Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The great bageling

Sesame bagel
It must be obvious by now that I love bagels. If it isn't, well…I do. And I have been meaning to try my hand at making them forever.

It was the elusive malt syrup that foiled me, each and every time. I had read recipes that said I could substitute honey or leave the syrup out altogether, but I was determined to do it right, make the real deal, come up with a bagel that would eliminate my need to buy bagels in a shop forever. Every time I came across a bagel recipe I'd think to myself, Gotta go get that malt syrup…and then I never would. I didn't know where to look. When I finally came across a jar of the stuff in Whole Foods while on winter break in NYC, it was nearly seven dollars and I was about to leave for Colorado.

So once again bagels were on the brain. But I was still missing my ingredient.
Barley malt flour instead of syrup
Back in Colorado, I happened to find the same jar of malt syrup in Sunflower Market for about the same price. But just as I was about to pay, I spotted a bag of malted barley flour by the register, discounted to a dollar because of a small puncture in one side. Could I use this instead? Yes!
Sponge Adding dry ingredients to sponge
Post-knead Divided into balls for first rest
I finally had everything I needed. So following the recipe posted by the Fresh Loaf—one of the only ones I could find that gave a measurement for malt flour—I whipped up the sponge, incorporated the dry ingredients after two hours, kneaded the hell out of the dough, divided the dough into twelve balls, and let those rest for twenty minutes.
Shaped and ready for resting
Shaping the dough into rings took a little more time than I expected, mostly because the dough was so stiff and dry it didn't easily adhere to itself. I used the hand-rolling method as detailed in the LA Times recipe (roll the dough ball into a rope, pinch the ends together with a two-inch overlap, and continue rolling together with your fingers until the ring is smooth and even) rather than the hole-punch method described by the Fresh Loaf. I did try the hole-punch method with another batch later on, and found that I preferred the former method because it provided sleeker results.
Into the fridge
After twenty minutes I covered the shaped rings with plastic wrap and put them in my refrigerator to give the dough a slow overnight rise.
Day two, out of the fridge Toppings
The next morning, the rings came out of the fridge looking noticeably risen. I started a pot of water boiling, and readied two bowls of toppings: sesame and dried onion.
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
Following a whim and some of the advice in the lengthy string of comments that followed the Fresh Loaf post, once the water got hot I added honey, sugar, and a few tablespoons of malt powder to my brew instead of baking soda. I'm not sure if the malt powder did anything, but I do think the honey and sugar helped to give the bagels the nice shiny crust they ended up with.

I boiled each ring for about two minutes on each side. As each came out of the bath and on to the baking sheet, I quickly sprinkled on the toppings while the ring was still wet. Once I had a full tray, into the oven it went!
Boiled and topped Baked!
Pre- and post-bake.
Success! The sesame bagels were perfect—they came out of the oven looking just as glossy and browned as I had hoped they would.
Burnt onion topping
The onion bagels weren't quite so pretty—in the oven every last little bit of onion had burnt, creating a bumpy landscape of charcoal and ash atop each crusty orb.
Underbelly Innards
After I brushed off the more egregiously burnt bits though, I found that the bagels still tasted fine, with a nice flavor from the onion. Next time I will try soaking the dried onion beforehand. Or is there another method to dealing with the onion topping?
Eating time
Also, I felt inspired by reading FoodMayhem's recipe to whip up some scallion cream cheese to smear on top. So simple to make, and definitely an excellent accompaniment to the crunchy, dark-brown crust and chewy innards of the bagels!
A few last things.

1. My first batch seemed to lack salt, but I suspect that might have been an error on my part (I may have added 1 and 3/4 teaspoons of salt instead of the 2 and 3/4 as specified by the Fresh Loaf). The next time I made them, I added 3 teaspoons so that I could bump up the salt just a little in case I had simply made a mistake the first time, and that seemed to be a good amount.

2. The Fresh Loaf specifies two teaspoons of malt powder, but I found that three teaspoons gave the bagels a more noticeable bagel-y flavor. The malt addition is definitely what makes the bagels taste like real bagels.

