The Great Bagel Project

I’ve been away from the blog for quite some time, but that does not mean that I have been unproductive – it has been a summer of crazy projects and quests. The most recent has been my nigh-quixotic adventures in bagel making.

Bagels are  a notoriously difficult baking project. In part this is because they are a multiple step process that includes kneading, proofing, boiling(!), and finally, finally baking.  The other side of the difficulty is in determining what, exactly, constitutes a “proper” bagel.  How dense should it be? How chewy? How shiny should the crust appear, and how is that shininess best accomplished?

While I have perhaps not yet attained perfect bagel nirvana, I did ascend several levels on this quest, going in three recipes from something that could only be charitably referred to as a bagel to a baked good that anyone could identify clearly as having bagelness.

I’m not going to do a process post here (though you can go to my Flickr for process!)

Instead, we’re going to play “spot the difference” and catalog my failures and final relative success.

Round I bagels are from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything. Let me preface by saying that they tasted amazing. You can find the recipe here, if you would like to try them. That link has some evidence that my results were not entirely due to the recipe, as you’ll see in a moment. I used all-purpose for the flour and molasses for the sweetener. I shaped them by punching a hole through the middle of the dough. When they were done they looked like this:
Round 1 Bagels

Can anyone see why I was a little disappointed? These bagels are…very flat. And lumpy. As if they were less of a bagel and more of a – well, I can’t think of anything that’s supposed to look like that when you’re done. Mr. Bittman says modern bagels are too puffy, but…I still think these were not right. They were chewy and tasty, but they didn’t look like bagels. Here’s the inside:
Round 1 Bagel Interior
A little better, but still pretty rustic. Do you notice how some of it still looks a little doughy? These were baked for well over the recommended time. Hmmm…

So I decided to try again. I looked for recipes online, and found this post at Serious Eats. It’s Adam Kuban’s adaptation of Bernard Clayton’s recipe. In the accompanying article, Kuban references another possible recipe by Peter Reinhart that he has not himself utilized, as it is a two-day process. He assures us that he always gets amazing results with the Clayton recipe. In the meantime, a friend tells me on Facebook that the Reinhart recipe is the way to go. I saved them both, but decided to start with a one day recipe. I figured the all-purpose flour was my problem the first time, and invested in some high-gluten flour and some non-diastatic malt powder from King Arthur Flour. I am ready to rock. Once again, punchin’ holes, even though Mr. Menace thinks we should maybe shape the other way, which is rolling snakes of dough and forming a ring. Here’s what happened:
These bagels are less flat than the other bagels. But, they’re still pretty flat.
Round Two Bagel Interior
You can see they’re not as holey as the first guys – we’re getting to a little more bagel uniformity. But they’re still. Not. Right!

So, fine, I guess I am embarking on a two-day bagel project, in part because besides the advice from my friend online, I research “flat bagels” and find out that a key step is letting them proof overnight in the fridge, which is a step in neither of my two previous recipes. Apparently by retarding the yeast production, you don’t get such big pockets of air (see the big holes in bagel 1?) and so they don’t blow out and fall when you bake ’em. FINE. Mr. Reinhart’s recipe as interpreted by Smitten Kitchen it is. Still the high gluten flour, still sweetened with malt. We also did a little shaping experiment – half with the hole punched out, half with the snake/ring combo.

Well whaddya know?

Two things to notice here. One – I finally have something that looks like a bagel! Two – some of them are still a little lumpy. Turns out the snake/ring ones ARE smoother than just poking a hole through the dough! I don’t know why for certain, but I have theory that it has to do with the air escaping again, because when I put the punched out ones in the boiling water, the dough bulged out like Tetuso’s arm in Akira. I think when you make the snake before the ring, you squeeze out that excess air and it can rise more gracefully. But it’s just a theory.

Look at that beautiful bread!

I still have some playing around to do – I haven’t tried toppings, yet, and I kind of liked the molasses flavor of my first try – maybe I can do half malt, half molasses? Either way, I’m no longer tilting at windmills – I can make an honest-to-god bagel at home!


3 responses to “The Great Bagel Project

  1. Your last batch of bagels looks great! Good job!

  2. I’m curious: I make Bitman’s bagels and his recipe DOES indicate to proof the dough in the refrigerator over night. Did you get the recipe from his book, or online?

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