DB challenge #7 - Bagels

they’re called real, honest, jewish purist’s bagels. they are basic, handmade, imperfect, boiled and baked.
they are plain.

growing up and going to hebrew school i would grab a bagel--30 cents--on my way in and spend the next hour or so making it last as long as possible. my favorite technique involved peeling off the boiled skin and leaving the soft, airy inside for later. the air would give the insides just the slightest hint of resistance. the only place worth getting bagels from was PK’s, home of gargantuan oblong-ish bits of dough that were boiled and baked to perfection. i admit, i always got a plain one.

i’ve spent the past 25 years growing up jewish and eating many a bagel feast, though, and i’m not sure i would classify these particular bagels as jewish based solely on their plainness. i admit that the author makes certain valid points--a biscuit cutter makes for a very goyishe bagel--but this jew likes her bagels with a bit of sweet, hebrew school traditions notwithstanding. i mean, the main thing i learned in hebrew school was that 9.00 is not too early for a candy bar to help you get through a talmud class.

i feel that my enlightenment came in college. i lived down the street from a lovely little bagel shop called sam’s, that, in addition to making twenty or so particularly delicious bagel sandwich options, also made chocolate chip bagels. it was a revolution for me. i built on this knowledge when i moved to washington, d.c. and discovered bagels etc lurking on a dupont circle street corner. not only did they have chocolate chip bagels, but they had cherry ones. my favorite treat became getting one of each and slathering them, a half at a time, with nutella on the cherry bagel and fauchon cherry preserves on the chocolate one.

so i was a bit disappointed when jenny and freya decided that this month’s DB challenge included a very strict--orthodox, if you will-observance of the bagel recipe. no cherries. no chocolate chips. no nutella.

in spite of these restrictions, i tackled the bagels with enthusiasm. on shabbos, if you please.
the recipe is simple. and not just simple, but easy. i had an epiphany while i was proofing the yeast by feeding it with honey and watched the very happy yeast foam like i’ve never seen yeast foam before. (clearly i’ve been proofing yeast the wrong way for years). i watched in amazement as the sticky, heavy and wet dough came together as i poured all 8 cups of flour into it. i barely had time to turn around and rinse the dishes before the dough had doubled in size--a perfect june day will do that to yeast, i suppose--and half-proofing quickly turned into full proofing as i formed the small holey spheres using the “poke” method.

the bagels weren’t perfect. they rose too quickly. they floated in the boiling water--maybe i didn’t have it hot enough? the shape was totally off and they flattened most unattractively in the oven. they also stuck to the sheet pans with troublesome stubborness.

the real problem, though, was that they just weren’t that good. i didn’t like the texture of the boiled skin, and i didn’t like the taste of the bagel itself. i was disappointed about the floating problem. they just...didn’t taste right.

you want to know the secret to honest, jewish purist’s bagels?
real jews go out and buy their bagels on sunday mornings.

Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels
Daring Bakers Challenge #7: June 2007

Hosts: Jenny (All Things Edible) and Freya (Writing at the Kitchen Table)
Post Date: Wednesday, June 27th

Allowed Modifications:

1. Topping of your choice, savory recommended, for the outside of the bagels only. No added ingredients or flavours inside the bagels.
2. Filling or spread of your choice for the outside of the bagel. (i.e. flavoured cream cheese or peanut butter)
3. Recipe ingredient exception allowed only if allergy or an ingredient not available or cost prohibitive in your region

Recipe Quantity: Fifteen (15) large, plain, Kosher bagels


* 6-8 cups bread (high-gluten) flour
* 4 tablespoons dry baking yeast
* 6 tablespoons granulated white sugar or light honey (clover honey is good)
* 2 teaspoons salt
* 3 cups hot water
* a bit of vegetable oil
* 1 gallon water
* 3-5 tablespoons malt syrup or sugar
* a few handfuls of cornmeal


* large mixing bowl
* wire whisk
* measuring cups and spoons
* wooden mixing spoon
* butter knife or baker's dough blade
* clean, dry surface for kneading
* 3 clean, dry kitchen towels
* warm, but not hot, place to set dough to rise
* large stockpot
* slotted spoon
* 2 baking sheets

How You Do It:

Step 1- Proof Yeast: Pour three cups of hot water into the mixing bowl. The water should be hot, but not so hot that you can't bear to put your fingers in it for several seconds at a time. Add the sugar or honey and stir it with your fingers (a good way to make sure the water is not too hot) or with a wire whisk to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water, and stir to dissolve.

