There are three types of food I'm very particular (if not snobby) about:
1) Pizza (NY style Neapolitan)
2) Lasagna (mine)
I'm not sure many people have had genuine bagels. (Mmm... genuine bagels.) They're not perfectly round, their consistency is not like other breads, and you don't just pop them in the oven.
Real bagels have a slightly exterior, with a good chewy --not gummy-- interior. They're hand formed and so are not perfect circles. Nor are they smooth. They're boiled, then baked. They're served with a schmear. They are fantastic. But outside of the NY metro area, they are hard to come by.
As you might know, the June 2007 Daring Baker challenge was to make bagels. Though I wasn't a member at that time, I knew I had to use their recipe for Real Honest Jewish Purist's bagels (the link to the original recipe does not seem to be working).
The recipe yield is for 15 but those would be huge, so using a bit less dough, I got approximately 22 satisfyingly sized bagels.
The recipe says that, ideally, when you boil the bagels, they'll sink to the bottom and then begin to rise to the top. Not ONE bagel sunk to the bottom (which seems pretty consistent with other DBers' experiences) so I held them under water for a few seconds with a slotted spoon.
Upon baking, the first batch of bagels -- poofy from their stint in the water -- flattened out while baking. In subsequent batches, I used the convection feature on my oven and received better results.
But the taste? Outstanding; just like those in a good NY bagel shop. I ate at three the day I made them -- bagels sprinkled with caraway seeds and sea salt and filled with a homemade wild garlic cream cheese -- and have eaten one everyday since.
Sadly, my supply is running low. I guess I'll just have to make some more ...
Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels
6-8 cups bread (high-gluten) flour
4 tablespoons dry baking yeast
6 tablespoons granulated white sugar or light honey (clover honey is good)
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups hot water
a bit of vegetable oil
1 gallon water
3-5 tablespoons malt syrup or sugar
a few handfuls of cornmeal
large mixing bowl
measuring cups and spoons
wooden mixing spoon
butter knife or baker's dough blade
clean, dry surface for kneading
3 clean, dry kitchen towels
warm, but not hot, place to set dough to rise
2 baking sheets
How You Do It:
Step 1- Proof Yeast: Pour three cups of hot water into the mixing bowl. The water should be hot, but not so hot that you can't bear to put your fingers in it for several seconds at a time. Add the sugar or honey and stir it with your fingers (a good way to make sure the water is not too hot) or with a wire whisk to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water, and stir to dissolve.
Wait about ten minutes for the yeast to begin to revive and grow. Skipping this step could result in your trying to make bagels with dead yeast, which results in bagels so hard and potentially dangerous that they are banned under the terms of the Geneva Convention. You will know that the yeast is okay if it begins to foam and exude a sweetish, slightly beery smell.
Step 2- Make Dough: At this point, add about three cups of flour as well as the 2 tsp of salt to the water and yeast and begin mixing it in. Some people subscribe to the theory that it is easier to tell what's going on with the dough if you use your hands rather than a spoon to mix things into the dough, but others prefer the less physically direct spoon. As an advocate of the bare-knuckles school of baking, I proffer the following advice: clip your fingernails, take off your rings and wristwatch, and wash your hands thoroughly to the elbows, like a surgeon. Then you may dive into the dough with impunity. I generally use my right hand to mix, so that my left is free to add flour and other ingredients and to hold the bowl steady. Left-handed people might find that the reverse works better for them. Having one hand clean and free to perform various tasks works best.
When you have incorporated the first three cups of lour, the dough should begin to become thick-ish. Add more flour, a half-cup or so at a time, and mix each addition thoroughly before adding more flour. As the dough gets thicker, add less and less flour at a time.
Step 3- Knead Dough: Soon you will begin to knead it by hand (if you're using your hands to mix the dough in the first place, this segue is hardly noticeable). If you have a big enough and shallow enough bowl, use it as the kneading bowl, otherwise use that clean, dry, flat counter top or tabletop mentioned in the "Equipment" list above. Sprinkle your work surface or bowl with a handful of flour, put your dough on top, and start kneading. Add bits of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking (to your hands, to the bowl or counter top, etc....). Soon you should have a nice stiff dough. It will be quite elastic, but heavy and stiffer than a normal bread dough. Do not make it too dry, however... it should still give easily and stretch easily without tearing.