3. I also added two teaspoons of sugar to the dough in my second batch. I think it improved the flavor.

4. A dozen bagels out of this amount of dough made for some pretty huge bagels. With my second batch I divided the dough into sixteen balls, and while that was fine they were just a little smaller than I liked. Fourteen is probably the magic number.

5. I've already stated my preference for hand-rolling rather than hole-punching when shaping the dough into rings, but I wanted to give a bit more detail. When I shaped the dough via hole-punching, the surface of the dough seemed bumpy and cratered, especially when they came out of the water bath (another commenter on the Fresh Loaf mentioned this problem, too). With the hand-rolling method, the bagels were nice and smooth. It was also harder to get a consistent thickness in each ring with the hole-punching method.

6. Definitely honey and/or sugar in the water bath, and not baking soda. Baking soda, as far as I can tell, is instead what gives pretzels their distinctive flavor…but for bagels, this is no good.

7. The crust on my second batch of bagels developed a curious separation from the inner ring of dough, and basically crumbled off once I toasted them, leaving me with naked-edged bagels. I'm not sure if this is because I froze them and then defrosted them to eat, but I did notice it more after doing so. Then again, I froze and defrosted my first batch too, and there was no such issue. Anyone have any ideas?

That's all I've got. I hope some of you end up making a batch of bagels, too, because while for bread-baking the process is not as simple as making no-knead and its kin, the results are really worth it. Plus, I'm still experimenting, and would love to hear all of your attempts/trials/feedback/advice. Good luck!

Crusty Homemade Bagels
by Soopling, adapted from The Fresh Loaf

Makes fourteen bagels

1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose, which was fine)
2 1/2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3 3/4 cups bread flour (again, I used all-purpose)
3 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons malt powder
2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon honey and/or 1 tablespoon sugar for the water bath
Toppings for the bagels (seeds, salt, onion, or garlic—soak dehydrated onion first)

Day 1
In a large bowl combine yeast and water and then add flour. Stir until well blended and then let rise for two hours, covered.

After two hours, add the additional yeast into the sponge. Add only three cups of the flour and all of the malt powder, salt, and sugar. Mix until until a ball forms. Gradually incorporate the remaining 3/4 cup of flour and knead for ten minutes. Dough should be stiff but well blended.

Split dough into fourteen pieces and roll into balls. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for twenty minutes.

After the resting period, roll each dough ball into a rope, pinch the ends together with a two-inch overlap, and continue rolling together with your fingers until the ring is smooth and even. There should be about a two-inch hole in the middle when you're done. Arrange each one on a lightly oiled baking sheet.

Cover the shaped rings with plastic wrap and let rest for twenty or thirty minutes before stashing in the refrigerator overnight.

Day 2
Take the bagels out of the refrigerator. Bring large pot of water to boil and add sugar and/or honey to the water.

Boil each bagel for a minute or two on each side, and then place onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Immediately after taking each one out of the pot, while the dough is still wet, sprinkle on the toppings.

Bake in a 500 degree oven for five minutes, and then rotate the sheets and bake for another five minutes.

Eat with scallion cream cheese!


  1. Hi Sarah, Those bagels look great! On the burning onion question: why didn't you just use chopped onions. They come naturally hydrated ;) I've been using another recipe that takes much less time and gives a less risen, "bready" bagel. It doesn't require as much deferred gratification but is denser.

  2. Hmmm. For some reason the full URL didn't go through. Sorry for the redundency. Here it is again.

  3. Thanks Marcos! Wow, so no overnight rise on that recipe, huh? I wonder if the flavor differs? As for the onion, everywhere I read seemed to just say dehydrated onion, but I do think I'll give chopped onions a shot. Any excuse to experiment :)

  4. Great looking bagels! I love how you doused on the cream way to eat 'em!

  5. Hillary, thanks! If cream cheese was healthier I probably would have slathered on more. I like to think that adding scallions at least makes things a little better :)

  6. Unless you plan on mailing some to me, stop taunting me.

  7. Also, here's the link Marcos posted, in case anyone wants to look at it (no idea why the full URL won't post properly:

  8. Beautiful! The photos are inspiring enough, but all of the detail in your explanations makes me think I can really get up and do this tomorrow.