Wait about ten minutes for the yeast to begin to revive and grow. Skipping this step could result in your trying to make bagels with dead yeast, which results in bagels so hard and potentially dangerous that they are banned under the terms of the Geneva Convention. You will know that the yeast is okay if it begins to foam and exude a sweetish, slightly beery smell.

Step 2- Make Dough: At this point, add about three cups of flour as well as the 2 tsp of salt to the water and yeast and begin mixing it in. Some people subscribe to the theory that it is easier to tell what's going on with the dough if you use your hands rather than a spoon to mix things into the dough, but others prefer the less physically direct spoon. As an advocate of the bare-knuckles school of baking, I proffer the following advice: clip your fingernails, take off your rings and wristwatch, and wash your hands thoroughly to the elbows, like a surgeon. Then you may dive into the dough with impunity. I generally use my right hand to mix, so that my left is free to add flour and other ingredients and to hold the bowl steady. Left-handed people might find that the reverse works better for them. Having one hand clean and free to perform various tasks works best.

When you have incorporated the first three cups of lour, the dough should begin to become thick-ish. Add more flour, a half-cup or so at a time, and mix each addition thoroughly before adding more flour. As the dough gets thicker, add less and less flour at a time.

Step 3- Knead Dough: Soon you will begin to knead it by hand (if you're using your hands to mix the dough in the first place, this segue is hardly noticeable). If you have a big enough and shallow enough bowl, use it as the kneading bowl, otherwise use that clean, dry, flat counter top or tabletop mentioned in the "Equipment" list above. Sprinkle your work surface or bowl with a handful of flour, put your dough on top, and start kneading. Add bits of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking (to your hands, to the bowl or counter top, etc....). Soon you should have a nice stiff dough. It will be quite elastic, but heavy and stiffer than a normal bread dough. Do not make it too dry, however... it should still give easily and stretch easily without tearing.

Step 4- Let Dough Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with one of your clean kitchen towels, dampened somewhat by getting it wet and then wringing it out thoroughly. If you swish the dough around in the bowl, you can get the whole ball of dough covered with a very thin film of oil, which will keep it from drying out.

Place the bowl with the dough in it in a dry, warm (but not hot) place, free from drafts. Allow it to rise until doubled in volume. Some people try to accelerate rising by putting the dough in the oven, where the pilot lights keep the temperature slightly elevated. If it's cold in your kitchen, you can try this, but remember to leave the oven door open or it may become too hot and begin to kill the yeast and cook the dough. An ambient temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Centigrades) is ideal for rising dough.

Step 5- Prepare Water for Bagels: While the dough is rising, fill your stockpot with about a gallon of water and set it on the fire to boil. When it reaches a boil, add the malt syrup or sugar and reduce the heat so that the water just barely simmers; the surface of the water should hardly move.

Step 6- Form Bagels: Once the dough has risen, turn it onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide immediately into as many hunks as you want to make bagels. For this recipe, you will probably end up with about 15 bagels, so you will divide the dough into 15 roughly even-sized hunks. Begin forming the bagels. There are two schools of thought on this. One method of bagel formation involves shaping the dough into a rough sphere, then poking a hole through the middle with a finger and then pulling at the dough around the hole to make the bagel. This is the hole-centric method. The dough-centric method involves making a long cylindrical "snake" of dough and wrapping it around your hand into a loop and mashing the ends together. Whatever you like to do is fine. DO NOT, however, give in to the temptation of using a doughnut or cookie cutter to shape your bagels. This will push them out of the realm of Jewish Bagel Authenticity and give them a distinctly Protestant air. The bagels will not be perfectly shaped. They will not be symmetrical. This is normal. This is okay. Enjoy the diversity. Just like snowflakes, no two genuine bagels are exactly alike.

