New Bagels

This is the recipe I've been working on tweaking lately. There's a lot of variation in terms of what people look for in their bagels, so I'll tell you what I'm looking for. I want the kind of bagel you can get at a really great shop in New Jersey: hefty, a little puffy, bready and chewy without being too much of either; soft, yet sturdy enough to bite through without squishing the bagel down into nothing and getting cream cheese everywhere. I want the dough to be flavorful, but not overpoweringly so, balancing malt, sweetness, and saltiness, with a hint of fermentation from the overnight rest. I am not chasing Absolute Jewish Authenticity or anything like that, although I am Jewish; I am trying to recreate the bliss I felt squatting in the grass outside Teaneck Road Hot Bagels, inhaling my second bagel in 10 minutes. Hopefully this gives you some idea of whether or not our bagel preferences align.

Without further ado, here are some pictures of how my bagels look. These differ from my original recipe in that they are softer, less "bready", without being squishy or airy. The exterior crackles slightly while still being more of a "skin" than a crust. They also stale better, due to the inclusion of sugar and oil. If you want to shave a few hours off the overnight rest, you can replace 1% of the sugar with diastatic malt.

I do use some specialized ingredients and equipment, including high-gluten bread flour, diastatic malt powder, and barley malt syrup. For completeness' sake, I use this yeast, Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, and Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water. I also have a really intense mixer, a pizza stone, a kitchen scale, and bagel boards.

Recipe:

Stir the dry ingredients together, then add the wet and knead in your mixer for approximately 10 minutes. The challenge of this dough is that it never really looks good during the mixing stage. Here's what it looks like after about 5 minutes of mixing; here is what it looks like after 10. You'll know it's getting there when it starts to ribbon around the dough hook like saltwater taffy, stretches easily in your hands, and feels hydrated. (You can't really do the windowpane test with a dough this low hydration; it will rip.) At this point, rest the dough, covered, for 20 minutes to an hour, until it's fully smoothed out and looks like this.

Following the rest, the dough will transform and become remarkably easy to roll out. Shape the bagels like this, slicing off approximately 140g strips of dough, rolling them into snakes on an unfloured counter, then wrapping them around your hand and rolling firmly against the counter to seal. Place shaped bagels on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and lightly misted with oil; I get 12 bagels per sheet.

Rest bagels, covered, at room temperature, until they float when dropped into a bowl of water. This is highly dependent on your kitchen's temperature conditions, but I find it usually takes about an hour. Transfer to the fridge to rest overnight.

The next day, ideally around 16 hours later, get your oven as hot as possible, soak your bagel boards, boil water (then reduce to a simmer), and remove the bagels from the fridge. Add a big spoonful of malt syrup (or molasses, or honey, or whatever) to your boiling liquid. Simmer bagels 10-15 seconds per side. Once they come out of the boiling liquid, arrange them face-down on the bagel boards.

Place boards directly on the pizza stone and allow to bake for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, flip the boards so the bagels have direct contact with the stone and are now facing upwards. Bake another 5-10 minutes until desired doneness is reached; remove from oven, and rest bagels on cooling racks for at least 15 minutes.

Now, some notes on why I do what I do. There are a number of things that differentiate this recipe from most widely-available bagel recipes. Namely, the dough is very low hydration, the boiling time is much lower than the 1-2 minutes I usually see recommended, and I've included sugar and oil. I'll discuss these in order.

Low hydration results in a dense, even crumb and an extremely smooth exterior. If you look at a lot of online bagel recipes, you'll see that they're a bit wrinkly; this is why. The denseness of the bread is also important to the bagel "holding up": bagels are big, and they have a skin you need to bite through somewhat forcefully, so the interior should be sturdy. If you've ever had a "too-chewy" bagel, this is probably due to high hydration and good gluten development using a high-gluten flour; a bagel in this category has a tendency to become sort of gum-like. Conversely, a bagel with low hydration and poorly-developed gluten will result in a bready product that does not evoke a bagel. Balance!

Moving on. If you ask most people what makes a bagel a bagel, they'll probably mention the boiling. Actually, when I tell people I make bagels, they usually respond, "Wow, do you boil them?" I find this kind of strange, because the boiling part is like the easiest part... but whatever. Bagels are boiled. This is certainly true. It is no surprise, then, that people seem to think that boiling bagels longer makes them better, but those people are wrong. A boiling time of 10-15 seconds per side will still result in a distinctive "skin"; it will be a bagel. Longer will get you a thicker skin, but causes other issues. Namely, when you introduce heat to your bagels, you are activating some of the yeast. You really want this to happen in an extremely hot environment like the oven as opposed to a moderately hot environment like a simmering pot of water, so as to obtain the best "oven spring"; the longer you boil your bagels, the less oven spring. Also, starch gelatinization is what is responsible for the "skin", but also sets the bagel's exterior, inhibiting its rise. The thicker the skin, the less rise you're likely to achieve. All this to say, basically, that a longer boiling time results in an overall smaller, flatter bagel.

Finally, sugar and oil. These are probably the most controversial inclusions, and I get it, it's not exactly traditional... but it is better. Very low-hydration doughs can end up stiff or dense, in a bad way; a little oil softens things up, resulting in a bagel that is perfectly soft, sturdy, and chewy. Sugar, meanwhile, tastes good. Don't worry, these bagels aren't sweet—but sugar does balance the malt, salt, and fermentation in the dough. Both ingredients slow the staling process, which was probably my biggest dissatisfaction with my original recipe: in the past, after as little as a few hours, my bagels were much worse. These keep beautifully. They're pretty good on the second day, even, which is unusual.

Anyway, yeah, bagels. I'll put more stuff here if I think of it. Have fun!