Step 4- Let Dough Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with one of your clean kitchen towels, dampened somewhat by getting it wet and then wringing it out thoroughly. If you swish the dough around in the bowl, you can get the whole ball of dough covered with a very thin film of oil, which will keep it from drying out.
Place the bowl with the dough in it in a dry, warm (but not hot) place, free from drafts. Allow it to rise until doubled in volume. Some people try to accelerate rising by putting the dough in the oven, where the pilot lights keep the temperature slightly elevated. If it's cold in your kitchen, you can try this, but remember to leave the oven door open or it may become too hot and begin to kill the yeast and cook the dough. An ambient temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Centigrade) is ideal for rising dough.
Step 5- Prepare Water for Bagels: While the dough is rising, fill your stockpot with about a gallon of water and set it on the fire to boil. When it reaches a boil, add the malt syrup or sugar and reduce the heat so that the water just barely simmers; the surface of the water should hardly move.
Step 6- Form Bagels: Once the dough has risen, turn it onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide immediately into as many hunks as you want to make bagels. For this recipe, you will probably end up with about 15 bagels, so you will divide the dough into 15 roughly even-sized hunks.
Begin forming the bagels. There are two schools of thought on this. One method of bagel formation involves shaping the dough into a rough sphere, then poking a hole through the middle with a finger and then pulling at the dough around the hole to make the bagel. This is the hole-centric method. The dough-centric method involves making a long cylindrical "snake" of dough and wrapping it around your hand into a loop and mashing the ends together. Whatever you like to do is fine. DO NOT, however, give in to the temptation of using a doughnut or cookie cutter to shape your bagels. This will push them out of the realm of Jewish Bagel Authenticity and give them a distinctly Protestant air. The bagels will not be perfectly shaped. They will not be symmetrical. This is normal. This is okay. Enjoy the diversity. Just like snowflakes, no two genuine bagels are exactly alike.
Step 7- Pre-heat Oven: Begin to preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 8- Half Proof and Boil Bagels: Once the bagels are formed, let them sit for about 10 minutes. They will begin to rise slightly. Ideally, they will rise by about one-fourth volume... a technique called "half-proofing" the dough. At the end of the half-proofing, drop the bagels into the simmering water one by one. You don't want to crowd them, and so there should only be two or three bagels simmering at any given time. The bagels should sink first, then gracefully float to the top of the simmering water. If they float, it's not a big deal, but it does mean that you'll have a somewhat more bready (and less bagely) texture. Let the bagel simmer for about three minutes, then turn them over with a skimmer or a slotted spoon. Simmer another three minutes, and then lift the bagels out of the water and set them on a clean kitchen towel that has been spread on the counter top for this purpose. The bagels should be pretty and shiny, thanks to the malt syrup or sugar in the boiling water.
Step 9- Bake Bagels: Once all the bagels have been boiled, prepare your baking sheets by sprinkling them with cornmeal. Then arrange the bagels on the prepared baking sheets and put them in the oven. Let them bake for about 25 minutes, then remove from the oven, turn them over and put them back in the oven to finish baking for about ten minutes more. This will help to prevent flat-bottomed bagels.
Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks, or on a dry clean towels if you have no racks. Do not attempt to cut them until they are cool... hot bagels slice abominably and you'll end up with a wadded mass of bagel pulp. Don't do it.
How To Customize Outside of Bagels: After boiling but before baking, brush the bagels with a wash made of 1 egg white and 3 tablespoons ice water beaten together. Sprinkle with the topping of your choice: poppy, sesame, or caraway seeds, toasted onion or raw garlic bits, salt or whatever you like. Just remember that bagels are essentially a savory baked good, not a sweet one, and so things like fruit and sweet spices are really rather out of place.