My son teethed on bagels. I took him shopping with me on Saturday mornings to my favorite grocery store in Berkeley. He was a good-natured little guy, and always happy to have something to chew on, so I’d usually pick out a half dozen bagels right as I went in the door. He would typically eat 2, 3 on a big shopping day, and this was when he was about 14 months old. For years before then, I’d always made my own. But a career, a commute, and now a young child meant that I could rarely make everything as I used to. On Sundays I often had to choose between making dinners ahead or doing a lot of baking. And I made all his baby food, too. Just not his bagels.
A few years and a daughter later, we were living in a small resort community on a medium-sized lake in the mountains of Northern California. I had abundant time to both cook and bake, and did. My son would get off the school bus and come in the front door, sniffing the air to ask, “Did you bake anything today?” He and his young sister would belly up to their small table for afternoon snacks. I remember one Sunday in particular when I was making a double batch of bagels (a single batch made 12), hoping I might escape with a few to freeze. This was entirely by hand, mind you; it would be a few years before my sister would kindly give me my first mixer. At first I split two of them as soon as I (and the kids) could handle them, and spread them with cream cheese and peach preserves. Well, that took entirely too long for the boy. As soon as he finished one, he’d come back for another, methodically chomping them down whole all by themselves. He stopped after 7. Now do you understand why I felt I was racing to stay ahead of him?
Yield = 12 large bagels
7 cups high gluten flour (6¾ cups bread flour, ¼ cup vital wheat gluten)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (1.5 teaspoons instant)
2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
2½ cups water, 80 degrees
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup (or 1½ teaspoons honey)
Large kettle of boiling water
2 tablespoons barley malt syrup (or 1 tablespoon honey)
Skimmer or spider
Corn meal or semolina
Egg wash – 1 egg whisked
Garnishes: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, minced onion, any kind of hard cheese, whatever you can think up
We know that our 7 cups of high protein flour need to comprise 97% bread flour (BF) and 3% vital wheat gluten (VWG). If you haven’t read this, please take a moment and do. The instructions will make much more sense to you.
We’ll multiply 7 cups × 97%. It equals 6.79 cups. The nearest logical fraction is 6.75 cups, or 6 ¾ cups of BF. From there, it’s simple to figure out how much VWG we need: 7 cups minus 6¾ cups equals ¼ cup VWG.
So measure the BF, the VWG, yeast, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Raise the bowl and turn the mixer on low speed for a few seconds to disperse the yeast and salt a bit. Add the water. If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, the water should feel somewhat cool to the touch. This dough is going to need some serious kneading in order to fully develop the very strong gluten in our high protein flour. Kneading generates friction. Friction generates heat. Too much heat while kneading can actually overdevelop gluten, and also created a warmer environment than we actually want for our yeast.
Barley malt syrup can commonly be found in natural food stores. It
lends a gorgeous color to both the dough and most of all to the bagels when they go through the boiling phase. If you don’t have any, substitute honey. But for the dough, reduce it by half to 1½ teaspoons because honey is sweeter than malt syrup. Add the barley malt syrup or honey along with the water.
Mix on low speed until all ingredients come together as a dough. The dough should leave the sides and bottom of the bowl. If it doesn’t after a few minutes, add flour a tablespoon at a time until it does. Once it leaves the sides and bottom of the bowl, knead for 3 minutes. This is stiff dough, so don’t be surprised if you need to raise the speed of the mixer; I did. Set a timer for 3 minutes.
After 3 minutes turn off the mixer. Wrap a
piece of plastic around the top of the mixer bowl. Set a timer for 20 minutes. You are going to give your dough an autolyse. To read more about it, look here. Basically, you are allowing the gluten (and there’s a lot of it, remember?) to continue to expand by taking on water without the stress of kneading. If continued, kneading can actually begin to squeeze water out of dough. I call this by the very scientific name, shagging out (don’t google it; I’m afraid what you might find. Alternatively, do. I’d be curious . . . ). Because that’s kind of what happens. Your lovely, tight dough suddenly goes all wet and shaggy and starts sticking to the sides and bottom of the bowl again.
After the autolyse, remove the plastic and set it aside; you’ll re-use it. Turn the mixer on to low speed again. Your dough should smartly snap together around the dough hook. Let it knead for a couple of minutes, then pull off a walnut-size piece. Quickly round it up between your
palms. Now begin teasing it down over the fingertips of of the first two fingers on each hand. You’re trying to get the center
as thin as possible without it breaking. This is called testing for a windowpane. It’s especially important in a bagel because of how strong it needs to be. The thinner the better, the more chewy your bagels will be. If it tears before you think it should, shoot the piece back into the bowl and knead for 2 or 3 minutes more. Then test it again. It should be there.
Turn your dough out of the bowl onto a work surface for a minute. Oil or pan spray the bowl and return the dough to it. Turn the dough over once, then cover the bowl tightly with your piece of plastic.
Now you have some choices. You can either let it go ahead and proof, then shape, boil, and bake on the same day. Which can certainly be done. OR, you can set the bowl in the refrigerator for a long, slow overnight proof. I’ve borrowed this idea from my friend at apuginthekitchen. She makes pizza dough in the morning before work, proofs all day long in the fridge, pulls it out to warm up when she gets home, and has a heavenly pizza for dinner – all in the same day. Brilliant.
I applied the same theory to bagel dough, and it works like a charm. If you’re not anchored to your home all day long, refrigerate the dough overnight. The yeast will slow way, way down in its cycle of reproduction. Pull the dough out to room temp a couple of hours before your plan to shape, boil, and bake.
Whichever option you choose, be sure to first cover the bowl tightly with plastic. Many recipes tell you to use a kitchen towel, or even a damp kitchen towel. A dry kitchen towel will actually wick moisture out of your dough, and God help you if dough touches a damp towel. You’ll end up throwing it away because you will never, ever get it to turn loose. Use plastic because moisture and heat are the two things you most need to retain in your dough. Then you can cover the plastic with a towel!
We’ll stop here for now so my dough can refrigerate overnight. We’ll pick up in the morning with a discussion of what happens during the “proofing” process. I’m gonna have you all talking like professionals before this is over!