The Great Bagel Debate: Homemade or Store-Bought?
Feeling emboldened by my recent successes with leavened whole grain and asiago pesto cheese breads, I decided to give myself a new bread-making challenge: homemade New York-style bagels. I thought my husband would be stoked, but instead we had the following email chat:
Me: do we have corn meal?
Matt: i think so, not sure
Me: ok, want to try making homemade bagels. what do you want on some….onion, garlic, salt
Me: some say to broil before boiling….some say let rest after kneading/forming and then go striaght to boil
Me: what? they’re supposed to be delicious!!!
Matt: i just don’t feel that bagels are things that should be cooked in the home. they should be bought at bagel stores and brought home in paper bags
Me: well, we’re going to experiment just this once and you can give your final assessment
And with that, my innocent bagel making venture turned into the great bagel debate in our household and marriage. Here’s how it unfolded:
I followed the recipe in the Williams-Sonoma Bread cookbook, with a few modifications, noted below.
1. Assemble the ingredients: 4 T of active dry yeast, 2 T of sugar, 2 T of canola oil, 1 T of salt, 5 1/3 cups of bread flour, 1 T of baking soda, 1 egg, sesame seeds. The recipe called for 2 T of vital wheat gluten and since I didn’t have any and other recipes I read online didn’t mention it, I decided not to use it.
2. Proof the yeast. Sprinkle yeast and a pinch of sugar over 1/2 cup of warm water and stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy.
3. Mix the dough. Combine 1 1/2 cup of water, 2 T of oil, 2 T sugar, 1 T of salt, 1 cups of flour (and 2 T of gluten which I left out) and blend until creamy. You can use a KitchenAid mixer and I thought about hauling mine up from the pantry, but I really like mixing and kneading bread dough by hand. Add yeast mixture, 1 cup of flour, and beat for 1 minute. Beat in remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough pulls away from the sides.
4. Knead the dough. This dough was tough to knead, but I kept at it for a good six minutes.
5. Let the dough rise for about an hour. Then, form the bagels. I wasn’t striving for perfection in the shapes, so the girls and I just relaxed and had fun stretching the dough and twisting it around our hands the way we saw it done on YouTube.
6. Cover the bagels and let stand for a second rising. We put the bagels on a sheet that I had sprinkled with corn meal (rather than using the cooking oil). I covered the sheet with plastic wrap and let the bagels rest on the counter for about 20 minutes.
7. Kettle (boil) the bagels. I brought the water to a boil, added a tablespoon of baking soda to the water, and then lowered the heat to maintain a gentle boil. I lowered the bagels into the water, where they promptly sank and then rose to the surface surrounded by foam. (The experts say that the malt in the baking soda reactivates the dormant yeast in the bagels.) I let them boil for 2 minutes on each side. Then, I used a slotted spatula to move the bagels to a bar mop to drain.
8. Arrange the boiled bagels on the baking sheet. Next, I brushed the boiled dough with a mixture of 1 egg white beaten with 1 T of water. The girls sprinkled toasted sesame seeds on some and salt on others. Some we left plain.
9. Bake at 425 degrees for about 18 minutes and let cool on drying racks.
10. Slice and taste with cream cheese.
“They’re good. But they’re not bagels. They taste like really good homemade bread.”
Right. I agree. They were delicious though. We gobbled them up happily. All the while, I reflected on what I could have done differently. I’m not willing to concede defeat and admit that it’s just not possible to replicate a store-bought bagel. So, I did some research. I now have a plan for trying again.
Future Experiments to Increase a Bagel’s Crispiness and Roundness
- Add vital wheat gluten to bread flour with other dry ingredients, and as a consequence more water. Bagel flour is typically higher in gluten, some say increasing the protein content by 17%. Remember how I skipped that step? I think I shouldn’t have.
- After forming the bagels, let them rest and then put them in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. They need to rise again to properly ferment the yeast. I had only waited about 20 minutes at room temperature under plastic.
- Broil the bagel before boiling? Some online say that’s a ridiculous notion, but others say it’s helpful. I think I’ll skip this step and try the others.
- Kettling with malt syrup in the water helps put on a hard crust. I don’t know if this is true, since I’ve read that malt syrup just gives them a honey color and shine. Maybe I’ll try it though.
- Turn them once in oven when they’re baking so they’re not flat on the bottom.
I found a recipe by Peter Reinhart from The Bread Maker’s Apprentice that this food blogger tried. He said the bagels were “chewy, crispy and tough on the outside and soft on the inside.” I think I’ll try his entire recipe. According to one reviewer, Reinhart’s were the closest to the reviewer’s memory of the original New York bagel from the 1940s.
His bagels take two days to make, but that’s a small sacrifice to make when, for me, what’s at stake is impressing my husband. My goal: Make a bagel so well that I can put them in a paper bag with store-bought bagels (okay, local not NY) and see if Matt can tell the difference. And he won’t.
And maybe he’ll even concede that homemade bagels do rival store-bought ones. Although on that score, I’m not sure I want to win. I do love a NYC bagel. I guess I just want to make ones that are close enough to tied us over until we can get the real deal. And you know what, they’re really fun to make too.