It's Not a Matter of Getting It or Not Getting It; the Question Is, "Is It Worth Bothering to Get?"


I am known, to some, as a baker of bread. For many months have I abstained from the joys of the oven in favor of more academic pursuits, but this evening I have succumbed once again to the black arts of Bagelry. And I took pictures!

The majority of this post will be aimed at the novice bageler. You will pardon me for being a bit elementary. Let me begin by addressing perhaps the most important question: Why bother baking your own bagels? Can't bagels be gotten with ease at your local bagelry for highly reasonable rates? I have several answers to this. First, the very act of baking bagels is fun, just as baking bread generally is fun. But I'm a baking fan, so your mileage may vary. Second, baking your own bagels (with certain caveats)is actually cheaper than buying them from a bagel shop. Bagel shops tend to charge 65-75 cents per bagel. With judicious ingredient shopping, however, homemade bagels cost less than 15 cents each. What's more, homemade bagels are tastier than store-bought ones, because stores almost all make a peculiar brand of puffy and bland bagels, whereas homemade bagels (using my recipe, at least) are dense and flavorful. Finally, homemade bagels are vegan, whereas store-bought ones might not be (it depends where you buy them; some stores use a spritz of water to give their bagels a sheen, while others use an egg-white glaze to get them shiny).

Now that you've decided to bake your bagels, let's start with a few ground rules about ingredients. First, the flour. I prefer white flour, though I've heard some get good results with a 50/50 white/wheat mix. Bear in mind, though, that wheat flour will make the kneading more labor-intensive. In either case, the white flour you use should be eithr all-purpose or bread flour, and shouldn't be bleached. Unbleached flour will come out nicely white, and bleached flour sacrifices flavor for aesthetics.


Next, consider the yeast. I tend to use dry yeast, and there you have a choice between instant and active dry. There's an important distinction: Instant yeast can be thrown in with the flour and other dry ingredients, and that's the last you have to think about it, while active dry yeast should be proofed first. To proof yeast, measure out the yeast you'll need for the recipe and stir it into a quarter cup of luke-warm water (should be in the 80s fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer), then wait about 10 minutes. The air should permeate with a bready/beery smell, and the mixture should foam up, like so:


Active Dry yeast, once proofed, should be added in with the wet ingredients. Instant Yeast, as mentioned, should be mixed in with the dry ingredients.

Another important point about yeast: If you don't do your shopping right, the yeast will be the most expensive ingredient in the baking process. This is because many grocery stores only stock packaged yeast, which is one of the biggest rip-offs in modern groceries. Do not buy yeast in packets; the price is marked up to about ten times what it is if you buy in bulk. Either get your yeast in bulk from a health food store or get a big vacuum-sealed sack from CostCo. The following visual aid should prove illustrative:





For this recipe, you'll need
3 1/2 cups of flour (plus some extra for flouring your various work surfaces),
2 teaspoons salt,
1 teaspoon yeast,
2 tablespoons sugar,
1 1/4 cups water,
Oil to grease the baking pan (canola or vegetable oil is best).

Now, there are two essential ways to do this. One is through the use of various machines. The other is by hand. If you've a large enough food processor (should hold 5 cups) I really, really recommend using that. It's easier, it's cleaner, and it makes a better dough. The trick is that dough is a mixture of flour and water. The more flour you use, the more solid and dry it'll be. The more water you use, the more liquid and sticky it'll wind up. Putting more flour in makes it easier to handle, so the temptation when kneading by hand is to use too much flour. The food processor chops at such a speed that it doesn't make a difference; you can use exactly the right amount and wind up with dough of the perfect consistency.

If using a food processor, this is very easy. Add the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast (if using instant yeast) to the bowl. Pulse with the steel blade a couple of times to get everything mixed together. Then, with the processor running, drizzle in the wet ingredients (1 1/4 cups water if using instant yeast, 1 cup of water + the proofed yeast mixture if using active dry) and allow to run until you get a big solid ball, about 30 seconds. The dough should be cohesive and very slightly sticky. Add a touch of flour if it's too wet, add a teaspoon of water if it's too dry, and process until it comes out right. Remove and knead on a floured surface until it's a big rubbery ball.

If working by hand, it's a bit more complicated. Throw the salt, the sugar, the yeast (if instant) and 1 3/4 cups of flour into a mixing bowl. To that, add the wet ingredients and stir with a spoon. Once combined, mix in flour gradually, about 1/2 a cup at a time, not adding more until the last batch has been completely assimilated into the dough. Stop at 3 1/2 cups. The trick with hand-mixing is that eventually it'll become too sticky to handle with a spoon; it'll be one huge sticky mass. Unfortunately, the point at which the dough becomes un-stirrable happens before the point when it becomes kneadable by hand. The trick is to soldier through and stir the damn stuff until it's absolutely impossible to stir any longer; only then should you dump it out and start kneading. Make sure your hands are well-covered in flour before you knead, or you'll end up with fingers coated in gobs of sticky, liquid dough. This is why I recommend getting a food processor. In any case, add flour and knead until it's a rubbery, non-sticky ball.

Whether kneading by hand or mixing in a food processor, the end result should look something like this:


Smooth it out, then put it in a bowl and cover it loosely with a towel to rise.


