doubt the seeds would stick to a boiled bagel without a wash.)

After brushing the egg wash over the bagels, you can add whatever toppings you like. Here, of course, poppyseeds. Then - into the oven at 425 degrees! They cook for 15 minutes, then you turn the pan around for ten more so they can cook evenly.

And - there you are! Home-cooked bagels.

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