Truth be told, bagels don't necessarily come from New York. Or at the very least, they don't only come from New York. That said, most people associate the very best bagels with the Big Apple. And the secret to the bagel's popularity isn't really much of a secret, after all. Bagels are boiled in a water bath before baking. This is what gives them their characteristic super thin crust (flavored) and the chewy texture. Probably they originated in Eastern Europe and came to New York at the turn of the 20th century with the millions of immigrants coming by the boatload. I remember eating great bagels in Nova Scotia baked in the famous (at least to me) Bernie's Bakery I spoke about in previous posts. And that is very far indeed from New York, in both body and soul, so to speak.
Bagels are first cousins to bialys (or pletzel) also from previous posts. Yet, there is something special about the bagel. The hole in the middle is part of it, of course. Still the combination of the texture and its supreme utility as a platform for smoked salmon, cream cheese, butter or really just about anything, is what makes the bagel so very popular. It is in some ways, the ultimate bread-based snack food. Small, convenient and oh, so tasty!
Bagels as bread may seem even more complicated than regular yeast breads but that is not the case. Actually, there is only one real rise so they take less time than regular bread. By the way, the dough, when made into a regular loaf of bread is also supremely delicious. Enjoy!
Here's what you'll need: (for about 30 medium bagels)
1 or 2 large potatoes (about 3/4 pound - 350g - total)
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2Tbs sugar
1 1/2Tbs salt
7 to 7 1/2 cups bread flour or AP flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
Egg glaze plus some seed toppings if desired
Here's what you'll need to do:
1. Peel the potato, cut into chunks, and boil in water until soft. Drain off 2 1/2 cups of the water, let it cool to 120F (55C). The potato can be used for something else.
2.Mix the yeast, sugar, salt and about 2 cups flour in a large bowl. Add the potato water and the oil then mix together. If using an electric mixer mix at medium speed for about 2 minutes, then add 1 more cup of flour and the eggs and beat for another 2 minutes.
3. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a soft, smooth dough that 'cleans the bowl' is formed. Remove it from the bowl to a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes to develop the gluten and make the dough very smooth.
4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until roughly doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
5. Now for the fun part, forming the bagels. Deflate the dough, gently and remove it to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into quarters, then each quarter into 6 or 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball, then flatten into a disc. Poke your thumb through the disc, making the hole, then gently widen the hole (without breaking the circle of dough). Don't worry if each bagel looks slightly different, or if they slightly misshapen. These are homemade bagels after all. If you want factory-made, go to the grocery store!!
6. There is another school of thought on shaping bagels (of course!). The second method involves taking each piece of dough and forming a 'snake'. Pinch together the two ends to form a loop then roll the seam on a surface to unite them into one piece.
You choose, they both seem to work just fine for me! Either way, the dough does not now need a second rise.
7. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). While the oven is heating, boil several quarts (liters) of water in a large pot. For New York bagels, add two tablespoons of either salt or sugar to the water. This gives the traditional taste to the ultra-thin crust formed by the boiling. In Montreal, they add 2 tablespoons of vinegar to the water, equally delicious I assure you.
8. Using a slotted spoon, lower a few bagels at a time into the water after it comes to a gently rolling boil. They will sink, so don't panic. When the rise in a few seconds, flip them over and let them boil for about 2 minutes, then flip over again and let them boil for 1 minute more. When they are done, remove them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. At this point they can be 'painted' with egg glaze and seed coated.
9. Bake then for about 25 minutes until a rich golden brown. Let them cool on a rack.