Friday, February 27, 2009

Peter Reinhart's Bagels

Gentle reader, I submit to you that I have gone crazy. Those who know me think I boarded that train long ago because I do things like make my own ginger ale and ricotta cheese, but that kind of stuff is so easy that I don't understand why more people don't do it... but this. This is insane. My friends, I am making bagels.

Shaped bagels, before proofing

I should know better- my first attempt at bagels was overzealous at best, and very poorly executed. In my ignorance, I trusted a random recipe from a forgettable recipe sharing website and spent several hours in the kitchen, elbow deep in sticky, uncooperative dough that seemed more suited for a fruit bread than a batch of bagels. Against better judgement, I struggled to knead, form, and boil my obnoxiously slimy hunks of bagel dough to no avail; indeed, by the end of the day, I was nothing more than a weeping fool surrounded by inedible pieces of overboiled, overbaked, oversweetened dough. So why would one desire to put themselves through such culinary trauma again, you ask? Well, it's pretty simple- I love bagels and haven't had a good one since I left the east coast. I had a coworker whose uncle owned a little bagel shop in NYC, and she made sure that all of us were well acquainted with his bagels... and boy, was I glad she did. My first bite into that hearty, chewy crust and dense crumb bought upon me the quick realization that I could never go back to the anemic bagel impostors to which I was accustomed; fortunately, my coworker enabled my bagel habit until I moved to Kansas. I've withstood 18 months of bagel sobriety, but I can't take it anymore. I need me a bagel, and I need it now.

After proofing

For bagel-making guidance, I turned to Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. I've used several of his recipes and they have never been less than fabulous, and his bagel recipe doesn't disappoint. One batch of dough yielded twelve fantastic bagels that come thisclose to the New York bagel of which my dreams are made. They take some time and work, but they're well worth the effort. The suggested toppings are all savory, but for those of you who like sweet bagels, you can always alter the recipe to suit your taste. I'm a staunch savory girl when it comes to bagels, but my husband is a cinnamon raisin fiend, so I'll probably add some extra yeast, cinnamon, sugar, and dried fruit to the dough and top with cinnamon sugar for him next time.


Makes 12 large or 24 mini bagels


  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I used all purpose)
  • 2 1/2 cups water at room temperature


  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
  • 2 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon malt syrup OR honey OR brown sugar (I used brown sugar)

To Finish:

  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting the pan
  • Toppings for the bagels such as sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, dried minced garlic or onions


Day 1

  1. To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring until it forms a smooth, sticky batter. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for two hours. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop*.
  2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast into the sponge and stir. Add 3 cups of the flour, brown sugar and the salt into the bowl and mix until all of the ingredients form a ball. You need to work in the additional 3/4 cups of flour to stiffen the dough, either while still mixing in the bowl or while kneading**. The dough should be stiffer and drier than normal bread dough, but moist enough that all of the ingredients are well blended***.
  3. Pour the dough out of the bowl onto a clean surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes. There should be no raw flour - all the ingredients should be hydrated.
  4. The Windowpane Test: At this point, your dough needs to pass the windowpane test, which is a reliable method to determine when gluten development is sufficient. The test is performed by cutting off a small piece of dough from the larger batch and gently stretching, pulling, and turning it to see if it will hold a paper-thin, translucent membrane. If the dough falls apart before it makes this windowpane, continue mixing for another minute or two and test it again. The finished dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky. If it seems too dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If it seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required.
  5. Immediately after kneading, split the dough into 12 small pieces around 4 1/2 ounces each. Roll each piece into a ball and set it aside. When you have all 12 pieces made, cover them with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes.
  6. To shape the bagels, poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough, gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately two and a half inches in diameter. The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible.
  7. Place the shaped bagels on a lightly oiled sheet pan, with an inch or so of space between one another (use two pans, if you need to). If you have parchment paper, line the sheet pan with parchment and spray it lightly with oil before placing the bagels on the pan. Cover the pan with plastic and allow the dough to rise for about 20 minutes.
  8. The suggested method of testing whether the bagels are ready to retard is by dropping one of them into a bowl of cool water. If the bagel floats back up to the surface in under ten seconds it is ready to retard. If not, it needs to rise more. If it floats, then you passed the test, too! Place the bagels in the refrigerator (covered in plastic) and retard overnight. If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes until a tester floats.

Day 2

  1. The following day, preheat the oven to 500F with two racks set in the middle of oven.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one tablespoon of baking soda to the pot to alkalize the water. When the pot is boiling, drop a few of the bagels into the pot one at a time and let them boil for a minute (two minutes if you like your bagel extra chewy).
  3. Use a large, slotted spoon or spatula to gently flip them over and boil them on the other side.
  4. Before removing the bagels from the pot, sprinkle cornmeal onto the sheet pan. Remove them one at a time, set them back onto the sheet pan, and sprinkle your topping them right away, while they are still slightly moist.
  5. Repeat this process until all of the bagels have been boiled and topped.
  6. Place the sheet pan into the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes, rotate the pans, reduce the heat to 450 degrees, and bake for another 5-10 minutes (depending on how dark you like your bagel) until the bagels begin to brown . Remove the pan from the oven and let cool.


* My kitchen is incredibly drafy, and my house is cold, so I usually set the oven on warm for 8-10 seconds, turn it off, and let the sponge (or dough, or whatever else needs some warmth to aid the little yeasty beasties) rise in the oven. Works every time... just don't let it get too warm in there.

**A batch will not fit into the standard 5 quart KitchenAide- mine started making unnatural, painful sounding noises when I tried, so I pulled the dough from the bowl and kneaded by hand. Even though I used bread flour instead of the preferred high-gluten flour, the dough passed the membrane test after 10 or 11 minutes of kneading. I've seen on other blogs that people used AP flour (please, don't do this. You're better off going to the grocery store for some Lender's at that point) and they had to knead by hand for half an hour or more.

***I had to add a bit more water (I'm guessing just under 1/4 cup) to get the right consistency. Don't add extra water or flour right away, though- knead it for a minute or two to work in all the existing moisture.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome looking bagels! I cant wait to try out that recipe. Also could you shoot me an email with your ginger ale recipe thanks!