Last night I decided to try to make bagels for the first time. I followed the “Bagels” recipe on page 26 of Baking Bread: Recipes From Around the World for the Complete Home Baker by Audrey Ellison (1995). The book itself is over twenty years old, but it is new to me — a thrift store find. I believe that this is the first recipe I’ve followed from it.
All in all, I was quite satisfied with how my bagels turned out. They are slightly chewy on the outside and soft on the inside, which is exactly how I like them. They’re also smaller than their store-bought counterparts, perfect to serve my kids, and hey, an adult can always have two. My mother and I both liked them and thought they were worth making again, but my husband is more reticent. He prefers the chewier, denser, Montreal-style bagels. Oh well, more for me!
I learned a few things when making these bagels. First of all, if I’m going to shape the dough rings by hand (as opposed to extruding them or cutting them, like how they may be done in a factory), I’m going to need to do a better job of pinching together the ends. The instructions even warned that they would need to be firmly attached so that the rings would keep their shape. I thought I’d done it well enough, but apparently not. A number of my bagels were more U-shaped than O-shaped.
Also, I found out that bagels are boiled before they’re baked. I had no idea. I quickly learned that this is the part where my rings were going to fall apart, though. I’m pretty sure they would have stayed intact if I’d just baked them on a sheet. The reason for boiling before baking is, according to TheKitchn.com:
Boiling breads like bagels and pretzels effectively sets the crust before it goes in the oven. The water doesn’t actually penetrate very far into the bread because the starch on the exterior quickly gels and forms a barrier. Bagels are typically boiled for 30-60 seconds on each side. The longer the boil, the thicker and chewier crust.
In the oven, the fact that the crust is already set means that the bagels don’t rise nearly as much. This is partly what gives bagels their signature dense, chewy interiors. (The other part is using high-protein flour.)
The last thing I learned is that there is an error in the recipe I used. In the first step of the instructions, it says “dissolve the yeast in the water…” However, the only time there’s water in the recipe is to boil the bagels in. I actually measured out the water and added the yeast before I realized that the proportions were all wrong. I checked and double-checked the recipe; nope, I hadn’t read it wrong. It should read, “dissolve the yeast in the warm milk“. I started again with this correction, and everything else went according to plan.
Would I make this recipe again? Definitely! I’d like to try different flavours; I’m partial to all-dressed bagels, and roasted garlic, and onion. It would be interesting to experiment with length of boiling time and protein level in the flour. Perhaps I could learn how to make the chewier, denser bagels that my husband likes best. I’m not too worried if I don’t accomplish that, though. There are some lovely Montreal-style delis and bakeries in this city that I’m perfectly happy to have an excuse to visit.