Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Blue Ribbon Bagels

In 5th and 6th grade, I did a short stint in the local 4-H club.  4-H, for my non-American readers, is a club where children basically learn farming and homemaking skills.  I lived squarely in the middle of the suburbs, so our 4-H club focused solely on cooking and sewing.

When it came time to enter our own creations in the county fair, for whatever unfathomable reason, I chose to make homemade bagels to enter.  So for a few weeks, my patient parents dealt with batches upon batches of practice bagels filling up our kitchen counters.  My main problem was that some of
the bagels ended up kind of shriveled and dense.  But once I resolved that issue, I could consistently turn out a batch of pretty darn good bagels.

So good, they won a blue ribbon at the fair.

Bagels do require several steps to make, but none of the steps are difficult.  And I've included all of the tricks I've learned along the way that help avoid the shriveled bagels of doom.  And hey, if I could do it in 5th grade, you can definitely do this.

The Step-By-Step

Make the Dough, and Let it Rise

 First of all, we take warm water, and sprinkle the yeast on top of it.  Let it sit a few minutes.

 Whisk it up a little to dissolve the yeast.

 Now add the salt and sugar. 

 Start adding the flour.  Add it slowly, stirring in a few cups at a time before adding more.

 This is the dough with all the flour in it.  It looks like too much at first, but just keep stirring it in.

There comes a point when you need to abandon the spoon and start kneading.  I usually start out kneading it right in the bowl, then, once all the flour is incorporated, I dump it onto the counter.

You need to knead it (keep your spelling straight on that one!) for seven minutes.  Use a timer, because after a minute and a half you think you're done.

You're not.  

Keep going. Go ahead, enjoy it.  Get all of that aggression out.

This is the dough after an actual (as opposed to perceived) seven minutes of kneading.  During kneading, it should stop being sticky, but it's not floury either.  You may need to very lightly dust your counter a few times, but it shouldn't be sticking much.

Cover it with a clean kitchen towel and let it sit and rise until about double in size.  Today it took about 20-25 minutes.  The timing will vary depending on how hot your kitchen is.

And here it is, doubled in size.  Is it weird that this photo makes me think of a pregnant belly?

Voila.  Doubled in size, ready to shape.

Shape the Bagels, Rise again.

Now, take your pregnant ball of dough, and divide it in fourths.  Then divide each of those chunks into fourths again.  This will give you 16 balls of dough.  (That advanced calculus class I took in college sure comes in handy with this challenging math!)

See. Here they are.  16 of 'em.

This was a very awkward photo to take.  I actually use both hands to form the bagel shape.  I stick both thumbs in the middle, making the hole.  Then I kind of stretch the hole and shape the bagel.  

But I can't use two hands to shape the dough plus one hand to take the picture. Awkward.

So just imagine, if you will, both hands shaping the bagel.

So this is how a shaped bagel looks. Don't worry, that gaping hole will shrink down to almost nothing.

Shape all 16 of them, cover again with your handy-dandy kitchen towel.  And let rise for about 15 minutes.  

Turn on your oven to broil, and let it preheat. Also put a large pan of water on to boil.

***Important:  Do NOT let them rise too much at this stage.  If the dough rises too much, it will collapse during cooking, resulting in the dreaded shriveled bagels of doom.  Boo.  Hiss. 
15 minutes. No more.

Cooking the Bagels

Bagels require three (yep) different cooking methods.  Don't worry, I'll walk you through it.  The important thing at this point, is to not leave the kitchen.  Things will go pretty fast, so from here on out you are committed.

The first step in cooking the bagels is to broil them briefly.  This gives them a bit of a crust so they hold their shape in the next step.  

Your oven should be hot now, so stick your bagels in.  Here's the key -- cook them until there is a nice crust, both on top and the on the bottom, but DO NOT LET THEM GET BROWN.  I learned this through many mistakes.

The above photo shows the bagels with a crust after broiling.  (If you could hear me through the screen, I would tap on the bagels with my fingernail and you could hear it).  But not brown.  Browned spots will shrivel up, once again giving you the dreaded shriveled bagel of doom.  Noooooo!

Turn your oven to 400F (200C) and keep it on.

Next step is boiling the bagels.  I know, it's crazy.  But boiling the bagels achieves that unique chewy texture that makes bagels special.  So let's be crazy.

Let the bagels boil for about 2 minutes.  Then flip and boil on the other side for another 2 minutes.

During those four minutes, whisk an egg with a couple teaspoons of water and get out your pastry brush. (A new paintbrush that doesn't shed will work in a pinch).  Also get out a cookie sheet (I like to line with parchment paper first) to put the boiled bagels on.

Remove the boiled bagels from the water with a slotted spoon. Working quickly, brush the bagels with the egg-wash.  Now, put that pan of egg-brushed bagels immediately back in the oven for about 20 minutes on 400F. 

Repeat the broil-boil-bake process with the rest of the bagels.  Just make sure the bagels get into the oven quickly after coming out of the boiling water.  If they sit in the cold air too long... guess what happens?  Yep.  The dreaded shriveled bagels of doom.  Evil villians.

Bake them about 20 minutes in the oven or until they are a deep, golden brown.  Place on cooling racks to cool.

If you are not going to eat all 16 bagels in the next couple of days, you can slice and freeze in ziplocs for future consumption.

Or just grab some butter or cream cheese and enjoy right now. Yumm.  

And no shriveled bagel of doom anywhere in sight.  Goodness and truth once again prevail.  Blue ribbons for everyone!

The Recipe

Makes 16 large bagels

3 cups warm water
2 packages of yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
8 cups flour
1 egg + 2 teaspoons water for egg wash

Put the water in a large mixing bowl, and sprinkle the yeast over the top.  Let stand about 5 minutes. Whisk to dissolve yeast and then add salt and sugar.

Slowly stir in the flour.  Form into a ball, then knead for 7 minutes.  The dough should not be sticky.

Cover with a clean towel and let rise until double.

Divide the dough into 16 pieces.  Shape into bagels, and place onto baking sheets.  Cover again with towel and let rise about 15 minutes, not more. Preheat oven to broil and put a large pan of water on the stove to boil, several inches deep.

Once the bagels have risen 15 minutes, put them in the oven to broil.  Watch them closely, the bagels need to have a crust on top and bottom, but you do not want them to get brown at all at this point.

Remove bagels from the oven and in batches, using a spatula or slotted spoon, lower the bagels into the pan of water.  Boil 2 minutes per side. 

Whisk together one egg and 2 teaspoons water in a small bowl to use as an egg wash.

Remove bagels from the water, place on baking sheet.  Brush with egg wash and put the bagels immediately back into the oven to bake for about 20 minutes or until they are deep golden brown.  

Remove from oven, cool on wire racks.  Store in airtight container or freeze for later.