Looking for the best bagel in town? It's in your kitchen ...
I could write a book about how I feel about bagels. I'm not alone, everybody seems to have an opinion on what makes an amazing bagel — the city water New York bagels are boiled in, the honey-sesame seed combination you see in a Montreal bagel, a fancy spread or lox and capers. For me, living in the Berkshires brings with it one persistent disappointment: Unless I want to make an extra stop, the bagels I pick up at the grocery store are essentially just round bread.
I could do extensive research into this matter, picking up bagels from shops all over Berkshire County until I find my bagel-making soulmates, but what happens when I have a craving and all the bakeries are closed? Sometimes, the best way to get what you want (and when you want it) is just to do it yourself. Thus began my journey into bagel making.
I began with the knowledge that I prefer the Montreal-style of honey-boiling bagels. Bagel toppings seem to prioritize the savory — honey boiling adds a perfect and subtle sweetness in contrast. (Boiling bagels is what gives them that excellent shiny, crisp exterior. An egg wash is simply insufficient.) I was also looking for a recipe that was both easy and fast; most of us have no fancy proving drawers and don't want to give up our oven for hours waiting for a bagel to rise. I came across this recipe, and was pleased when it produced my dream bagels the first time.
Because these bagels have no preservatives, these are best eaten in the first 24 hours after they've been made. They can get harder the longer they stay out. So, make a batch Friday morning and impress your Thanksgiving guests looking for more than leftover turkey sandwiches.
Yield: About a dozen
1 1/2 cups water, room temperature
2 packages dry quick-rising yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup honey
5 cups bread flour, plus extra for dusting
3 quarts water for boiling
1/3 cup honey
Toppings: Such as poppy seed, sesame seed, caraway seed, or dried onion or garlic
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
1. Blend together the water, yeast, sugar and salt, then stir in the egg, the egg yolk, oil and 1/2 cup honey, and mix well. Add the 5 cups flour, and mix. Note: I start with around 4 cups flour before I begin kneading, as I have to use a lot of flour to keep the dough from sticking to my work surface.
2. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface, and knead. Tip: Kneading is easier if you coat your hands lightly with oil.
3. When the dough is smooth and elastic, place it in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with oiled plastic wrap. As I'm not an especially experienced bread maker, I tend to knead until the dough is no longer trying to stick to my counters, and then for a couple of minutes longer, until I no longer feel guilty about giving up. Let the dough rest about 20 minutes.
4. Punch it down, and let it rest 10 minutes more, or shape and then let it rest.
5. Roll dough into an 8- to 10- inch strip, and pinch the ends together. Montreal-style bagels are longer and thinner than a New York bagel. Put the bagel over your index finger and spin it around a few times until you have a nice large center hole, or put it over both of your index fingers and roll in a few concentric circles to widen.
6. Pour the water into a Dutch oven, along with the remaining 1/3 cup honey, and heat to boiling. I found that darker honeys result in faint honey residue on the bagels, and prefer to use a lighter honey for this step.
Pour your toppings into bowls you can roll your boiled bagels in.
Add bagels to the water one at a time. As they rise to the surface, turn them over, and let them boil an additional minute or two.
7. Remove them and dip into your toppings, then place them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
8. Bake on the middle rack of oven until they are medium brown, approximately 25 minutes. Keep your eyes on them: If the bottoms seem to be browning too fast, shift them to a higher rack and bake longer.
A few final thoughts: It's not necessary to seed both sides of your bagels, you'll just lose all of that precious topping. This recipe is great in that it's fairly basic and customizable, but avoid adding wet ingredients to the dough, as this leads to a guess-and-check system of trying to tell if they've baked through. Leave your bagels in the oven until you're sure they're done. Test one first, by ripping it open and pinching the dough. There should be a certain springiness to dough that's cooked well.
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