Baking spree: bagels

My high school nickname among a special few people was “Bagel.” Why? I mean, I love bagels. I really love bagels. (At the time though, I loved muffins more, but the friend who bequeathed the title to me didn’t think it fit.)

I had a New York City bagel once, and it was perfectly adequate, but my heart belongs to Philly bagels. Some weekends I’d crawl out of bed and come down to the kitchen to find a huge, splotchy, greasy brown paper sack on the counter…and I knew it was a giant supply of fresh bagels.

I have not been able to experience fresh bagels in SO LONG! I’m sure they exist, but I haven’t found them in D.C. yet. In Jordan, a friend bought another (Jewish) friend a bag of bagels she found at the “fancy” grocery store. They were called “Bagelicious,” but it took us all a while to figure that out based on the phonetic Arabic spelling on the bag. Contrary to the name, they were not “bagelicious,” but merely bagel-shaped pieces of mediocre baked dough. Oh well.

After going so long without bagels, I decided to put in the time to try making them myself when I was back in D.C. in September.

My assessment: Time consuming? Yes. Worth it? Completely.

This recipe comes from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice via Smitten Kitchen. I had dried cranberries around, so these are cinnamon-cranberry bagels.

1 teaspoon yeast
4 cups flour (the recipe calls for bread flour, I used a mixture of half whole wheat and white whole wheat)
2 1/2 cups water, room temperature

1 teaspoon yeast
3 3/4 cups flour (I did half and half again)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups loosely packed dried cranberries (craisins, if you will)

Also needed:
1 tablespoon baking soda (or more, see note below)
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting (or regular flour)

First, the sponge. I suggest putting this all in a big bowl, and if you have a stand mixer, just put it all in that bowl from the beginning. Mix together the yeast (1 tsp) and flour (4 cups) and water (2 1/2 cups) until it just comes together into a soupy batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for about two hours, until it rises to about double its original size and becomes bubbly.

To complete the dough, add the rest of the yeast (1 tsp) and stir. Add more flour, but not all of it (3 cups at this time), cinnamon, sugar, salt and honey. Mix that all together with a dough hook on low speed until a ball starts to form. Gradually add the remaining 3/4 cup flour to stiffen the dough. You may not need the whole 3/4 cup, or you may need more, depending on how sticky or dry your dough becomes. Near the end of the mixing, add the craisins and work those in.

Now, the kneading. If you are fully confident in your mixer’s ability to knead dough, then turn it on to low speed and let it do its thing for about six minutes. Mine is set up on a little portable island from Target that already wobbles pretty bad when I mix anything, so I transferred the dough to my counter and got my hands dirty kneading it myself. Ten minutes, and you may break a sweat. Don’t worry, a little hard work goes a long way in the end!

As you’re kneading, the dough should be smooth and pliable. If it’s too sticky, add some flour, but make sure that it’s all incorporated into the dough in the end. If it tears too easily, add a few drops of water. It should be “satiny” as SK says.

Depending on what size bagels you want, divide the dough. You could probably get 12 big ones or 24 bitty ones from this batch. Roll the divided parts into balls, cover with a damp tea towel and let rest for 20 minutes.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray with cooking oil. Form holes in your bagels by poking your thumb through the middle of the ball, pinching and rotating to widen it. Make the hole wider than you think it should be, because these need to rise a few more times and they’ll expand when they bake, so you don’t want a batch of puckered, belly-button bagels.

Place the bagels on your baking sheets, lightly spray with cooking oil and cover with plastic wrap to rest for about 20 minutes.

Now, the “float test.” Fill a bowl with room temperature water and drop in one of your bagels. Is it floating (within 10 seconds of being dropped in)? If no, carefully pat it dry and let all the bagels rest for another 20 minutes and repeat until one floats. If yes? Put the bagels, covered in plastic wrap, in the fridge overnight.

Next day, preheat your oven to 500 F. If you have a somewhat difficult kitchen, be prepared to turn off the smoke detector when it goes off, because your kitchen will warm up quite a bit. Prepare a large pot of boiling water and add the baking soda.

*Here’s my little two cents about baking soda. I used to work in a pretzel shop, which uses the same method of putting the dough through a hot water+baking soda bath. We used so much more baking soda than 1 measly tablespoon. So, feel free to increase that by a few tablespoons. It certainly won’t hurt, but you run the risk of not achieving that ultimate chewy crust if you don’t use enough.

Make sure a slotted spoon or skimmer of some sort is nearby before starting this. Boil the bagels on each side for about 1-2 minutes. Place them on parchment lined, lightly oiled baking sheets dusted with cornmeal or flour.

Bake the bagels for about 5 minutes, then rotate the pans and lower to 450 F. Bake for another 5 minutes. Let them cool on a rack for about 15 minutes before serving.

Or, put them in a giant brown paper bag and leave them on the counter or take them into work to impress your friends, family and coworkers. Store them in airtight plastic bags, or else they’ll get rock hard pretty quickly…if they last that long!