Homemade bagels have turned out surprisingly well– not New York caliber, but usually better than bagels I buy around here. Here’s my standard bagel recipe, based on making them about a dozen times and trying a few different variants (a few times I’ve even made two different recipes and done blind taste tests). It’s very similar to the one in The New Best Recipe.
- Letting the dough rise in the fridge for 12+ hours
- Using high-protein (high-gluten) flour
- Boiling the bagels briefly before baking them
- Eating them fresh, within an hour
Okay, to make 12 bagels (you can scale this recipe up or down):
- High-gluten flour made by combining (see also other flour options that work):
- 6 cups of King Arthur all-purpose flour, plus
- 12 tsp of Bob’s Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten sifted in with that flour
- 2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast (a standard packet)
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 ½ Tbsp barley malt syrup (available in markets, or brewing supply shops)
- 2 cups lukewarm water
Divide it into 12 balls, and let them rest for 5 minutes.
Form each ball into a bagel shape, either by poking your thumb through it, or (my preference) by rolling it into a dough snake and overlapping and firmly pressing the ends together, to make a hoop with a uniform diameter and no visible seam.
Put the bagels on a tray (dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking), cover with plastic wrap, and let them rise in the fridge for at least 12 hours. I’m not kidding– 8 hours is not enough, and the two times I let them rise 15 hours they were noticeably better. Some day I’ll do a side by side comparison. Also note that they don’t rise a huge amount in the cold– it’s not like bread that doubles in bulk. They should enlarge somewhat and become a little more soft/puffy to the touch.
Letting them rise in the fridge is important, because (according to TNBR) “At lower temperatures, yeast fermentation is suppressed, and the lactobacilli bacteria naturally present on grains and in yeast begin to produce a variety of organic acids, primarily lactic acid and acetic acid. The organic acids, the same acids present in a healthy sourdough culture, the dough a more complex flavor […] The richer, reddish brown color of the crust [after baking] was the result of another chemical process, called the Maillard reaction. During the retarding [low-temperature rising] process, enzymes produced by the bacteria convert wheat starch into simple sugar, which during baking produces a rich, toasty color and flavoring.”
The next day:
- Preheat the oven to 450F
- Remove the bagels from the fridge about 20 minutes before you want to bake them.
- Boil a big pot of water with 1 Tbsp of barley malt syrup in it (I’ve read of people putting other things in the water, to change the pH, and have read other people say it doesn’t make a big difference– I’ve never tried that).
- Boil each bagel for 40 seconds (depending on how they’ve risen, they may drop to the bottom of the pot and then rise after about 30 seconds… or they may float from the very beginning, in which case I flip them over after the first 20s to make sure the entire surface sees the boiling water). This sets the size of the bagel and prevents it from just swelling up when you bake it, reactivates the yeast that’s been made sluggish by the cold, and helps give the bagel its shiny surface.
- Drain the bagels on a rack as they come out of the water, and optionally sift toppings (poppy seeds, sesame seeds, cracked pepper, etc) onto them
- Bake them at 450 for about 18 minutes, until golden brown (your time may vary)
- Let them cool briefly on a rack