Right off the bat, I'll tell you: making your own bagels is a bit of a project. That said, I have to follow up by mentioning: it's incredibly fun and unbelievably rewarding. The resulting bagels are chewy on the outside with a tightly woven crumb on the inside, resulting in unbelievable flavor and texture. Making them does take a bit of time (about 3 hours start to finish) but believe me when I say there is nothing inherently difficult that you do in those three hours, in fact, quite a lot of it involves waiting patiently with your feet up for the sponge to rise. Although I can't take credit for this recipe (it's featured in Peter Reinhardt's The Breadbaker's Apprentice) there were numerous times when I deviated from the instructions and the results left nothing to be desired. In essence, the recipe involves mixing together flour, water and yeast into a kind of pancake-batter consistency called a sponge, allowing that to rise before adding more flour and a bit more yeast followed by some kneading to produce the final dough. After resting and forming the dough into actual bagels, they are poached in boiling water to seal the outside, creating the characteristic bagel chew, and finally baked at a high oven temperature. Not tricky, especially if you have access to a standing mixer, which I have used before, but this time—as the title of this post indicates—I went Old School! I made these on Friday for my SlowFood class; we adorned them with a mixture of linseed, sesame, and pumpkin seeds. I have also included some of the sexier bread shots from that class. I suppose one of the reasons I started making my own bagels was the lack of real bagels available in the UK; the ones you find in the bags in supermarket bread aisles are depressingly bready with no bagel flavor. Here, the bagel flavor is achieved by the addition of malt syrup, which I found without trouble at a local healthfood store. Also, if you are among those who like to eat your bagels first thing in the morning without the three-hour process, there are instructions on how to retard your prepped bagels in the fridge overnight for easy baking off in the morning (or whenever). So without further ado, may I present the real-deal bagel:
Yield: 12 large or 24 miniature bagels
1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2½ cups water, room temperature
½ teaspoon instant yeast
3¾ cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2¾ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons malt powder or 1 tablespoon dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting the baking tray
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, rehydrated dried minced garlic or onions (optional)
1. Day one: To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (thick pancake batter consistency). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.
2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt. Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients for a ball, slowly working in the remaining 3/4 cup flour to stiffen the dough.
3. Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6 minutes by machine). The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour - all ingredients should be hydrated. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 to 71 degrees F. If the dough seems to dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.
4. Immediately divide the dough into 4 1/2 ounce pieces for standard bagels, or smaller if desired (Note: I weighed out the dough into 3 ounce balls, not wanting the final product to be too big). Form the pieces into rolls.
5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.
6. Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough and gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter (half of this for a mini-bagel). The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots.)
7.Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pans (Note: I got away with about 1 inch spaces). Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda (and optionally, a few tablespoons of barley syrup). Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.
10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). After 1 minute flip them over rand boil for another minute. If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. (If you decide to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface.) If you want to top the bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water. You can use any of the suggestions in the ingredients list or a combination.
11. When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5 minutes then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450 degrees F and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown. You may bake them darker if you prefer.
12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.