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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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)
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.
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!