You've actually got a couple of options here. You can heat an oven to about 100 degrees and throw the bowl in there; this'll help it rise faster, in an hour or less. You can leave it where it is, in which case it'll be done in about two hours. Or you can put it in the refrigerator and let it rise, slowly, in there for about twelve hours. The longer you let it rise, the more chance the yeast will have to develope and the richer the flavor of the end bagels will be. You might consider making the dough the afternoon before, putting it in the fridge, then waking up early to bake your bagels the next morning. In any case, by the end of the first rise your dough should have roughly doubled in bulk, like so:


Take it out and punch it down, then form it back into a ball. Leave it to rest for another ten minutes, covered, on a floured surface.


Now it's time to turn your big lump of dough into smaller, bagel-shaped lumps of dough. Cut it into eight or twelve pieces (I prefer eight, just because it's easier to get them even, though you'll note I failed at that this time around). Role the mini-doughs into balls.


Now take each ball and punch a hole in the middle with your thumb, then work the dough into a roughly even bagel-like shape.


Sprinkle some flour on the doughs, then cover and let them rise for half an hour.


While they're rising, set a pot of water to boiling and pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Set out a wire rack on which to (eventually) dry and cool the bagels. I tend to use an oven rack set on top of the sink. Once the bagels are risen and the water is boiling, drop in your bagels four at a time. Keep the heat high enough to maintain a rolling boil. Let the bagels boil a minute on one side, flip them over, boil them a minute on the other side, then remove to the wire rack to drip dry. Repeat until all your bagels have been boiled.


Hopefully by now your oven is up to temperature. Grease a baking sheet with canola oil and place your bagels on the sheet. If you've a spray bottle, like so:


Spritz a little water into the oven at this point to get a steam. Slide in the bagels. In five minutes, spray again. This'll give the bagels a nice sheen, but it's not essential. In any case, the bagels should bake for a total of 20-25 minutes (that's 20-25 from the time you put them in, not from the second spray). Take them out when they're nicely browned. Spray a bit more water on for extra-shiny bagels, then put them back on the wire rack to cool.


Serve when cool enough to eat but still nicely warm. I recommend against toasting, but to each her own. Serve with butter and cream cheese, or Earth Balance and Tofutti if you are so inclined.


If you want non-plain bagels, either fill a plate with the ingredient and mash the bagels in it after boiling, before baking, or mix your ingredient of choice in with the dry ingredients before mixing/kneading. But for the love of Pete, bagels are a savory food; don't put raisins, fruit, chocolate, or other such nonsense into them. In any case, eat and be healthy!


1. Bagels are not a savory food, damnit! They call out for dried fruit! Mmm. Dried fruit.

2. I'd like to suggest another caveat, applying to the ingredient-purchasing process: once you've acquired your big bag of bulk or pre-packed yeast, do NOT stick your nose in the bag and inhale deeply to make sure you've got the best and worthiest yeast. And please don't tell me that intelligent people don't need to be told this, because I certainly did.

3. To what exactly does that post title refer, anyway?

I've kind of taken to stream-of-consciousness post titles when I can't think of anything clever related to the topic. So I'll start with the topic, like "bagels," and see where that leads, and then see where that leads, and so on until I hit on something interesting.

In this case, Bagels led to the joke "Why do seagulls fly over the ocean? Because if they flew over the bay, they'd be bay-gulls!" Which in turn led to a Space Ghost sketch between Brak and Zorak that involved that joke. Brak tells the joke, asks Zorak if he gets it, and Zorak replies with the titular quote, followed by a lengthy diatribe. Further dialogue and hilarity ensues.

Also: A bagel is a salty bread. Salty bread demands butter (or buttery substitute), maybe seeds or dried garlic or, if you are so inclined, onions. But fruit? Never!

I'm with you on the onions, certainly. Salty things and onions go together like salty things and onions (which is well enough to need no analogy). But salty things and raisins also go together beautifully -- think of GORP! And a favorite snack in my family is salted and buttered popcorn tossed together with refrigerated M&Ms. While I wouldn't recommend M&Ms in bagels, I do like small chocolate chips.

I just noticed you have a countertop panini press. I'm envious -- I was in the market for one awhile ago but decided to get a cheaper and more drainage-oriented Foreman grill instead. The grill is nice, but you know, it's just not designed for even compression of great big sandwiches. Every time my bell pepper comes squishing out from between my bread halves, I dream of the floating hinges on those panini presses. Oh man. I think I have a problem with lust for kitchen appliances.

I quite like my Panini Press. It's (I believe) a Cuisinart, and actually has a full drainage structure in place; it's got a drain in the front-right corner and comes with various cups for catching liquid, as well as a couple of scrapers that are ridged to get between the grillish ridges. Plus it's got flat panels that can be switched in for the grill plates, and it can be opened all the way up to act as a griddle or a grill. It's enormously fun to work with, and it makes it very easy to turn a regular sandwich into a fancy-pants sandwich.

Although my unfortunate inclinations towards abominable foods has led, on more than one occasion, to Peanut Butter and Jelly Panini.

On the other hand, I can't recommend Peanut Butter and Banana Panini highly enough.

Fancy pants! Yum. The co-op use to have a forman grill and man did it make a good grilled cheese. Cheese, after all, needn't only be on the inside of the sandwich. (It's so crunchy when on the outside.)
Your bagels look great. I myself agree with the savory assessment (but then again I don't like muffins or cereal or anything sweet for before noon, either). But i've forgotten your dislike of onions.
Anyways, miss you Zach. I'm bored and essentially just waiting to go to graduate school. And my day job is killing my brain.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on April 10, 2006 11:15 PM.

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