    Have you ever had Polish bagels? They're somewhere between a bagel and a pretzel (and delicious). Your comment about baking soda vs. malt got me thinking about the possibility of making my own, since I don't see any Polish bagel stands around here...

  9. If you want to look for malted syrup, try going to a store that sells homebrew products. Homebrew is just another word for beer you make at home. One of the major ingredients is malt syrup, and you can get a half gallon for cheap.
    Alternately, you can go to a local brewery and see if they will sell some to you.

  10. Howard: Thanks!

    James: Making bagels always seemed really daunting to me, but once I did it I realized it wasn't THAT crazy. I hope my post de-mystifies the process a bit. I haven't had a Polish bagel—would love to know how they taste!

    m lo: Breweries abound in my town…I will definitely check that out. Thanks for the tip!

  11. Yay,thanks for the recipe...They look great!

  12. Sarah: thanks! hope you try it sometime.

  13. Holy crap, Soopling, those are gorgeous. Kudos.

  14. you're cookin up a storm in colorado! =D very awesome, sarah. good job.

  15. Denveater, Robbie, and stuckinny: Thanks so much for the compliments! :)

  16. Do you think you could use whole grain flour as opposed to bread or all purpose. Would you change the amount?

  17. David, this is a guess but I think using all whole grain flour would make for a much denser/heavier bagel, and you would have to make some adjustments so they don't become bricks. Maybe replace a third of the flour with whole grain, and take it from there? I'm curious about using different flours too, so if you do try it let me know how it turns out.

  18. I stumbled upon your blog this afternoon, and I'm completely fascinated by this whole bagel thing. I was at the store earlier and picked up some malt just for this! I'm going to have to try your original version, then I want to try out a whole grain version, too. (I think I might add some vital wheat gluten to whole wheat flour and see what happens.) Thanks!

  19. Hi Shaye! My next experiment was going to be adding vital wheat gluten, since I haven't been using bread flour. Let me know how it works out with the whole grain!

  20. Hey, I remembered this post this morning as I ate an onion bagel (sometimes I do that knowing it'll make my coworkers leave me alone ;) - I tend to avoid onion bagels because they're always so sticky on the outside. Now I'm thinking that's from soaking the onions? I could be wrong, but just a thought to confirm your idea.

  21. Yvo, yup, I tried soaking the onion, which was a lot better. They still burned slightly though, so I'm going to try actual raw onion for my next batch!

  22. Made these today. They were awesome! We made them with Asiago cheese on top.... Delicious!

  23. Kate, I'm so glad they turned out well.

  24. I made these last night/this morning and they turned out perfectly! Thank you so much for the recipe. This was one of my first attempts at bread-making and it was definitely manageable.

    For some reason, I ended up needing another cup of water to incorporate all the flour. I also forgot to 3/4 cup of flour. I'm a serious novice. These issues aside, I think they were amazing. I used the raw onions and they didn't burn at all. Just add a delicious dash of oniony goodness. I also had to use the malt syrup because my Whole Foods didn't have any powder. Best $6 I ever spent!

    I had emailed this post to myself months ago when I saw it on Serious Eats and I'm so glad I finally made them. Thanks again for the post!!

  25. Elizabeth, sometimes I find myself adjusting the amount of water too—I often have to add more because I live in really dry climate. And I'm excited to hear about the raw onions, I still haven't tried that yet! Glad yours came out well!

  26. Homebrew is just another word for beer you make at home. One of the major ingredients is malt syrup, and you can get a half gallon for cheap.

  27. What temperature should the water be at when mixing the sponge?

  28. David, I just used room temp water I believe.

  29. By the way, if you want malt syrup cheap go to a home brew store. It should be somewhere around 3 dollars a pound which is way more than you would ever need. Im guessing if you went in there asking for a couple tablespoons they would just give it to you for free. They also have different flavors like bavarian wheat and whatnot.