For years, I assumed it would be next to impossible to make bagels at home. They seem like a specialized bread, and surely require some unusual equipment or extraordinary effort. It’s not like bagels are particularly expensive or hard to find. Why not just head over to the local shop and be done with it?
The problem is that bagel quality is variable. I don’t mind the local Bruegger’s when their bagels are really fresh, but it’s easy to end up with baker’s dozen that tastes like they were made the previous day. If, like me, you buy a dozen and freeze what you don’t eat, you’ll be stuck with mediocre bagels for a while.
It turns out making great bagels at home is not difficult, and a bit of effort guarantees high quality, fresh bagels. I adapted my current recipe from Peter Reinhart, who I have found fairly reliable for bread making.
This recipe makes 14 bagels.
Start by making a sponge. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix:
500 g bread flour
12 g vital wheat gluten
1 teaspoon instant yeast
Add to this 560 g of lukewarm water and stir until all the flour is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about 2 hours. The mixture should appear to slowly bubble.
Mix about a tablespoon of non-diastatic malt powder in a tablespoon or two of boiling water to make a syrup and add this to the mixer bowl (if your powder hasn’t clumped, you can add this to the dry ingredients below, but I find this technique is easier).
In another large bowl mix:
1/2 teaspoon yeast
470 g bread flour
12 g vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon salt
With the mixer running at the lowest speed using the dough hook attachment, slowly add in the flour mixture. Continue to mix until all the flour is absorbed then crank it up to kneeling speed (2 on my Kitchen Aid) and let it work for about 6 minutes. The dough will be a bit tough and smooth, and a bit tacky but not sticky or wet.
Take out the dough mass and form 14 balls of about 112g each. I like to stretch the outer surface to the bottom and roll the ball a bit on the counter so it’s smooth. Cover with a damp towel for 20 minutes or so.
To form the bagel shape, roll the ball into a snake shape about 8 inches long, trying to keep the thickness even throughout. Take the ends and loop the dough into a circle, overlapping the ends by about 2 inches. Pinch the ends together so the seams are closed, then stick 2-3 fingers in the middle of the bagel and roll the outer edge of the bagel against the counter to smoothen the exterior. Rotate the bagel as you go so the thickness is as even as possible.
Transfer the bagels to two baking sheets lined with parchment. I usually spray my parchment with cooking spray so the bagels don’t stick. Cover the bagels with plastic wrap. Let the bagels rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes then stick them in your refrigerator overnight.
The next morning, preheat the oven to 500° F and boil 3 L of water in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda to the pot.
Add the bagels to the pot for about two minutes each, flipping then halfway through. Don’t crowd them too much: in my large Dutch oven, I can fit four at a time. While the bagels are boiling, scatter some cornmeal on their spot on the parchment so they don’t stick when you put them back. I find a skimmer a useful tool to transfer the bagels from the water back to the parchment without traumatizing them too much.
If you want to top the bagels with, say, sesame seeds, the best time is soon after they have come out of the water. Scatter some seeds on a plate and put the bagel upside down onto the plate to pick up the seeds (just scattering these on top tends to make them not stick very well).
Bake the bagels for 5 minutes. Rotate and swap the trays then turn down the heat to 450° F and cook at least 5 minutes more until the bagels are as dark as you like. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes.