If you’ve refrigerated your dough overnight, remove it to room temp and let sit for an hour or two, depending on how warm your kitchen is. Amanda, the sweet voice behind dabblingsandwhimsey.blogspot.com, has a brilliant method of ensuring a constant rate of very gentle warmth. She sets her dough in the oven without any heat, but with the oven light on. So either proof your dough that way for a same-day bake, or bring up its temp gently if it is cold. If proofing for a same-day bake, set a timer for 60 minutes, then check to see if the dough has doubled. Remember, it’s a dense dough, so it will take a good 60 minutes to double at room temp.
Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured board. Use a bench scraper to divide it in half. Shape each half into a log about 10 inches long. Divide each log in half. Divide each half into thirds, for a total of 12 pieces of dough.
Round each piece into a dome. Set an inch or so apart on your board. You may drape a towel over them because you really don’t want plastic sticking to them at this point. Let rest for 30 minutes. By handling the dough and chopping it into pieces, you’ve tightened the gluten to the point that if you attempt to shape the bagels at this point, the dough is going to resist. It will feel like rubber bands snapping back to its original shape. Your bagels won’t hold their center hole open when boiled and baked. So let them rest and say, “Whew! That’s over!”
After the rest period, you can start shaping them. The most reliable method I’ve used to shape is simply to press the thumb of my right hand down through the middle of a ball of dough. Once I feel the board on the other side, I pick it up, widen the hole, then roll it vertically around both of my thumbs in the middle. Don’t be afraid to widen the hole by a good 2 inches because it’s going to shrink some. After a couple of batches, you’ll develop a good feel for how wide the hole needs to be, relative to how large do or don’t want it to be when baked. Toss a towel back over the bagels and let them rest for 20 minutes.
While they’re resting, bring some water to a boil. I like to use a wide, shallow stovetop braising pot, about 4 inches deep. Fill your pot about ¾ full and add about 2 tablespoons of malt syrup or 1 tablespoon of honey – I just eyeball it.
Also preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk an egg with a teaspoon of water; set a pastry brush alongside. Pour your garnishes out on a plate/plates. Line two 12″ x 18″ baking sheets with parchment, and sprinkle the parchment with cornmeal or semolina; if you don’t, the bagels are going to stick miserably. Set a slotted spoon or spider by the pot. Once you start boiling, everything goes fast.
Speaking of boiling, why are bagels boiled? Another good question. You’re familiar with the shine that bagels have? That derives from gelatinized proteins. Think of Jello. Just for a minute. Can you see the shine with your mind’s eye? That’s gelatin. No, there is neither Jello nor gelatin in a bagel. But when proteins gelatinize, they take on a shine similar to that of gelatin. Gelatinizing proteins also gives them an additional layer of texture, of chewiness. And the barley malt syrup or honey add a layer of deep, golden color. In cooking and baking, we’re always talking about adding layers of flavor or color, or both.
The second and last rest period is, again, all about the gluten. The shaping process left it hollering, “She’s baaaaaaaaack!” It tensed up all over again. If you don’t let it rest before boiling and baking, the center hole will close up, and the bagels will form a dome, not the gently rounded shoulders that you actually want.
By the time the rest period is over, the water should be at a boil. I can fit 4 bagels at a time in my braising pot. Don’t crowd them. They shouldn’t touch when dropped into the water. If you can only fit 3, then that’s the way you should boil them. Drop the bagels in top side down. Boil for 20 seconds, then gently turn them over and boil for 20 seconds more. I use the stopwatch function on my cell phone as a timer. After the second 20 seconds, use your spider or slotted spoon to lift each one out, drain it briefly, then set on the baking sheets. You should be able to fit 6 bagels on each one.
Brush the tops and sides of each bagel with the egg wash. I decided to garnish mine simply with Sel de Guérande (my favorite French gray sea salt) that I brought back from France last summer, followed by some grinds of black pepper. If using seeds, gently pick up each bagel after they’ve been egg washed and place it top-down on the plate. If cheese, sprinkle it over the tops of your bagels after they’ve been egg washed.
Set the baking sheets in the oven and set a timer for 15 minutes. jAt the timer, rotate baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back in the over, and reset the timer for 15 minutes. When done, bagels should be a deep golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool before splitting open and doing something very interesting with them.