I love my bagels. My wife loves my bagels. People love my bagels. I’ve often been asked for the recipe for them. So I’ll share here.Be forewarned: the few times I’ve given my recipe, people tended to freak out. “It’s so long!” This is actually more a process than a recipe, and it took decades to perfect. I started with the “Les Bagels de Jo Goldenberg” recipe from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads, but it took a lot of experimentation and modification to get the results I wanted. The steps and explanation are all part of what it takes to make a bagel better than you’ll get at a bagel shop. It is not hard, but it does matter how you do it!
Also note, if you are gluten-free, you really can’t make good bagels. Understanding gluten was critical to learning how to make the bagels I wanted.
Chad's Bagel Recipe
Better bagels than you'll find at the bagel shop! actually more a process than a recipe, and it took decades to perfect. It took a lot of experimentation get the results I wanted. The steps and explanation are all part of what it takes to make a bagel better than you'll get at a bagel shop. It is not hard, but it does matter how you do it!
In a large mixing bowl, put 3C of flour, gluten, yeast, sugar, and salt. Mix well with your hand, and make a well in the middle of the mixture.
Add the hot water to the well, then, using your hands, begin to add flour from the edges, bringing it on top of the water, and pushing it into the water from the sides. This avoids "club fist" too early.
Keep mixing until the dough comes together into a sticky mass. Slowly add more four until it becomes firm and dry enough to knead (a little wetter than you're used to if you are a fan of James Beard, a bit drier than if you're a fan of William Alexander or Peter Reinhart).
Turn the dough out onto a well floured counter (or a marble or granite slab, which is my preference). Knead with a strong push/fold/turn motion and rhythm for at least 13 minutes. When the developing gluten gets difficult to push out, periodically lift the dough ball up a few feet and slam it down into the counter. This helps line up the shorter gluten strands so they can form longer strands.
You are done kneading when it can pass the "bakers' window pane test:" pinch off a portion of dough and stretch it into as thin a sheet as you can. It should get so thin it is translucent before it tears.
Let the dough rest while you wash the bowl out with water (but no soap!), dry, and coat with a little bit of oil or butter (I prefer olive oil).
The time it takes to do that should allow the dough to relax enough that you can now form it into a ball.
Place the ball in the bowl, and turn it to coat lightly with the olive oil. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until double - usually about an hour with "rapid rise" yeast.
Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees, and cover two baking sheets with corn meal.
Fill a dutch oven 2/3 full with water and the additional sugar, and place on a stove burner over medium-high heat.
Turn your dough out onto your floured counter, and give it a couple of gentle kneads.
Cut the dough into 10 approximately equal sized pieces.
Form each piece into a ball by pulling the sides to the middle of the bottom and tucking in. You should form a "skin" of gluten over the surface of the ball. Line each ball up in order as you go.
Starting with the first ball (it should have rested enough by now), form into bagels: Pick up the ball, and gently flatten it a little. Pinch your thumb and middle finger gently through the center to form a hole, then begin to work it bigger. Eventually, I usually end up with my index and middle finger of each hand through the hole, spinning the bagel like a bicycle wheel until it's as big as it will get without tearing. Again, set down the bagels in order.
By the time you reach your last bagel, the sugar water should have reached a bare simmer. Turn the heat down to maintain this.
Boiling bagels is a bit of a misnomer. You simmer them.
Starting with the first bagel you shaped, put two at a time in the simmering water. If your timing is right, they should sink to the bottom of the pan, but begin to float in about 10 seconds. If they float immediately you were too slow and the yeast has already risen them too much. But they'll still turn out better than a bagel shop, so keep going.
After 30 seconds, flip the bagels over. After another 30 seconds, remove the bagels to a clean towel to drain.
Repeat this process, moving the bagels from the towel to a baking sheet when you flip the ones simmering, until you have finished all of the bagels. While you are counting seconds for simmering bagels, separate your egg white into a small bowl. Add a splash of cold water, and beat until foamy.
Use a basting brush to brush the egg wash onto each bagel. Be sure to get inside the hole (which will have closed up much smaller now).
Now, you can debate between leaving them plain or topping.
If topping, sprinkle your choice of toppings on each bagel (of course, you can top each one differently). I like a lot of seeds on my bagels, and find that order matters. Start with kosher salt, then the biggest thing you're adding, progressing to the smallest. This makes sure the large seeds have a place to stick, then the smaller ones fit in the spaces in-between (like the parable about filling a jar). So my normal topping order is: Kosher salt, fennel seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and chia seeds.
Bake for about 22 minutes. They're done when brown and shiny. When I bake them in the wood stove oven, I have to cover them loosely with aluminum foil about 1/2 way through so the tops don't burn before they're done. I had to rotate and swap racks with the baking sheets in my previous three ovens, but that's not needed in my current one. So pay attention in yours (as the saying goes, never trust an oven).
You'll want to eat your bagels as soon as they come out of the oven, but they're still baking! Let cool for about 5 minutes, then remove them to cooling racks. If you try to remove them too early, they'll squish a deflate a bit. Too late and they're liable to stick to the baking sheet.
Let cool at least another 15 minutes if you can't wait (I usually can't) or want to eat them warm. Otherwise, they're best after about an hour of cooling.
Serve them with as is, with a schmear (schmears are perfect for improvisation, but one of my favorites is pesto schmear), with cream cheese and lox (OK, I hate lox, but others...), in a sandwich... They probably won't keep too long, but I'm not sure we've ever had any go uneaten longer than about 36 hours...