Germany is a great place to live if you’re a bread addict! (I’ve heard that it’s pretty cool if you’re a beer addict, too, but I tend to prefer my carbs in a solid format…) Everywhere that you go, there are bakeries full of fresh-baked breads, pretzels, and pastries. Even the supermarkets have great bread, and since the Germans tend to use fewer preservatives than we do in the States (yet another bonus of living over here), you just HAVE to go on a daily basis for fresh supplies! (A serious hardship, don’t you know…)
Because of the baked abundance that’s so readily available, I don’t usually bother to make bread when we’re over here. There are few things I would normally make that I can’t pick up at the bakery on a whim, so I tend to turn my baking time in other directions. However, there is one thing that you just can’t get over here, and that’s a good, warm bagel. The commissary on base sells the frozen (hockey puck) bagels, and there are occasionally some fresh bagels available in the bakery section, but I’ve been spoiled by my years on the East coast. If I’m going to eat a bagel, I want a REAL bagel, and after looking over many, many recipes, I finally decided to take the plunge!
I was recently lucky enough to stumble on a Pin of a post from The Wednesday Chef that featured a bagel recipe from Peter Reinhart. My inner bagel skeptic was hesitant to believe that they could be as good as they looked in The Wednesday Chef’s pictures, until I read the following: “…you’re going to have a tray of gorgeously brown and crisp-skinned bagels in your kitchen, making your house smell like H&H (I used to live across the street from their 80th Street outpost – I know that smell like I know my own mother’s).” That’s right, this recipe was passed along by someone who’d been to the source, someone who should know from bagels! With that golden endorsement, I decided that it was time to jump in, hands first, and end my bagel drought once and for all.
- 3 1/2C (1 LB) unbleached flour (You can use either bread or all-purpose, but I used the Gold Medal ‘Better for Bread’ flour. I also used my digital scale for the measurement- much easier and more accurate!)
- 3t salt (I used Kosher), divided
- 3/4t instant (rapid rise or bread machine) yeast
- 1T honey or barley malt syrup (I used honey- apparently you can get the barley malt syrup in health food stores, but I have no clue where I’d even begin to look for that over here!)
- 1C plus 2T water
- 1t baking soda
- Poppy or sesame seeds, kosher salt, or whatever else you want to use as a topping
- In a nice, big bowl, mix the flour, 2 teaspoons of the salt, the yeast, honey and the water by hand until the ingredients form a stiff, coarse ball of dough, about 3 minutes. (Just a tip- the honey will be MUCH easier to work with if you spray your measuring spoon with a little bit of oil first!) If necessary, add a little more water (carefully- I over-added, so I needed a touch more flour to balance it out). Let the dough rest 5 minutes.
- Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough feels stiff yet supple, with a satiny, slightly tacky feel, 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough seems too soft or too tacky, sprinkle over just enough flour as needed.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to several hours. Keep in mind that the bagels must be shaped before proofing overnight.
- When ready to shape the bagels, line a baking sheet with lightly greased parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (I used parchment with a light spray of oil).
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 6 to 8 equal pieces (again, I tripled the recipe above and made 16 total- it all depends on how big you want your bagels to be). Form each piece into a loose, round ball by rolling it on a clean, dry work surface with a cupped hand; do not use any flour on the surface. If the dough slides around and won’t ball up, wipe the work surface with a damp paper towel and try again – the slight amount of moisture will provide enough “bite” for the dough to form a ball. When each piece has been formed into a ball, you are ready to shape the bagels.
- PLEASE NOTE: I did NOT follow step #6 or the first part of step #7! Based on something said in the blog comments over at The Wednesday Chef, I opted to form my bagels by pinching a hole in the center of each doughball and then spinning the dough hula-hoop style around a floured finger until the opening was the size I wanted. Much faster than rolling out ropes, and (in my opinion) more fun, too! However, for those of you who want to re-live your Play-Doh snake making days, I’ve left the original directions, shown in blue, for your enjoyment…Using your hands and a fair amount of pressure, roll each dough ball into a “rope” 8 to 10 inches long. (Moisten the work surface with a damp paper towel, if necessary, to get the necessary bite or friction). Slightly taper the rope at the ends so that they are thinner than the middle. Place one end of the dough between your thumb and forefinger and wrap it around your hand until the ends overlap in your palm; they should overlap by about 2 inches. Squeeze the overlapping ends together and then press the joined ends into the work surface, rolling them back and forth a few times until they are completely sealed.
- Remove the dough from your hand and squeeze as necessary to even out the thickness so that there is a 2-inch hole in the center.(Okay now, back to the regularly scheduled recipe…)Place the bagel on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the other pieces. Lightly wipe the bagels with oil (I used spray), cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.
- Remove the bagels from the refrigerator 90 minutes before you plan to bake them. Fill a large stockpot with 3 quarts of water (be sure the water is at least 4 inches deep), cover with a lid, and slowly bring the water to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on.
- Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven to 500 degrees.
- Test the bagels by placing one in a bowl of cold water. If it sinks and doesn’t float to the surface, return it to the sheet, wait 15 minutes and then test it again. When one bagel passes the float test, they are ready for the pot.
- Gently lift each bagel and drop it into the simmering water. Add as many as will comfortably fit in the pot. After 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to flip each bagel over. Poach for an extra 30 seconds. Using the slotted spoon, remove each bagel and return it to the lined baking sheet. Continue until all the bagels have been poached. (I noticed that the bagels that I put in at a full boil puffed up better than the ones I did at a simmer- not sure if that was just coincidence, but I’m going to go for a heavier boil next time.)
- Generously sprinkle each bagel with a topping. (Note: If you want to do a cinnamon sugar bagel, you need to wait until the bagels come out of the oven- see step #14 for further instructions.)
- Place the baking sheet in the oven and reduce the heat to 450 degrees. Bake for 8 minutes and then rotate the sheet (if using two sheets, also switch their positions). Check the underside of the bagels. If they are getting too dark, place another sheet under the baking sheet. Bake until the bagels are golden brown, an additional 8 to 12 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and transfer the bagels to a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving. If you’d like to top your bagels with cinnamon sugar (1 part cinnamon to 5 parts granulated sugar), immediately brush the top of each hot bagel with melted butter and then generously sprinkle with the mixture so that it is coated. It will form a nice cinnamon crust as it cools.
Now that I’ve made these, I’m kicking myself for waiting so long. The hardest thing about this recipe is the waiting! They may not be as pretty as the bagels I used to grab for breakfast every morning, but the taste and texture were exactly what I was hoping for. Next time around, I’ll probably make a few aesthetic tweaks (putting them on the slotted spoon to lower them into the water may preserve the shape, and waiting until I have some caffeine in my system would probably help, too…), but over all, I’d call this a success. The inner bagel skeptic has been put to rest, and my cravings have been satisfied. Or, at least they were satisfied this morning- now that I’ve written this and put up all of these pictures, I think it may be time for another bagel or two…