One of the best foods I have been introduced to in the United States, are Bagels (pancakes remain the best, bagels come second). They are round buns with a hole in the center, are typically cut midway such that they splits into two circular pieces of bread each. They are eaten baked or baked and toasted, often filled with cream cheese or jam. I prefer the crunchy ones, and the best bagels I have had were at Einstein Bros. Simit bread sold in Turkey, and Pretzels in Germany are forms of bread with a similar baking process.
Unfortunately, not many Indians know what bagels are, forget about baking them. Even in restaurants, delis and cafes, bagels are a rare sight. And so, I decided to try my hand at making bagels at home. The process of making a bagel is actually what makes it a bagel!
I’ve used the recipe from The Sophisticated Gourmet, written by a 20-year-old self-taught cook and baker residing in New York. The recipe below is reproduced from that blog, with a few modifications to suit. It is extremely important that you stick to the measures and steps given in the recipe. Deviations may potentially result in something very different from a bagel :)
- 2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
- 1 ½ tablespoons of granulated sugar
- 1 ¼ cups of warm water (you may need ± ¼ cup more/less)
- 3 ½ cups (500g) of bread flour or high gluten flour (will need extra for kneading) – I used Maida (all purpose refined flour). You may also use a 3:1 mixture of Maida and whole wheat flour for a different texture and slightly healthier bagels.
- 1 ½ teaspoons of salt
- 1 egg
For toppings, you may use salt, oregano, black pepper, sesame seeds, red chilly flakes, poppy seeds, sugar or just about anything else.
1. In a cup, add the sugar and the yeast to 1/2 cup warm water (110F or about 43 C). Stir it vigorously once and keep it aside for 10 minutes. Please make sure the water is not too hot, else the yeast will die :| The original recipe does not ask for stirring, but I would do that to ensure the active dry yeast wakes up. In 5-6 minutes you should be able to see froth on top of the solution. This shows that the yeast is waking up.
2. Okay now the second step is a slightly difficult one if you have never made a dough before. I recommend doing it with someone who has, maybe your mom or your wife. Mix 450g flour and salt in a large bowl and slowly add half the yeast solution to it. Stir the mixture, the dough will be very firm and mostly floury at this stage. Add the rest of the solution till the dough follows the stirrer as you stir it. If it is still very tough and firm, add the remaining warm water, a tablespoon at a time. Make sure that you do not add too much water to make the dough stick to your hand or the vessel. It should be moist and firm, but not sticky.
3. The third step is fun! Clean up your platform and smear some flour on it. Roll off the dough from the bowl to the floor and flatten it. Pick it up from one end and fold it over. Press with the back of your palms and flatten it out again. Shower some flour in case the dough is sticky at this stage. Repeat the step for about 10 minutes. You may also knead the dough in the traditional kneading / wrestling style. Knead until smooth and elastic. Use as much flour as you want to make it firm and stiff at the same time.
4. Lightly coat a large bowl with oil and turn the dough ball into it. Make sure it is coated with the oil from the bowl. Note the size of the dough ball and cover the bowl with a slightly damp cloth. Keep in a warm place for about an hour. Do not microwave this under any circumstances. You may also wrap it in plastic wrap and keep it in a refrigerator overnight if you want to finish the rest of the process in the morning for fresh bagels.
The dough should double in size. In case you kept it in a warm place for an hour and it did not double, keep it for 30 minutes more. This is one of the most important stages of any bread making process. The rising of the dough, or ‘first proofing’ makes the bread soft and light inside. If your yeast is of a poor quality or dead, the dough won’t rise and you may need to restart with a new packet of yeast.
5. Remove the dough and punch it down. Let it rise for another 10 minutes or so.
6. The measurements in this recipe make approximately 8 bagels, so divide the dough into about 8 pieces. Roll each of them in the shape of a ball and keep aside.
7. Another fun step! Coat a finger in dough and pierce it through one of the small dough balls to make a hole. Gently press using your fingers to make a ring shape and place it on a lightly oiled baking tray. Repeat with all the 8 dough balls.
8. Cover them again with a damp cloth and keep aside in a warm place for 10 to 15 minutes. This is called the ‘second proofing’. The more it rises, the lighter your bagel will be from inside. If you want a dense bagel 5-7 minutes should be enough.
9. In the meanwhile, preheat an oven at 220C. If you are using an OTG, it would be better if you test your oven’s temperature using a cooking thermometer, since the temperature you set and the temperature it achieves could be very different (as much as 30 C different). I used the grill/convection mode in a microwave oven.
10. This step is another of the most important steps of making a bagel and essentially differentiates it from other forms of bread. Boil a large pot of water. Reduce the heat as soon as it starts boiling. Slide a bagel into the pot and let it float back to the top. Boil for about a minute and flip to boil the other side for another minute. The more you boil, the chewier your bagel will be. If you are making bagels for the first time, I would recommend you boil a couple for bagels for 30 sec each side, a couple for 1 minute each side, a couple for 1 min 30 sec each side and a couple for 2 minutes each side. When you eat them eventually, you would know which ones you prefer the most and use that boiling time the next time you make bagels.
11. Now is the time to give some flavour to your bagels. Beat a whole egg and brush the top and sides of the bagels (this is also known as egg-wash). Remember! Egg yellows in the egg-wash will impart a dark colour to the bread, and egg whites in the egg-wash will impart the glaze. Either of them will help stick the flavour of your choice on top. You may sprinkle poppy seeds, sesame seeds, oregano, chilly flakes or whatever you want to add on top of your bagels.
12. Place all the bagels on a lightly oiled baking tray and put in the oven. In the microwave oven I have at home, I directly placed them on a quartz grill on top of the rotating glass plate. The recipe asks them to be baked for 20 minutes until they turn golden brown, but I baked for 30 minutes. I am not sure how to bake bread if you have a microwave oven without convection/grill modes.
13. Once done, remove and place on a cooling tray or grill and let them cool down completely. Do not hurry, as baked products continue to cook from inside even after they have been taken out of the oven.
14. Cut open after 10 minutes or so, put a dab of spicy flavoured cheese spread and enjoy!
Makes 8 bagels, that serve 3-5 people depending on appetite.
This recipe does not contain a lot of fat and may be consumed safely by the calorie conscious. You may shape the dough in any random form your creativity limits yourself to. While I like the simple spherical no-hole shape, the knot-shaped bagel looks amazing!
Eat when: Preferably breakfast or lunch
Yumminess Factor: Best enjoyed with cream cheese, and listening to ‘The Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z/Alicia Keys’