Bread baking is intimidating to a lot of people, and with good reason: it’s not easy to get right. I think that our friend Pamela said it best:
Bonjour, Je suis le pain. Do you aimez moi!? You vill make le pain now!!!
First, touch me. NON, DO NOT TOUCH ME! Okay fine, you may touch me again. NOW YOU STOP. Ah, d’accord, i vill permit you to massage my soft, doughy body. NOW I MUST HAVE A NAP. you vill now steam me in my hot chamber, mais NE TOUCH PAS MOI. Now I vill lay about for une demie-heure.
BUT! Breadmaking does not need to be off-limits to you and your kitchen. Bagels are surprisingly easy to make at home, due partly to their uniquely dense (and uncomplicated) crumb structure.
“Artisan” breads, like ciabatta, baguettes, pugliese, even foccacia and pizza, often rely on long, slow fermentation (rise) to get that signature open crumb. There’s a lot to talk about here, but the short version is that the wetter the dough, the more open and airy the bread. English muffins are barely a dough – they’re more of a batter. A good ciabatta dough is extremely wet (and a real pain in the ass to work with). Baguettes are a bit stiffer but the dough still has a good amount of water in it. Bagels are at the opposite end of the spectrum: the dough is (relatively) stiff, because a bagel is so dense. The other advantage to bagels is that they usually use the “straight dough” method, which means that you only rise once, and the rising time does not take very long. As a result, you can make a batch of these in less than three hours (probably closer to 2), and of course, a good chunk of that time is sitting around waiting for the bread to rise (“NOW I MUST HAVE A NAP”).
A lot of people will tell you that you need a fancy heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook to make good bread. And yes, that does make things a lot easier (and we love our KitchenAid!). But you can also knead bread dough by hand, or with a food processor. I’m including directions for all three below. For toppings, you can use whatever you’d like – I’m partial to sesame seeds and kosher salt, but you can also do poppy seeds, garlic and/or flakes, or leave them plain. Or I bet you could sprinkle some cheese on near the end of the baking time, or knead in some raisins and/or cinnamon sugar. This recipe is really forgiving and really flexible.
Don’t believe me? Here, look:
There are only four ingredients: bread flour, water, salt, sugar, and yeast. Whoops! Five ingredients. Still, not too complicated.
I normally make bread dough in my KitchenAid mixer, but just to prove that this method works, I made this batch by hand. First step is to combine everything except the salt, and mash it together in a bowl with a wooden spoon. I like this “dough spoon” with a hole in it, but it doesn’t really mater.
Let your unkneaded, salt-less dough rest for 20 minutes and you’ll see that the dough has magically relaxed! This is the autolyse process at work – basically, the gluten strands in the dough are relaxing and lining up, making your kneading work even easier (we wait to add the salt until after autolyse as it slows down the yeast’s work).
Here’s your dough after you’ve kneaded it for 10 minutes. If you don’t know how to knead dough, check out this video:
Then, cover your dough and let it rise until it doubles, which takes about an hour. Isn’t that cool?
Then, you form them, boil them, and lay them out on some kitchen towels to dry. Brush on your egg wash, sprinkle on your toppings, and bake!
Here’s a shot from this morning’s breakfast – bagels ready to be toasted. Look at that nice crumb! That chewy, satisfying dough!
One thing that you will need is bread flour. This is pretty easy to get at any grocery store — don’t substitute all-purpose or whole wheat flour. If you have a kitchen scale, this is the place to use it, as volume measurements are really inaccurate for this kind of thing. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, get one! They’re only about $20 or so. Maybe with that Amazon giftcard that your uncle gave you for Christmas?
Oh, and bagels freeze really well! I suggest splitting them almost all the way, then seal them in ziploc bags and throw in the freezer. You can toast them straight from frozen.
I got this recipe from the excellent Adam Kuban at Seirous Eats. Visit that link for more pictures and discussion of bagel types, boiling methods, etc. Serious Eats is a really great site, and an excellent resource for people at every level of cooking skill and interest. They also have a new book that I highly recommend.
Go make some bagels!
makes 12 smallish bagels, or 8-10 larger bagels
adapted from Adam Kuban of Serious Eats
- 3 1/2 cups (19.25 ounces) bread flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast, or one packet
- 2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) sugar
- 1 teaspoon (1/2 ounce) kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) hot water
- 2 tablespoons honey (for boiling)
- 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for topping)
- sesame seeds, poppy seeds, salt, etc. (for topping)
Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to mix. Turn the machine on and slowly add the water. Adam says “pulse until dough comes together and rides up over the blade, about 30 seconds. Continue processing until the dough becomes satiny and elastic, about 30 seconds more.
Heavy-Duty Stand Mixer
If you don’t have a food processor, use a heavy duty stand mixer (this is what I usually do). I like to take advantage of the process known asautolyse. Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Knead with the dough hook until a shaggy dough forms, about 1 minute. Let sit for 20 minutes, then add the salt and knead on medium for 7-8 minutes, or until the dough becomes satiny and elastic.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and water with a wooden spoon until it becomes a dough-like mass (1 or 2 minutes). Let sit for 20 minutes, then add the salt. Working on a well-floured counter, knead the dough for at least 10 minutes (seriously, set a timer). You’re looking for a satiny, stretchy dough.
However you got there, you should have a big pile of slightly tacky, stretchy dough. Dust lightly with flour and place in a clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
After an hour, preheat your oven to 400 degrees so it can get nice and hot. Transfer the dough to a clean surface and portion out to 8-12 even balls (12 balls gives you smaller bagels, 10 balls gives you bagels the size of ones you’d get in a bag at the supermarket, and 8 balls gives you very large, coffee-shop style bagels). Roll these into snakes and then form into bagels (see Adam’s post for tips on shaping). Transfer to a floured surface and cover with a kitchen towel while you prepare your water bath.
Fill your widest pot with water and add the honey. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium. Slip 3 bagels into the water and boil for 30 seconds. Flip each one and boil another 30 seconds, then transfer to a clean kitchen towel. Repeat for the rest of the bagels.
Once the bagels are mostly dry, transfer them to baking sheets, preferably lined with parchment paper. Brush each bagel with some of the egg wash and sprinkle with your toppings. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and taut-looking. Flip and bake the other side for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool. Serve split and (optionally) toasted, with butter, cream cheese, smoked salmon, peanut butter, etc!
Bagels keep for a few days in a paper bag. If you want to keep them longer, split them and throw them in the freezer.