I made bagels! Holy crap!
Warning: this is not an easy task to take on. But you can only get better with practice.
Being from New Jersey, I am a huge bagel snob. We are lucky to have the best bagels on the east coast, but no one else from other states seem to understand our obsession and pride with them.
Of course, living in Pensacola, we have ZERO access to good bagels. The one bagel I had was flat and crumbly. Not what a good bagel should be like. It should have a chewy outer layer with a light, almost string-like texture where you can peel away the layers. After coming back from New Jersey last week, I stuffed into my bag 1 dozen New Jersey bagels. Unfortunately, I (for some reason) chose 6 everything bagels to be included in there so you can imagine what my suitcase smelled like once I got back home.
After viciously consuming these bagels day after day, I finally ran out and thought, “Why not just try to make my own? It can’t be that hard…right?” Right and wrong. I was able to get the flavor and look (sort of) down, but being excited and impatient, I put the bagels into the oven way too quickly. This seemed to cause the dough to be more dense than normal. Nonetheless, they turned out great and I highly suggest giving these a try.
First: take 1.5 cups of water and heat it for about 1.5 minutes in the microwave. I don’t have a thermometer; I literally dip my finger in the water and if it’s just hot but not hot enough where you want to urgently take your finger out, then it’s ready. Otherwise, the actual temperature should be about 120 degrees.
In a big bowl, combine 1 teaspoon of molasses (or honey), 4 teaspoons of salt, and 1 packet of yeast. This yeast is the best yeast for baking. It’s not the easiest brand to find but if you can’t find it, any other type of yeast will work. Mix these ingredients, making sure the yeast has dissolved, and put the bowl in the microwave for 10 minutes. EDIT: this means just let the bowl sit in the microwave for 10 minutes, don’t actually microwave for that long! The yeast just needs a warm place to activate and I find using the microwave prevents the water from cooling off quickly. I wonder what would happen if I did microwave it for 10 minutes..
Say hi to the dog
Second: after 10 minutes, you will see a foamy mixture in the bowl. If this has not happened, you likely did not heat your water enough/too little to activate the yeast and you’ll unfortunately have to start over.
If you’re ready, start adding the bread flour 1/2 cup at a time to the yeast mixture. Slowly stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to combine and continue to add more flour until a shaggy ball of dough forms. As you “mix” the dough, it should start pulling away from the sides of the bowl. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, then by all means use it!
Note: the mixture may stick to your hands as you start to knead it. Don’t have a panic attack and be patient. As you keep kneading it, the dough will become elastic and stop being a moody pile of sticky dough.
Third: start kneading your dough on a clean surface. Slowly add more flour if the mixture is too sticky. But be careful; it’s better to add less than too much. You don’t want a stiff ball of dough from too much flour. It is really tough to get the dough to rise at that point. Trust me on this one.
Four: knead by hand for about 10 minutes; you will see that the lumps in the dough will slowly disappear and the dough will freely move about the surface. The easiest way to knead efficiently is to take the ball of dough, take the palm of your hand, stick it in the middle of the ball and push forward, creating a rift; then take the farther half and fold it onto the other half, rotate 90 degrees and repeat over and over. You want the dough to be elastic and smooth; be patient, you have to knead thoroughly. When you are at this point, put the ball of dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place it in the microwave to rise for at least 1 hour or until it’s doubled in size.
Big tip: finding a suitable, warm place for your dough to rise can be a bit annoying, especially if you live in a cooler climate. By heating up the microwave by just microwaving literally nothing for 2 minutes, a perfectly warm space is created for your dough to rise on time.
Five: in the meantime, get any toppings ready for your bagels, as well as an egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon of water, whisked). I chose onion and garlic. As I was preparing the dough, I did have bouts of flavor ideas, ranging from tomato to balsamic to strawberry. What’s with me and balsamic? I don’t know. I stopped myself before coming up with some weird concoction.
Here, you will see my cast iron pizza pan. This tool is amazing and incredibly useful in all aspects of cooking so I highly suggest purchasing one. I find that a cast iron retains it’s heat very well and creates a nice texture on the bottom of whatever you’re baking.
Six: Once 50 minutes has passed (or once you’ve noticed your dough has pretty much doubled in size), start boiling a large pot of water. Once it starts boiling, add 1.5 tablespoons of sugar. Also, preheat your oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit with the cast iron pan inside.
Seven: When your dough has become doubled in size, take it out of the microwave and punch down the dough on a clean and floured surface. With either a knife or pastry scraper, cut about an apple sized piece of dough (I know, this is so scientific) and start rolling into a log. Once here, attach the two ends together and start rolling again to make them stick. You won’t need too much flour to keep the dough from sticking at this point.
Note: make sure not to overwork the dough too much; I find it better to leave some bubbles and “fluffiness” in the dough in order to create a lighter texture.
Eight: after allowing the bagels to sit for at least 10 more minutes, take two at a time and gently place them in the boiling water. They should eventually float to the top. Flip after 30 seconds and boil for 30 more seconds.
Nine: take your bagels out carefully with a slotted spoon and place on a rack; brush with egg wash and sprinkle on your toppings. If not using toppings, skip the egg wash.
As you can see in my pictures, there’s a fourth bagel that has mysteriously disappeared in the final pictures. He, unfortunately, did not make it. And by make it, I mean he kind of exploded into a big ball of dough in the oven.
Ten: once ready, place your bagels (I used a big spatula to transport) in the oven on the iron pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until light golden brown. Eat away!