Wednesday, 5 December 2012


I absolutely love bagels, as long as they are proper bagels, with a crispy crust and all soft and chewy inside. Every time I go to New York I have to get some bagels. Unfortunately, I don't get to go to New York very often, and it's been a few years since I've been there last. Funnily enough, Prague had a brilliant bagel place as well, although I couldn't for my life remember what it was called as it's so many years ago I went there. A quick google query with the words Prague and bagels immediately came up with it, the place was called Bohemia Bagel. I remember I even bought some to take home with me.  

Having watched the bakers on The Great British Bakeoff make all sorts of super yummy looking bagels, I really wanted to give them another try. I have made bagels once before, and they turned out to be a total disaster. They didn't rise at all and turned out hard enough to kill someone with. So I never dared try bagels again. However, I found this link on Pinterest to a post by a guy who owned his own bagel shop. So I thought he probably knows what he is talking about. The instructions on there are really good. I suggest you click yourself over there and read his instructions if you are not a seasoned bagel baker. At least for me the clearly explained steps made me feel like I can really do this. Also, if you have the time and patience, there are really good tips and tricks in the comments section. I don't know about the accuracy of them as I haven't tried them out, but a few points that raised my interest were the following: add a tablespoon of baking soda in the boiling water to get a deeper colour on the bagels, brush them with egg wash before baking in the oven if you want them to be  a more golden yellow colour. Also you can substitute 1/4 to 1/3 of the flour with other types of flour, such as whole wheat or rye. I will definitely try it with a bit of rye in it some other time. I decided to use parmesan and poppy seeds to flavour my bagels.

Another thing I have never quite managed to do properly is to knead dough. In theory I have always understood the need for proper kneading as I understand that the gluten strands need to build up to make a nice fluffy dough. But it's messy and hard work. A proper mixer with a dough hook would solve this problem, but right now I can't invest in the type of kitchen aid I would like, and I don't want to get a cheap one. But after watching Paul's tips for how to knead a dough properly, I thought I would give it a try. And I think it really paid off, although it's sweaty work, a proper knead resulted in one of the best bread doughs I have ever made. So now I think it's totally worth the trouble. I just wish I had a good work surface instead of having to use my dining table. But using my silicon baking mat makes cleaning up the mess much easier. So I really recommend researching kneading if you don't know how to do it, it really makes a difference to the texture of the dough. 

Parmesan and poppy seed bagels (makes 8):
2 tsp instant yeast
4 cups bread flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
100 g grated parmesan (this was not in the original recipe)
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cup water (I used left over whey from my cheese making adventures)
poppy seeds and parmesan to sprinkle on top

The howto:
As I said before, I really think you should head over to the original recipe for the instructions on how to bake the bagels. If you are using instant yeast, all you need to do is mix all the ingredients, let the dough proof for 20 minutes, roll out the bagels, let them proof for another 20 minutes, boil them and bake them. 

I did manage to totally mess up the recipe though. Instead of using 2 tsp instant yeast, I used 2 tbsp active yeast. Fortunately my yeast is really old, so I think it didn't do too much damage, but they did obviously overproof a bit and deflate when cooked. If using active yeast, you need to activate the yeast first. Just follow the instructions on your yeast pack. I also didn't find the rolling technique in the original post very successful. In the picture below, the two rightmost bagels are made using the technique described in the post, whereas the rest of the bagels, which look much prettier to me, were made by a different technique that I picked up from the Great British Bakeoff book. Basically, you roll the dough into a ball, then stick your finger through to make a hole, and swirl the bagel around your finger a few times to make the whole a bit bigger. Obviously you should try out both techniques to see which one is suitable for you.

The verdict:
This recipe was very succesful, despite the fact that I messed up the whole yeast bit. The excess yeast does explain why my donuts did collapse on themselves a bit. They did rise quite a lot, but at the stage of boiling they inflated slightly. Nothing too bad, but in the comments section of the original recipe this was touched upon many times. If you overproof your dough it can collapse later (a mistake that some of the bakers in the Great British Bakeoff also made). I think the extra yeast probably has the same effect as overproofing. I also had a bit of a problem with the proofing, as room temperature in my apartment right now is somewhere close to arctic. I was afraid my bagels wouldn't rise in the cold, so I put my oven on for just a few minutes to get it a few degrees above normal RT and left the oven light on, and proofed the bagels in there. Based on the looks of the bagels, this seemed to do the trick.

I absolutely love the size of the recipe, it makes eight rather large bagels, just the way I like my bagels. If for some weird reason you like your bagels smaller, you can obviously divide the dough into ten or twelve. The comments for the original recipe had several people commenting that they only make six bagels from this recipe as that would make them more New York sized. For me, eight was just right, but I guess everything is bigger in America. Also, baking eight was just perfect as me and Best Friend destroyed half of the batch as soon as it came out of the oven. Obviously the bagels were served with cream cheese (the full fat one, not any horrible low fat substitutes) and smoked salmon, the only right way to enjoy bagels. That left two to be frozen and two for breakfast the two following days. There is one thing I would change for future reference though. I'm not sure if my flavouring with parmesan was the most successful one, despite adding quite a lot of parmesan to the dough, I don't think the flavour came through very much. Although I have to admit, I used the horrible pre-grated stuff, so maybe the result would have been much better had I bought proper parmesan. Next time I might try a mature cheddar instead. And of course the flavour combinations are endless. Poppy seed, sesame seed, sea salt, onion, herbs, cinnamon and raisin. Or something more imaginative, like the fig, walnut and  Gruyere bagels in the Great British Bakeoff book. Or blueberry and white chocolate or maybe cinnamon and apple. Or anything else your heart desires. I can't wait to try these again, maybe even using the correct amount of yeast next time.

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