Newly moved to London from New York, I miss my weekend bagels so badly. Most Saturday mornings, my husband and I would go to the best bagel shop in town and grab a bagel sandwich. The owner knew us by name. No offence, but no one can make a good bagel like the people of New York City. So, I was desperate to replicate it myself in my new home.
If I can't find a good New York style bagel in London, then I'm going to make my own. I tried different amounts of each ingredient and played around with the heat until I got the bagels I wanted: an airy, chewy middle with a crunchy shell. It took several batches and modifications to get to where I wanted it, but I think I may have it figured out. I want you to learn from my mistakes.
So, I'll explain what I did wrong and what's the correct way to make bagels. I can't complain with the failed attempts because nothing beats that smell of warm bagels in the oven.
Some things I've learned about bagels after a few failed attempts is that each of the five following elements (flour, yeast, water, sugar, and heat) need to be titrated to get your desired texture. Need a little more of this. Need a little less of this.
One mistake some novice bakers make when adding the yeast to warm water is that they end up using water that's too hot. You want the water to be lukewarm so that the yeast feed off of the sugar. You don't want to use hot water because yeast is a living organism and hot water would make it inert. The result will be under-proofed dough.
Too much sugar can also be a problem because it'll draw out too much water from the yeast, rendering it again useless. If you knowingly make any mistakes in this first step, please scrap it and start over.
Proofing, allowing the dough to rise, for that entire one hour is key. You want to make sure the yeast has done its job and doubles the size of the flour during that time. If it hasn't, make sure the dough hasn't been kept it a cold place. That may slow down the proofing process. So, it needs to be kept in a warm place to proof. My kitchen tends to be on the warm end of room temperature, so it works well here. The other thing that may have gone wrong is that yeast-sugar-water mixture. In this case, you're going to end up with dense bagels.
Some recipes recommend overnight proofing in the refrigerator for better texture. I have yet to try that because my London refrigerator is tiny. If you want to give it a test run, it's recommended to proof the dough for 15 minutes at room temperature (warm), mould it into bagel shapes, then let them proof in the refrigerator covered for about 16 hours overnight. Make sure the bagels have doubled in size. Afterwards, you can take them out in the morning, boil them, then bake them in the oven.
Kneading the dough is a very important process to get the right texture. At first, I felt like my arms were falling off after the first five minutes of kneading so I stopped and thought it was plenty of time. I was very wrong. The texture of the dough was off. The bagels turned out dense instead of that airy and chewy middle. So I had to figure out why.
After reading more about what I did wrong, I learned that kneading the dough helps trap air into the dough, giving it more of a bounce. When I say, "knead for 10 minutes", I mean it. Put a timer on and have at it. If you get tired, think of how frustrated you are stuck at home and let it out on the dough.
For myself, 10 minutes and continually adding about a tablespoonful of flour to the countertop at a time resulted in a smooth, silky, stretchy texture, where the dough was no longer sticking to every single thing it touched (like it did in the beginning).
The opposite can happen, too. Once, I added way too much flour to the countertop while I was kneading. The dough was definitely stiff and smooth, but it was no longer stretchy. Instead, every crease and groove was unraveling like the dough wanted to lay flat instead of in a ball. More dough was physically incapable of being added to the dough. I'm pretty sure I had added about one extra cup of flour during the kneading process in that instance. I lost count. Don't make my mistake or your bagel will be dense.
When you drop the shaped bagel dough into the boiling water, they'll float up after a few seconds. If you want a more chewy bagel, I recommend boiling your bagels on each side for at least one minute. Initially, I had tried 30 seconds on each side and the bagel was a bit more cakey and lacked a crunch. The boiling also provides the initial crust to the bagel which is key to a crunchy outer layer. If you want a chewier bagel, which I am partial to, try extending the boil time to two minutes on each side. The time goes by slow, so check your timer as to not take the bagels out too soon.
Putting these six bagels into a high heated oven sounded very wrong to me initially. I had a fear that I would end up burning these delicate creations. So, I tried lower heat for a couple of batches, modifying only the boil time and kneading. Those batches did not form a desirable crust. Instead, they felt more like dinner rolls. The chewiness of the bagel was a success, but not the crust which is 50% of the enjoyment of a bagel.
It seems scary, but you have to hit the high heat. Later, I went a bit more conservative by turning down the heat for the last 5 minutes. I saw the crust and browning happen in the first 15 minutes, so I felt that was sufficient to finish the bake with a slightly lower heat for the 5 minutes at the end. Feel free to keep your oven at high heat the entire time if you want to try that out.
New York Style Bagel Ingredients:
3 - 1/2 cup bread flour (need extra 1/2 cup for kneading)
1 - 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 - 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet)
1 - 1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda (for boiling water)
Baking Bagel Instructions:
Add yeast and sugar into 1/2 cup of warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Then, gentle stir together until yeast and sugar dissolve. Let sit for another 5 minutes.
Mix the salt and flour. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mix. Using your hands, mix the dough together.
On a floured countertop, knead the dough until smooth, firm, and not sticky. Requires at least 10 minutes of kneading and adding a few tablespoons of flour to the countertop at a time.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a damp cloth for an hour to proof.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch the dough and leave covered for 10 mins.
Split the dough into 6 parts, careful not to squish or overly massage the dough in the process.
Using your thumb, push a hole into the centre of one dough ball and shape into a smooth bagel.
Let dough rest covered for 10 minutes. Preheat your oven to 240°C (460°F).
In a pot, add the baking soda.
Boil the bagels on each side for 1-2 minutes.
Remove bagels from pot and add the optional toppings (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, everything bagel mix, garlic, cheese, etc).
Bake bagels at high heat for 15 minutes. Then reduce heat to 220°C (430F°) for another 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool on a cooling rack.
The only thing everyone says I'm missing is that New York Water! Apparently, that's the game changer when it comes to baking the right bagel. I'm desperately asking friends and family to mail me a bottle of New York's finest tap water since my recipe doesn't call for much water. I'm totally kidding. Or am I?
Either way, this is the closest I'm getting to a New York style bagel by making it at home in London. I love you and miss you, New York! But I have to say that London is growing on me day by day.
Whether you're a New Yorker or Londoner, an expat or a towny, I hope you try this bagel recipe and let me know how your New York style bagels turned out by leaving a comment below.. Maybe you'll make some modifications that are different from my own. Tell me about it. I can't wait to hear from you. Good luck and stay safe at home.
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