Step 7- Pre-heat Oven: Begin to preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 8- Half Proof and Boil Bagels: Once the bagels are formed, let them sit for about 10 minutes. They will begin to rise slightly. Ideally, they will rise by about one-fourth volume... a technique called "half-proofing" the dough. At the end of the half-proofing, drop the bagels into the simmering water one by one. You don't want to crowd them, and so there should only be two or three bagels simmering at any given time. The bagels should sink first, then gracefully float to the top of the simmering water. If they float, it's not a big deal, but it does mean that you'll have a somewhat more bready (and less bagely) texture. Let the bagel simmer for about three minutes, then turn them over with a skimmer or a slotted spoon. Simmer another three minutes, and then lift the bagels out of the water and set them on a clean kitchen towel that has been spread on the counter top for this purpose. The bagels should be pretty and shiny, thanks to the malt syrup or sugar in the boiling water.

Step 9- Bake Bagels: Once all the bagels have been boiled, prepare your baking sheets by sprinkling them with cornmeal. Then arrange the bagels on the prepared baking sheets and put them in the oven. Let them bake for about 25 minutes, then remove from the oven, turn them over and put them back in the oven to finish baking for about ten minutes more. This will help to prevent flat-bottomed bagels.

Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks, or on a dry clean towels if you have no racks. Do not attempt to cut them until they are cool... hot bagels slice abominably and you'll end up with a wadded mass of bagel pulp. Don't do it.
How To Customize Outside of Bagels: After boiling but before baking, brush the bagels with a wash made of 1 egg white and 3 tablespoons ice water beaten together. Sprinkle with the topping of your choice: poppy, sesame, or caraway seeds, toasted onion or raw garlic bits, salt or whatever you like. Just remember that bagels are essentially a savory baked good, not a sweet one, and so things like fruit and sweet spices are really rather out of place.


breadchick said...

Well there you have it from an authority who seconds Jenny's statement about not making bagels! Great stories about bagels from your childhood. Glad you got your post up!!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Puu thank you so much for such wonderful Jewish Bagel stories! Isn't this just the best group that with the same recipe we can have so many experiences.
I'm so happy you were happy with the yeasty activity!
Buy more bagels!!!

Elle said...

We have a good bagel store nearby, too, so mostly that's were I get bagels, but it was interesting to try making them. Sorry that you didn't find them up to snuff, but since you probably cut your baby teeth on bagels, you have a high bar to pass. Thanks for sharing about the chocolate chip and the cherry ones. I may try making them, too.

Peabody said...

Yeah, I haven't really found a bagel place since I moved from AZ(which surprisingly had a decent one).

Laura said...

Now I want a a chocolate chip bagel! It's a pity you didn't enjoy the taste of your bagels, I'm very far from a decent source so I have to make do with my stash in the freezer!

Baking Soda said...

Puu thank you for the insight you gave us and the stories that came with it. Chocolate chip bagels... I think I have an audience here for those!

Veron said...

What a great introduction about the jewish bagels! Sorry you did not like the taste of yours. hmmn...chocolate chip bagels...now that is a yummy thought!

Jerry said...

Puu your story made my day! Bagels are meant to be bought at a great store that makes them the right way!

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

I've only had great bagels twice. Once from a bagel store in New York (don't have a clue what it's called) and then from a place in North London, just of the Nth Circular, it was the early hours of the morning and we were with a Jewish friend of ours who made the cab/taxi stop at some all night bagel place that was jammed with Jewish people buying bagels on their way home from a night out on the town... Best bagels ever!

Ivonne said...

Hi Devra!

I loved reading how you made the bagel last through class. Your post was very well-written and I feel your pain on the restrictions, but such are the rules of Daring Bakers! Great job!

Quellia said...

Ha! That's what my friends said, though she did say I made a very good bagel-like bun!
Oh well, at least you persisted and are ready for the next challenge!

Glenna said...

Congrats on getting through the recipe--it's a lot of work--even if the end results weren't what you'd hoped.

Kelly-Jane said...

That's a great post, really interesting to hear the perspective of someone who knows! When I come across a real bakery with proper bagels, I'm going in :)

Mary said...

I had no idea if these were "real" bagels or not. Thanks for the insider's opinion. :)

I like plain bagels too and I also thought mine didn't taste too good either.