The Two-Day Bagel Experiment

As part of the ongoing plan to bake what my fictional bakers will be making in the next novel, I intended to begin work on croissants this week.  A good idea, I thought…until the rain and damp settled in.

Croissants, like last week’s brioche, are a hybrid baked good or viennoiserie, a cross between buttery pastry and yeast risen bread.  But where brioche is more of a butter-enriched bread, croissants put the emphasis on pastry.  With brioche, slick, softened butter is ideal for incorporating into the dough.  Not so for croissants.  Butter must be cold, icy cold enough to form its own layer that will be folded over and over between layers of yeast dough and still retain its chilled separateness.

In the humidity of the kitchen this week, chilled butter soon became perspiring butter, beads of condensation building up along the surface.  I scrapped the idea for croissants.  We’ll wait for drier, cooler air.

What to make, then?

The morning’s routine of checking up on the Epicurious recipe of the day landed me at baker Peter Reinhart’s detailed post on how to make New York-style bagels at home.  Reinhart, baker and author of Artisan Breads Every Day and other baking books, divides the somewhat lengthy process of making bagels over two days.  Day One: mixing, kneading, shaping, overnight refrigerated fermentation.  Day Two:  a “float” test, resting period, boiling, garnishing (optional), baking.

As much as I like the results, I doubt The Welcome Home bakery will add bagels to its product inventory.  My characters may insist that it remains a pastry bakery.  Still this was a good exercise, and one that kept me in that baker’s mindset while challenging me to try something new.  Something that seemed sort of hard to do in the home kitchen.

And that’s the lesson to take away from bagels.  Try something new, even if you have to break down the task to make it more manageable.  All of us home cooks can feel confident about adding bagels or other artisan breads to our home repertoire by employing Reinhart’s methods – start your dough one day, let it rise overnight in the refrigerator to shape and bake the next day.  You can do it.  You can do anything in the kitchen that you set your mind to.

Bagels, Day One

(recipe adapted from Peter Reinhart on Epicurious)

Like the recipe itself, this post will span two days.  Here is Day One of The Two Day Bagel Experiment.

First, I recommend you read Reinhart’s How to Make Bagels: A User’s Manual on Epicurious before jumping right into the recipe.  In here, he discusses all the steps and also what each step accomplishes, why the step is important, why each helps to make bagels, um, well, chewy delicious malty bagels instead of just another bread.

He also addresses barley malt syrup, the sugar used commercially in both the rising and boiling processes of bagel making.  Malt is what you taste when you bite into a bagel, the flavor developing and deepening as the bagels complete their slow ferment in the fridge.  Although barley malt syrup is a product that should be available in most local grocery stores, a check at several area stores revealed that it is not.  If you can wait to make bagels, you may order the malt syrup or baker’s malt powder (not to be confused with Ovaltine!) through any online baker’s supply catalog, such as my favorite King Arthur Flour.

If you can’t wait, substitute honey or agave syrup, as per Reinhart’s instructions.  Turning up no barley malt syrup in my shopping excursion, I used honey in the dough and in the poaching liquid.  Apparently honey is what makes a bagel a Montreal-style bagel.  So I guess my version isn’t New York-style after all.

No matter, they are still delicious, far better than anything you’ll find outside a true bagel bakery.

  • 1 Tbsp. barley malt syrup or honey or agave syrup, or 1 tsp. diastatic malt powder
  • 1 tsp. instant dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (2 1/2 tsp. if using kosher salt)
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. lukewarm water
  • 3 1/2 cups (16 ounces, if weighing) unbleached bread flour

To prepare, assemble ingredients, measuring cups and spoons, stand mixer fitted with dough hook, a second large bowl, vegetable oil, baker’s bench knife or other sharp knife for dividing dough, wooden or marble pastry board, large baking sheet lined with parchment, non-stick canola or vegetable oil spray, plastic wrap.

To make the dough, stir the syrup or honey, yeast, and salt into the lukewarm water at the bottom of the stand mixer’s bowl.  Add to this the flour and mix on your machine’s kneading speed for 3 minutes.  The dough should form a stiff, shaggy ball and the flour fully incorporated, neither too wet or too dry.  (If the mixture appears too dry at this point, add just a bit more water.)  Let the dough stand and rest for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, resume mixing on your machine’s kneading speed for another 6 minutes.  The dough should be smooth and supple without being too soft, and slightly tacky without being too wet.  (If the dough seems too wet or tacky, add in just a bit more flour and knead a minute or two longer.)

Lightly oil the second large mixing bowl.  Turn the dough out onto the board or marble and knead it by hand for a few turns.  Form a satiny ball and place this in the oiled bowl, turning the dough once to lightly coat all sides.  Cover the bowl with plastic and set the dough to rise at room temperature for one hour.

When ready to shape the bagels, line the baking sheet with parchment and spray this lightly with non-stick spray.  Set aside.  Turn the dough out onto the board or marble and deflate gently.

Pat into a circle, and divide this circle into 6 equal pieces with knife or bench knife.

Form each piece into a ball by rolling it on the unfloured surface (you want a little resistance from the board).

For shaping, try one of the following two methods.

The easier way:  Poke a hole in the center of each ball with your finger or a corner of the bench knife, gradually stretching the hole to create a hole in the center that is about 2 inches in diameter.

The professional bagel baker’s way:  Roll each ball into a rope that is about 8 inches long.  Taper the rope a bit at each end and moisten the ends a bit.  Place one end in the palm of your hand, and wrap the rope around your hand.

Bring the second end around to meet the first, overlapping by about 2 inches.

Squeeze the ends together and press the seam into the work surface, rolling back and forth a bit to seal.

Note:  I did 3 one way, and 3 the other way, and find both methods equal in terms of effectiveness.  Do whichever you prefer.  Either way, please be aware that the 2-inch hole in the center will begin to shrink almost as soon as you make it; the dough is very elastic.  Stretch each bagel a bit before you refrigerate them, but don’t worry about this too much.

Place each shaped bagel on the prepared baking sheet.

Mist the tops of the bagels with oil spray and cover the baking sheet loosely but completely with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 days.

Tomorrow…finished poppyseed bagels!