I’m among the ranks of bagel lovers that lament over the difficulty of finding one that is chewy on the outside yet has a soft, substantial crumb. Therefore, on a recent trip to a friend’s cabin I lugged Chef Peter Reinhart’s book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice  with me to see if I could master them myself.
Between his book and my year’s assisting Solveig Tofte when she taught cooking classes, I felt I could tackle making them without too much difficulty. It’s easier than I thought and the twenty minutes of kneading by hand was a great upper body workout. (I didn’t have access to a heavy-duty stand mixer.) For the the second, third, and fourth batch I used a stand mixer with the dough cook and let it run for 8 minutes This was followed by another 10 minutes of kneading by hand.
Yes, the recipe is long but Reinhart’s introduction to making bagels is even longer. However, he gives you a thorough explanation of the entire process. It takes time, but most of that time is unattended.
After making the recipe 4 times there’s a few things I’ve learned. I don’t like adding honey to the dough nor to the water in which they are boiled as some recipes suggest. I didn’t notice any change to the taste and the sugar caramelized the appearance of them too much for my taste. Also, carefully lift the bagels from the pan on which they were proofing and gently set them in the boiling water; careful not to stretch them. Otherwise, you’ll end up with something flat, but which still tastes good.
Yield: 12 large, 16 medium or 24 miniature bagels
1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (see note below)
2 1/2 cups water, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons malt powder or 1 tablespoon dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar (Bret’s note: I didn’t add any of these ingredients.)
1 tablespoon baking soda
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting (Bret’s note: I didn’t use either but instead lined the baking pans with a silpat brushed with a little olive oil for good measure.
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, rehydrated dried minced garlic or onions, garlic powder (Bret’s note: as well as large salt crystals, any combination, or a bit of them all for an everything bagel.)
To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.
To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt. Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients for a ball, slowly working in the remaining 3/4 cup flour to stiffen the dough.
Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (Bret’s note: or more like 20 minutes) (or for 6 minutes by machine). The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all ingredients should be hydrated.
The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 71 to 77 degrees F. (Bret’s note: I didn’t take the dough’s temperature.) If the dough seems to dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.
Immediately divide the dough into 4.50 ounce pieces for XL bagels, 3.25 ounce each for large or 2.25 ounce for medium ones. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.
Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly or with spray oil. (Bret’s note: I brushed with olive oil.) Proceed with one of the following shaping methods:
Method 1: (Bret’s note: I used this method.) Poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough and gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter (half of this for a mini-bagel). (Bret’s note: I eye-balled it.) The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots.)
Method 2: Roll out the dough into an 8-inch long rope. (This may require rolling part of the way and resting if the pieces are too elastic and snap back, in which case, allow them to rest for 3 minutes and then extend them again to bring to full length. Wrap the dough around the palm and back of your hand, between the thumb and forefinger, overlapping the ends by several inches. Press the overlapping ends on the counter with the palm of your hand, rocking back and forth to seal.
Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pans (Bret’s note: I got away with a 1-inch space between each one). Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and slip each pan into a food-grade plastic bag, or cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. (Bret’s note: I skipped misting with oil and just loosely covered with plastic wrap.)
Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the “float test”. Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days).
If the bagel does not float. Return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.
The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda (and optionally, a few tablespoons of barley syrup). Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.
Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). After 1 minute flip them over and boil for another minute. If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side (Bret’s note: I used the 2 minute option).
While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. (If you decide to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface.) (Bret’s note: I skipped the cornmeal and used the same parchment paper.) If you want to top (see note below) the bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water. You can use any of the suggestions in the ingredients list or a combination.
When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450 degrees F and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown. You may bake them darker if you prefer. (Bret’s note: I actually baked them quite a bit longer, often almost ten extra minutes. I judge by color, not internal temperature, in this case.)
Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.
Cinnamon Raisin Bagels: For cinnamon raisin bagels, increase the yeast in the final dough to 1 teaspoon, and add 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the final dough. Rinse 2 cups of loosely packed raisins with warm water to wash off surface sugar, acid, and natural wild yeast. Add the raisins during the final 2 minutes of mixing. Proceed as directed, but do not top the bagels with any garnishes. When they come out of the oven and are still hot, you can brush the tops with melted butter and dip them in cinnamon sugar to create a cinnamon-sugar crust, if desired.
Serve with a smear of cream cheese, sprinkled with diced red onions, capers, and a couple of slices of lox.