Learn the step-by-step process of how to make homemade bagels! This article walks you through every step of the way and explains the science behind yeast bread and how to make bagels!
This article was originally written for the April 2014 Edition of VRAI Magazine.
Yeast dough was always something I was intimidated by when I first started baking. I would avoid it at all cost. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because you always hear people talk about how difficult yeast is to work with. And yes, there are a lot of things about bread making that can be difficult. But in general, making bread from yeast dough is actually fairly simple. And once I had a few successes with it, I really just couldn’t stop. Other than cookies, I think it is probably my biggest passion in baking. And it is one of those baking topics that you could endlessly learn about. I love that!
A key point when working with yeast is that it likes warm temperatures. Not hot! But warm! Make sure the water you add to your dough is warm (about 105-110F, it doesn’t have to be exact) and that you keep your dough in a warm place while it is rising. It is also important to note that yeast and salt are not the best of friends. You never want to put the salt in direct contact with the yeast. I always add the salt in after the flour so that it has the flour to buffer their contact. Those two things will solve a whole host of problems when working with yeast!
I started making my own bagels a few months ago. My husband loves having bagels and cream cheese around the house for a grab and go breakfast. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me sooner to make my own. It really is quite easy. I wanted to develop a recipe that very approachable. One that would give any novice baker the confidence to give it a try. There are several steps involved, but all of them are simple and I find it so satisfying to pull those big puffy, golden browned bagels out of the oven knowing that I was the one who created them!
The bagel making process begins with a starter that ferments overnight. This step could be left out. But I say you should do it! It takes literally only a minute to mix together the night before and will add so much flavor to the bagels. Most traditional bagel recipes call for malt syrup or powder. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually have malt syrup lying around the house. So the starter will develop a more flavorful dough since we are leaving out the malt. Fermentation=flavor!
Shaping the Dough
Perhaps the biggest thing that made me fall in love with bagel making is the shaping of the dough. I really love the texture and feel of this dough. It is smooth and elastic. It doesn’t stick to your hands or the bench and it is so incredibly nice to work with. The process of moving the dough around under my hand is so cathartic.
1.) Shaping the bagels starts out with portioning the dough. This recipe yields 8 bagels. You can just eyeball the portions by splitting the dough in half and then each piece in half two more times. Or if you are a little particular like me, you can weigh the dough and divide that number by 8 and scale each piece separately. It usually comes out to about 3.5 oz each.
2.) Next a skin is developed on each piece. This is done by taking the dough and pulling down on the sides toward the center of the bottom side. The piece will form into a round piece with a seam on the bottom.
3.) Now, place the piece of dough seam side down on a clean work surface and place your hand shaped in a C over the dough. With the pinky side of your hand resting on the board, move in a circular motion over the dough to “round” each piece. The piece will become smooth and round.
4.) Use your thumb to push a hole into the center of the piece of dough. Gently stretch the hole out fairly large, keeping in mind that it will start to close in as the dough rises for the last time.
Preparing Bagels for Baking
After the dough is shaped and allowed to rise one last time, the bagels are poached, egg white washed, topped and baked. The poaching helps the bagels develop a crisp golden crust during baking. The egg white wash helps the toppings stay on and gives the bagels that pretty shine. It’s all worth it in my book. The amount of joy it brings me to peek through the oven door and watch the bagels bake is ridiculous. I practically squeal with glee as they start puffing so nicely and developing a gorgeous golden color!
The options for toppings are really endless. Leave them plain or top them with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, herbs, garlic, onions, cinnamon sugar, or various combinations! I like to do a variety. My husband eats them toasted with just cream cheese. Now that it is getting warmer out and I’m craving brighter flavors, I like to spread mine with whipped goat cheese and a strawberry basil relish. It tastes a bit fancy. But it’s the kind of fancy you can have while sitting in your pj’s in your own apartment. I like that kind of fancy.
- The night before making the bagels (or at least an hour before) combine the ingredients for the starter together in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit out at room temperature for up to 8 hours.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook add the yeast and warm water and let sit for a few minutes until bubbly. Add the starter, bread flour, sugar, and then salt into the bowl. Mix on medium slow and then increase to medium speed until the dough begins to form into a ball, about 4 minutes. Increase to medium-high speed, and continue kneading with the dough hook for 10 more minutes until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel or loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 425F and bring a shallow pot of water mixed with the baking soda and salt to a simmer. You don't want the water boiling. "Punch" down the dough by pressing in the middle and folding the sides into the center. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. If weighing out, they should be about 3.4-3.5oz each. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough pieces relax for 10 minutes.
- Take each piece and pull down on the sides toward the center of the bottom creating a seam on the bottom. Place the piece on the bench and cup your hand around the side of the dough, forming a C with your hand and resting your pinky on the bench, and move your hand in a circular motion forming a smooth ball. Press your thumb through each ball to form a bagel shape. Stretch out the center, keeping in mind it will begin moving together as it proofs and bakes. Place the bagels on a sheet to proof for 10 more minutes.
- Gently slide the bagels into the poaching liquid, several at a time. Poach for about 1 min on each side. Remove the bagels from the water with a slotted spoon and allow the excess water to drip off and place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal or with flour to prevent sticking. (If using parchment paper you will still need cornmeal or flour on top of the parchment).
- Whisk the egg white together with a teaspoon of water and brush the tops of the bagels. If desired, add toppings to the bagels. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on cooling racks.
- *Serve with whipped goat cheese and strawberry basil relish if desired
*FOR THE WHIPPED GOAT CHEESE: Combine 8 oz goat cheese and 2 TBSP milk in a food processor and blend until light and fluffy. Add fresh herbs, honey, or salt and pepper to taste if desired.
*FOR THE STRAWBERRY BASIL RELISH: Combine 1 pint of cleaned and chopped strawberries with 2 TBSP fresh basil chiffonade, and 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar. If desired add a few tsps of sugar for a sweeter relish. Let marinade for at least 10 minutes and up to 1 day.