by Patrick Reinartz
When I first took an interest in cooking, I rarely touched baked goods. I liked to cook by the seat of my pants, as it were – eschewing recipes for intuition. But as much fun as it is to learn through trial and error, cooking is still a science and many people before me have fine-tuned kitchen processes to a point that there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel. And by learning to trust the experts, I discovered that baking is not such a scary thing after all. It requires a little bit of precision, patience and attention to detail, but there’s still room for the playful to have fun.
I picked up a copy of Peter Reinhart’s “Artisan Breads Every Day” last year to help me get started. I’ve made my way through several of the book’s breads by now (as I’m sure you’ll see in due time), but this week I wanted bagels. The possibility of making a passable bagel at home blew my mind.
The dough consists of bread flour (3½ C) combined with a liquid mixture of: barley malt syrup or honey (1tbsp), instant yeast (1tsp), salt (1½ tsp), and warm water (1 C plus 2 tbsp). Stirred together, these components are formed into a fully hydrated ball and then rested for an hour in a lightly oiled bowl. When almost all the other ingredients have come together, you can also fold in some other add-ins. I added sundried tomatoes (rehydrated and chopped) and a handful of freshly grated parmesan to my first batch.
After it’s rested, divide the dough (makes 6-8 bagels) and shape the bagels. Roll each chunk into a thick rope, wrap them around your hand and then press the ends together. Lay them on a lightly oiled piece of parchment (or silicone mat) on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, take the bagels from the fridge about an hour before baking and preheat your oven to 500F. Before baking, each shaped bagel is briefly poached (about 45 seconds per side) in a solution of water (about 3 quarts), baking soda (1-2 tbsp), and barley malt syrup (2 tbsp). This step is what ultimately gives the bagels their shiny, chewy exterior. It’s similar to how you’d prepare a pretzel. The bagels should float quickly after they hit the water. If they sink, it means they need to rise a little longer.
Once all the bagels have been boiled, slip the baking sheet into the oven, reduce the temperature to 450F and set a timer for 8 minutes. That’s the approximate half-way mark, so check on the bagels, turn the baking sheet and then give them another 8-12 minutes. The finished bagels should be well-browned and have a firm, shiny exterior.
And that’s it! These bagels were big hit on the first test run, but there’s always more room for experimentation and improvement. Aside from the Sundried Tomato bagels, I’ve also played with plain, sesame, poppy seed, and cinnamon/brown sugar.