Thursday, July 16, 2009


Chicken pot pie, roasted chicken, mashed potatoes-- that's what a lot of people think of when "comfort food" comes to mind. Not me- one of my favorite comfort food would have to be a bagel. I'm not sure where this comes from-- my family lived in a small town when I was growing up where it was nearly impossible to get a real, chewy bagel. You know, the kind with the thick crust where you have to really sink your teeth into it and tear off a taste of the chewiness inside. We did get them occasionally, though, usually after a trip to Atlanta.

I remember my dad eating a bagel ripped in half with a big dollop of cream cheese on his plate. I remember my parents eating bagels with lox. And I remember that while my parents topped their bagels with cream cheese and salmon at dinner, I usually ate a bagel slathered with deli mustard or peanut butter. (Yes, deli mustard-Hebrew National please!)

Fast forward a couple of decades-- those big hunks of dense bread that try to pass themselves off as bagels in the bread section of the grocery store are the only thing resembling a bagel within 30 miles of my town. So that led me to take an extreme action-- bake my own bagels! The main reason I bought a copy of The Bread Bible was that Rose Levy Beranbaum included a recipe for bagels. So, last weekend I set out on a mission to try out her recipe.

The key to a chewy bagel is the gluten in the flour, and Mrs. Beranbaum suggests using King Arthur bread flour if you don't have a high-gluten flour on hand (which of course I didn't).

The recipe begins by making a sponge, which is so cool because you get to see it grown and get all bubbly (IT'S ALIVE!!!). Basically, it's just yeast, flour, and water, and then you whisk it together (I used a stand mixer). Then you top it with the rest of the ingredients. I let that sit at room temperature for about an hour, and then put it in the fridge overnight.

Mixing up the sponge ingredients...

The sponge/flour mixture after a night of resting in the fridge...

After a good night's sleep, you bring the sponge/flour mixture up to room temperature, then mix all the ingredients together and knead them for several minutes. Then you let the yeast go to work and raise up the dough.
The dough after the first rise (look at those bubbles!).

I will say that this is a time consuming process. After the first rise, you punch the bread down and let it rest in the fridge before shaping the dough. Shaping the dough is rather easy, just divide it into balls, poke a hole in the center of the ball and stretch the dough until you have a 2 1/2 inch hole (it will shrink up once you let go).
A shaped bagel...

While the dough was taking a break, I set a big pot of water to boil, and added molasses and baking soda once the water was bubbling (the water resembled a boiling pot of Guinness after the molasses and soda were combined.) Then, the bagels went into the pot in batches, and cooked for 1 minutes on each side.

Boiling a bagel...

After the bread boiled in the water, it drained on a kitchen towel, and then was brushed with an egg wash. Next, the bagels went into a 500 degree oven (which you knock back down to 450 degrees) for about 20 minutes.

Baked bagel

My bagels came out really brown. I think the oven may have been too hot. They were also rock hard right after baking, which scared me. However, the crust softened up after it cooled.

Fortunately, my taste for bagel condiments has grown more sophisticated than deli mustard. I love to eat them with cream cheese spread with fruit preserves, or simply with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Lately, I'm on a cashew butter and apricot preserves kick. Yumm....

These bagels were good, but not quite what I craved. They were not chewy enough since I could only find bread flour at the local stores (the texture was more of a donut with a crust), and they didn't have that bagel-y taste because I left out the malt powder. Still, they did remind my of my deli mustard-covered bagel from my childhood.

I will definitely be making these again, as soon as I order some high-gluten flour and malt powder online!


  1. okay, so i've made many a loaf of bread in my day, but i've never attempted to make bagels. i'm extremely impressed by your results, and i second your enjoyment of the nut butter-fruit spread combo. i'm all about almond butter and apple jelly right now, but i'll take it all.

  2. Wow I have never ever thought of making bagels..... maybe I should now because yours looks fabulous!

  3. These really weren't all that difficult-- it just takes time (and patience) for the dough to rise. I guess there are more dishes to do, but that's what husbands are for! :-)