Homemade Hand-Rolled Water Bagels

Bagels are a lot like pizza, in the way people get fussy about them; why, some bagel places will refuse to even toast your bagel, claiming it ruins the integrity of the bagel. (Note: I refuse to buy bagels from these places.) And no place on Earth makes a bagel quite in the way they exist on the Eastern seaboard: A slight crunch on the outside, chewy and warm on the inside, with just a hint of sour flavor, and then, again, an even smaller hint of sugar.

Diving into the world of bagel making research can chew up your afternoon, as you read about shortcuts and “inauthentic” bagels. How boiling gave way to steaming, how malt syrup gave way to granulated sugar, all in the name of efficiency. One thing is certain: anyone passionate about making bagels, is convinced that THEIR bagels are best.

Many places, unfortunately, have not found this same passion for bagel making, producing options which are much closer to bread than they are to bagels, and there is so, so much more to bagels than being round and having a hole.

It is with this in mind, then, that I set out to make my own bagels this afternoon. And, even on my first attempt, the results were sublime.

Sure, some of them are a little misshapen. Sure, one of them even came apart. Sure, mistakes were made. But the first attempt was pretty fantastic, yielding eight bagels that were as they should be: crusty, chewy, delicious, with or without toasting, with or without butter or cream cheese.

Here was the basic recipe I used.

Homemade Hand-Rolled Water Bagels

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose, sifted)
  • 1 Tbls sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsps salt
  • 1 Tbls vegetable oil
  • 2 tsps instant yeast
  • 1-1/4- 1-1/2 cups of warm water.

Method:

The directions are simple: Combine all this stuff in a bowl. I didn’t even let the yeast activate first, having read that most modern yeast is of the “instant” variety. Mix at first, and then, when it gets solid, knead for ten minutes until everything gets smooth and nice. Divide your dough ball into eight equal size pieces.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky, since bagel making seems to be 90% technique and only 10% recipe. Roll one of your dough balls out into a snake shape, and when it gets to be the width of your two hands, flip it around the back of your hand and crimp the edges, making a ring shape. Does that make sense at all? Maybe this blurry picture I found on the Internet will help.

Get this motion down, and you’ll feel like a bagel-making pro. The only thing that’s a LITTLE tricky is making sure your ends are joined well, so they don’t come apart in the next step.

You’ve been through a lot, so give your hands and your bagels a rest for about 20 minutes. This is a good time to get some water boiling, get the oven preheated to 425, and get your toppings created. Try dicing onion or garlic, or getting some seeds laid out on a plate.

Now, the boiling. Take each of your bagels, one at a time, and give them a boiling-water bath, for a minute on each side. You should see the bagels puff up a little bit, and become firm. This is what gives them their unique combination of textures, and makes the outside crunchy while the inside stays chewy. They won’t look unlike giant Chinese dumplings.

For flavored bagels, place your boiled bagel on one of your plates full of toppings, then cook topping-side up.

Once you’ve got your dough flavored and appropriately topped, place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes on each side. Boom! Bagels!

A few notes, based on what I’ve learned from the above process:

  1. Baking bagels in a glass pan will simply not work. You will end up with a mess.
  2. Flour your work surface while your bagels rest, before boiling. Otherwise, they will stick, no matter how un-sticky they seem at the time.
  3. Next time, I may try brushing my boiled bagels with a beaten egg mixture…this would give them a nice, golden brown color, and a glossy shine.

In short, researching bagel-making online can make it seem like an impossible process. In reality, an hour is about all that separates you from, I promise you, some of the best bagels you have ever had. Enjoy!

Photo: skills0

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the junk food blog "Spork & Barrel," and "Brocavore," a blog about food trucks and street food culture. His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, Eat Rockland, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

3 Comments

  1. You’ve got to try it, Elizabeth. You’ll be stunned at how straightforward it is, and you’ll be hard pressed to eat other bagels ever again. Although, I did just overnight myself a box of H&H Bagels, which are about as good as I remember.

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