Why bagels? Because they're delicious. And they're even more delicious when they're freshly baked. Seriously, try keeping your paws off of these for the whole cooling period after they bake - I dare you!
So what's the difference between baking bagels and baking normal bread? Bagels are boiled before they're baked - that's why the exterior is chewier than regular bread. I remember going to a bagel shop when I was younger - it had a window where you could watch them make the bagels. There was a giant cauldron of boiling water that they dropped the bagels into briefly before putting them in the oven. Their oven was probably my favorite part: the bagels went onto shelves that slowly rotated, so that after a few times around the oven they were ready to be removed. It was like a Ferris wheel of baked goodness!
My oven, of course, is not fancy like that. And you don't need any fancy equipment to make bagels - your hands, a pot of boiling water, and an oven are really all you need. Now, the procedure for making the bagels may seem involved, but none of the steps are difficult, and there is a lot of down time while the bagels rest (or bake).
You really have to use bread flour for this recipe. It has a higher protein (gluten) content than regular all-purpose flour, which is essential to bread (and bagel) making.
Whole Wheat Bagels
These are fully customizable - you could add nuts, or raisins and
cinnamon, or whatever you please. You can add toppings to your bagels by
dipping the top on a plate of your chosen topping immediately after
boiling. Below this recipe I've given directions for an alternative I really enjoyed. These bagels are a little bigger than most store-bought, but still fit well in the toaster.
Yield: 8 bagels
2 cups bread flour
2 cups whole-wheat bread flour
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c flax meal (ground flax seeds)
2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4- 1 1/2 cups warm water
1. Combine all of the ingredients except the water in a bowl. Mix well. Make a well in the center and add 1 1/4 cups of the water. Stir (or just use your hands) until all of the flour is incorporated. Add the additional water if you need it to incorporate all the flour. If the water is still not enough, add more 1 tbsp at a time until you have a stiff, not sticky, but not overly dry dough.
2. Knead the dough on a clean surface for 5 to 10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. If the dough is sticking too much, lightly flour your surface.
3. Divide the dough into eight pieces (I use a sharp knife to cut it), and roll each into a ball. Leave a little space between each ball (they'll puff up). Let rest, covered with a towel, for about 15 minutes.
4. Shape the dough into bagels. This can be done a number of ways, but the best way I've found is to make a hole in the ball with my thumb, then use my thumb and fingers on one hand to lightly squeeze the dough into shape, rotating the dough around my thumb. Let rest again, covered with a towel, for 20 minutes.
5. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Using a slotted spoon or spider, place a few bagels at a time into the water (I fit three at a time) and boil for one minute per side. Remove to paper towels (or the towel you used to cover them while they rested).
6. Lightly oil a baking sheet, and arrange the bagels on it. It's okay if they are very close together, they don't expand much during baking.
7. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown. Tap the top to check if they're done - they should sound hollow when fully baked. (Note: all the recipes I read called for the bagels to be flipped halfway through. Feel free to do this, but I found it unnecessary - both the top and bottom browned well without flipping.)
8. Remove bagels to a rack and let cool about 20 minutes (good luck!).
Italian Herb and Cheese Bagels
This is a variation on the Whole Wheat Bagels recipe above.
Use the same ingredients as above, but:
Reduce: sugar to 1 tbsp
2 tsp italian seasoning (dried herbs)
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese (divided)
Follow the directions above, but:
1. Add the italian seasoning and 1/2 cup of cheese to the dry ingredients.
6. After boiling but before baking, top each bagel with about 1 tbsp cheese.
I've been enjoying these bagels topped with cheese and a fried egg. I store them in the fridge to increase the shelf life, but you could also freeze them. I would slice them first, so you can stick them straight into the toaster to thaw. (I've done battle with un-sliced frozen bagels before - not fun.)
Stay tuned - later this week I'll be posting about my first (and, amazingly, successful) attempt at making real French macaroons.