I have to be very honest with you. I’m a little nervous.
As you may have noticed from the picture above and from the title, the June challenge put to the Daring Bakers by our hosts Quellia of All Things Edible and Freya of Writing at the Kitchen Table is bagels.
Why so nervous, you ask?
Bagels scare me. Bagel purists scare me. People who raise their eyebrows and sneer when you tell them where you buy your bagels scare me. I have never known a carboydrate that causes as much acrimony and dissent. I have seen lifeling friends practically come to blows over bagels.
So please, be gentle with me. Here is my bagel story.
When I first read the challenge and the recipe, I felt scared (see above), but also hopeful. I’d made bagels once before in my Breakfast Breads baking class so I’m somewhat familiar with the process.
On the morning that I made my bagels, I began by proofing the yeast in warm water sweetened with honey. I did not use hot water as directed because I’ve learned in my baking courses that hot water can damage and kill yeast. After ten minutes of proofing, the yeast was foamy, creamy and you could definitely smell it.
As directed by the recipe, I then added three cups of flour and the salt. However, I was careful to cover the yeast with the flour first and then sprinkle the salt on the flour. Another tip that we picked up in baking class is that salt added directly to yeast can drastically reduce the yeast’s effectiveness and even kill it. Unlike sugar, which yeast feeds on, salt alters the yeast’s ability to work properly. So if you’re adding flour and salt to yeast, be sure to add the flour first as a buffer.
At this point I removed my watch and and my ring and I got right into it! When people tell me that they don’t like to bake, I always think of this moment. Anyone who sinks their hands into a creamy, floury mixture just waiting to be turned into a dough will immediately feel the joy of baking! Keeping one hand clean (as Quellia recommends), I used the other hand to work in the flour and salt. After a minute or two I had a mushy, wet, yeasty blob! I love mushy, wet, yeasty blobs!!!
At this point, I began adding the remainder of the flour to my blob one cup at a time. As the mixture became drier, I reduced the flour to about half a cup at a time. Once I’d incorporated about six cups of flour, I had to remove my blob from the bowl and begin working it on the well-floured counter. I stopped adding flour after I added about seven and a quarter cups. I felt that the blob was sufficiently dry and I was ready to knead.
I won’t wax poetic about kneading … again. You all know how much I love it. Let’s just say I spent the following ten minutes getting a great upper body workout as I worked my blob into a beautiful dough!
Quellia and Freya’s recipe indicated that the dough should be placed in a well oiled bowl and allowed to rise until doubled in size. I would have preferred that the recipe also give a timeframe for that (“… until doubled in size, which should take an hour to an hour and a half …”), but that became a moot point when my dough absolutely ballooned after only thirty minutes!
In fact, this is what my dough looked like after thirty-five minutes.
Well there’s no rest for the wicked (or weary) so I got right down to forming those bagels! I placed a large pot of water to boil and then added malt syrup.
The recipe indicated that the bagel yield would be 15. Well I looked at this massive piece of dough and envisioned 15 bagel cakes growing right out of my oven. If I’d only divided it into 15 bagels they would have been huge. Instead, I divided my dough into six pieces and then further divided those six pieces.
I decided to try both ways of forming a bagel. For the first few bagels, I rolled dough into a round and then poked a hole in the middle with my finger. I then used two fingers to roll the dough around making the hole in the centre bigger.
For the second formation method, I rolled a piece of dough into a rope and then joined the ends rolling them slightly so that they held together. I eventually settled on this method and formed most of my bagels this way. After forming the bagels, I let them sit for ten minutes before heading to the malt/water bath.
When we made bagels in baking class, we boiiled them for a few seconds. But this recipe requires that you boil the bagels for three minutes on each side. I found this part of the recipe a bit confusing because my bagels went in nice and smooth but came out a bit lumpy and not so pretty. But never one to argue with a Daring Baker challenge, I perservered.
After all my bagels were boiled, I began the fun part of the recipe: how do I top them bagels???
I chose four options: the classic poppyseed, the yummy sesame seed, the even yummier caraway seed with Maldon salt and the not-so-traditional Cheddar cheese. To customize the bagels, I made a wash of egg white and water, which I brushed on to the boiled bagels. Then, each bagel met its topping fate.
The recipe indicated that the bagels should be baked at 400 degrees F. for 25 minutes and then turned and baked for an additional ten minutes. But I found that my first batch of bagels almost burned. So I reduced the oven temperature to 390 degrees F. and baked them for 20 minutes on one side and five minutes on the other side.
The end result was mixed for me. My bagels certainly didn’t look like bagels. This worried me a bit as I could already hear the snickers and criticism. They weren’t puffy like bagels should be. Or at least that’s how I think bagels should be. I think this is my fault in that I divided my bagel dough too much. In other words, I made too many small bagels when the recipe was meant to yield fewer and larger bagels.
I also suspect that the ten minutes of resting time the bagels need between being formed and boiled isn’t enough. I think that I would probably let them rest for 20 minutes should I make these again. This would give the bagels more time to rise.
So appearance-wise, I wasn’t too happy. But taste was another matter altogether.
These bagels were delicious! The exterior was firm but not hard and definitely yielded to the bite. The interior was bready and soft. Once they were cool, we immediately sat down and enjoyed them in our favourite way: with smoked salmon and cream cheese.
My personal favourite were the caraway seed and Maldon salt-topped bagels. I had this combination in one of my baking classes where we made bread topped with caraway and salt. I fell in love with it and often find myself craving it. I thought these bagels were delicious.
And as far as the disappointing disappearance goes, I must admit that the Cheddar cheese-topped bagels didn’t look all that bad. (Stop sneering at me!!!)
All in all, it was a very pleasant June challenge. I made bagels on my own for the first time and while my bagels will not be impressing any of the purists any time soon, we certainly enjoyed them.
I think I acquitted myself admirabley. I just hope that no one who knows me and recognizes me will be throwing bagels at me!
Please check Quellia’s post for the recipe we used.