Weekend Project: Homemade Bagels
What do you do when you live in a place where quality bagels don't exist? Call up one of America's finest bagel experts for a few pointers.
One upside of city living—in a time when city living might be unappealing—is the ability to have bagels delivered to your home pretty much whenever. Even during this period of restaurant and kitchen closures, many eateries in the business of breakfast have either joined food delivery platforms or created their own delivery systems. And so on a Friday morning, when you might normally be picking up a bodega BEC or biting into one of the cinnamon raisin bagels provided by your office (I’d like to kiss the inventor of Bagel Fridays), you can now just open up the app of your choosing and have a half dozen round bois dropped off on your stoop.
But not everyone lives in a city with access to quality bagels on demand. And some people, with all this new time on their hands, are interested in making their own breakfast favorites. I fall into the latter category. Having already succumbed to sourdough bread, bagels seemed like the logical next step. So I reached out to Black Seed Bagels Culinary Director and Partner, Dianna Daoheung, for her recipe.
It’s a combination of a Montreal- and New York-style bagel, she explained over the phone. A best-of-both-worlds situation. “The homage to Montreal is the use of the wood-fired oven, the touch of honey in the dough, and the size,” which tends to be smaller with a bigger hole. “Our dough is fluffier, not as dense, so that’s definitely New York-style.” Daoheung also uses salt in her recipe, another nod to New York. “Maybe that’s an American thing, that we put salt on everything!”
When I asked whether the size of the hole has any impact on bagel quality, Daoheung explained, “I think it’s just how bakers in Montreal roll, but you get a little more of a crisp since you’re getting more heat around the center.” She does warn that the Montreal-style hole isn’t the best for sandwich-making, so perhaps keep this in mind as you shape your dough. Great for cream cheese, maaaybe not so much for flaky tuna salad.
Armed with Daoheung’s recipe and a bag of something called “non-diastatic malt powder” (for depth of sweetness, shine, and that warm caramel color), I launched into my first bagel-making attempt. “Attempt” being the operative word here. Challenge numero uno was the mixing, which, according to the recipe, should take around ten minutes in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and end in the ability to “pull a window” (or stretch the dough into a thin, translucent membrane without it tearing).
I don’t have room for a stand mixer in my kitchen, but I do have an electric hand-mixer with two tiny dough hooks, so I queued up an episode of the Las Culturistas podcast and got to mixing. Ten minutes later, my dough was nowhere near passing the window test. An extra five minutes didn’t seem to make much of a difference either. At twenty, when my mixer began to smoke, I decided to move onto the next step. No matter, I told myself. Yes, Daoheung had explicitly stated the importance of strong gluten strands in our phone call—“it gives you that chewiness that bagels are known for”—but my mixing arms, and my machinery, were tired.
This may have been a mistake. With a dough as loose and sticky as pancake batter, portioning evenly sized balls proved futile. I ended up with nine puddles that I hoped would magically firm up in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, they were somehow worse, having expanded to the edges of the tray and into each other, a sticky uni-bagel. With dampened hands, I grabbed a glob at a time, stretched it into a nine-inch rope, wrapped it around my hand, pinched the ends, and let it sit again for five minutes. By the time each bagel hit the pot of boiling honey water, their holes had all but disappeared. So now I had…rolls. Oh well. I coated the boiled bagels in my toppings of choice—Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Seasoning, kosher salt, sesame seeds—and stuck them in the oven to crisp up.
When I saw two of the tops begin to brown, I pulled them out. This, too, was a mistake, as the innards remained decidedly pale. The end result was an undercooked, overfloofed mess—delicious in flavor, but texturally confusing. My boyfriend lovingly referred to them as “raw squishy bagels” (then “toasted squishy bagels” when I tried to re-bake them).
I sent pictures to Daoheung, who reckoned my dough had over-proofed. She suggested I try using colder water to slow the proofing process, and maybe adding a bit more flour.
Back to the kitchen I went. The second dough baby was tauter, less sludge-like, easier to handle than the last batch. So much so, that I’m guessing I missed an entire cup of flour the first time around. I still couldn’t achieve window pane status—and by this point, the ol’ hand-mixer was really mad, reeking of burnt plastic—but I felt close enough. The dough balls expanded overnight in the fridge, but in a predictable way, not in an “oh no, please god no!” kind of way.
They took a quick dip in boiling honey water, then hit the oven for a bit of toasting. Daoheung suggests 10-12 minutes; my oven took much longer. Start with the recommended time and keep an eye out for that even golden-brown crust. I also added a pan of water to the oven, which Daoheung said would nudge my bagels a little closer to that crispy wood-fired finish. Did it? Hard to tell. But they came out fluffy and chewy and sweet, and I suspect I’ll be making them long after quarantine ends.
I will, however, be investing in a stand-mixer.
Black Seed Bagels Recipe
1 (¼-ounce) packet active dry yeast
1 ½ tablespoons plus ¼ cup honey, divided
7 cups (1.2 kg) high gluten flour such as bread flour
3 tablespoons neutral oil, plus more for greasing
1 tablespoon non-diastatic malt powder (such as King Arthur brand)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
various toppings, like sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or everything bagel spice
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together 2 2/3 cups water, yeast, and 1 1/2 tablespoons honey. Let stand for 5 minutes.
Add malt, oil, flour, and salt and mix with the dough hook attachment at low speed for about 10 minutes, or until dough can "pull a window." To test, pinch off a small ball of dough and pull into a thin, see-through membrane without it tearing. If it tears, mix another minute or two.
Lightly oil a baking sheet. Portion dough into 5 1/2 ounce balls and place on the sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
Pull out dough to warm up for 30 minutes. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 460°F.
In a large wide pot, bring 4 quarts of water and 1/4 cup honey to a boil.
On a clean countertop, roll each ball into 9-inch long strands. Take strand by the ends and overlap together to form an "O". Pinch together seams to join. Let bagels rest for 5 minutes. Reduce boiling water to a simmer. Working 3 or 4 at a time, drop bagels into boiling honey water for about 2 minutes per side. Lift out with a slotted spoon and sprinkle with toppings, if desired.
Place 6 on each baking sheet and bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven until slightly browned, shiny and firm, about 10 to 12 minutes, turning after 6 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack to cool.