Home Bread-Bakers v105.n005.9

Bagel Talk

"Michael C. Zusman" <mczlaw@pacifier.com>
Wed, 02 Feb 2005 21:59:02 -0800
I appreciated Mike Avery's discussion of bagel baking, but offer a few 
comments of my own based on about 8 years of baking them (and an 
embarrassing number of compliments from transplanted easterners):

1. There is only one authentic style of bagels, and they aren't big and 
fluffy.  We can call those impostors either doughnuts or round-shaped 
breads--but they aren't really bagels in any true sense of the word.  Mike 
makes 4 ouncers; I keep mine to about 3.5 oz.  And Mike is right about 
another thing--anything called a bagel that isn't boiled is a fraud.  This 
also relates to baking time and temp.  The big fluffy fakes also tend to be 
real pale, as though someone was trying to get those babies in and out of 
the oven as quickly as possible.  (You can figure out why high volume, 
chain bakeries would want to do it this way.)  Baking dark--as Mike 
suggests, around 425F for 15+ minutes--yields a well-caramelized, 
blistered, crunchy crust.  This is what the exterior of a real bagel is all 

2. Another point well made by Mike is the benefit of using sourdough.  In 
one respect, sourdough is nothing more than fermented flour.  Fermentation 
means flavor development (not necessarily, or desirably, sour taste).  So, 
using sourdough gives you a jump start on pulling as much flavor as 
possible out of the wheat.  This is all the more important when using 
higher gluten flour which may yield a flatter taste than lower gluten 
flours.  I use about 1.75 pounds of 100% hydration sourdough culture to 
every 2 pounds of flour.

3. I disagree with Mike about limiting dough hydration levels to 
50%.  Totally unnecessary.  I still get a great, jaw-tiring chew from about 
a 60% dough.  The other benefit is that after rolling out the ropes of 
dough (I don't use the punch-a-hole method), they will readily adhere when 
rolling the ends over one another to form the rounds.  At 50%,  I used to 
have a helluva time and messing with drops of water on the bench to get the 
ends to stick was a royal pain in the. . .neck.  All that and a 60% dough 
is so much easier on your mixer.

4. Boiling time:  I read in one of my books the wisdom attributed to an old 
Jewish baker that you never boil more than 10 seconds a side.  This is what 
I do: put it in the vigorously boiling water, count to 10, flip it over 
with my stir fry tool, count to 10, then remove.  I don't see the point of 
keeping the bagels in the water any longer.  After 20 seconds, the proteins 
on the exterior of the pre-bagel are well gelatinized, ready to turn into a 
lovely dark crust.

5. Barley malt:  I agree with Mike that this is a critical ingredient in 
both the dough and the boiling water.  My only difference with Mike is that 
I prefer barley malt syrup to the powder.  The syrup seems to have a 
cleaner malt taste; the powder is a little bitter.  I use about 4 oz. in my 
basic small batch of dough (to 32 oz. of flour).

6. Retarding:  Overnight, as Mike suggests, is good; 24 hours is 
better.  In addition to more flavor development, the long retard allows a 
nice thick skin to form on the bagels, once again promoting that crispy 
crust you want.  BTW, I place my formed rounds on pieces of parchment paper 
sprinkled generously with semolina and cover the rounds with linen (or 
other relatively fiber free) dish towels.  I have not had any difficulty 
with sticking.

7. One other thing.  With all due respect to those who enjoy their breads 
with fruit or cheese or jalapenos or cinnamon or chocolate chips or any 
other items sitting idly in the panty, bagels with these additions would 
make old man Mosler (the last great Jewish baker here in Portland) spin in 
his grave.  I limit my choices to plain, salt, poppy and sesame.  If I'm 
feeling daring, I make pumpernickel dough with a little caraway.  And I can 
understand onion or garlic on top too (though these are better used in a 
fine bialy or pletzel--but that's a whole other subject isn't it?).  I 
should probably leave it at that.

Happy baking.