Who doesn’t love a great bagel? No Jewish gathering is complete without them (and their companions: lox and cream cheese). We might look to our cousin in the north, New York City, as the purveyor of the “best” bagels around, but you too can have incredible bagels.
The secret to a great bagel is twofold. First, use bread flour. Bread flour has higher protein content than all-purpose flour. When combined with water, this protein produces gluten whose stringy strands make dough stretchy and elastic and grants baked bread its chew. We knead dough to develop networks of gluten strands that trap air, creating the tiny holes that characterize many breads. Kneading your bagel dough well until it is smooth and elastic – meaning it will stretch slowly without breaking and be springy to the touch. This will produce a delightfully chewy texture to your bagel.
The second secret is boiling. Boiling your bagels before baking creates a chewier and stiffer outer shell. When the starch in the dough reacts with water in the pot, it begins to swell, absorbing water and gelling, thus hardening the bagel’s exterior.
Victoria’s Best Bagels
Yields 8 bagels
5 c. bread flour
2 c. warm water
2 ½ tsp. active dry yeast (or 1 Fleischmann’s packet plus ¼ tsp)
2 tsp. salt
5 ½ tsp. sugar
1 egg, beaten (optional)
How to make:
- Combine warm water and yeast in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Let sit for five minutes or until foamy.
- Add flour, salt and sugar to the water-yeast mixture.
- Mix the dough until well combined.
- Turn dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough is soft and pliable.
- Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight in the fridge.
- The next morning, remove from the fridge and punch down the dough.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cut the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece into a slightly flattened disk and using your thumb or forefinger, poke a hole in the center of the dough. Using your first and second finger, pull the dough gently to widen the hole. Set your newly minted bagels on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.
- When all the bagels are shaped, gently lower them one at a time into the boiling water. Wait until they float back up to the surface and then start a timer for one minute. After one minute, flip the bagels over in the water so the other side is facing up. After another minute, remove your bagels from the water. Repeat with all remaining bagels.
- After removing bagels from the water, place them back on the baking sheet. Brush the bagels with egg wash to get a shinier crust. (Or, if you’re vegan, you can skip this step. I’ve done so before and the bagels turned out shiny and beautiful anyway!) If you want to add toppings, add them after brushing the bagel with egg wash.
- Bake the bagels in the oven for 15-20 minutes, turning the baking sheet once near the middle, until they’re golden brown on top.
- Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes on the baking sheet before moving to a baking rack to finish cooling. Or, if you’re like me, cut one open and enjoy it soft and warm, slathered with your favorite spread.
Tips & Tricks:
- You want your water to be warm to the touch but not boiling when adding the yeast. If it hurts your finger to touch it, it’s too hot and will kill your yeast.
- The dough can be mixed either by hand or with a stand mixer, though I recommend kneading by hand since the dough tends to be too stiff for most stand mixers to handle. I followed the recipe by hand; it took about 25 minutes from start to mix to finished dough.
- If you’re feeling impatient and don’t want to wait until the next morning to eat fresh bagels, let the dough sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours, or until doubled in size.
- Punching down the dough is exactly what it sounds like: push your fist into the dough to release the extra air build-up from rising.
- After you shape your bagels and let them rest for a minute or two on the baking sheet, it’s normal for them to shrink back a little.
- I used a fork poked through the center hole to gently lower my bagels into the water, but a slotted spoon would work well, too!