I’ll confess now that the one thing I was a little disappointed by, upon moving to the UK, was bagels. I canvassed friends and combed the internet, and tried all the places recommended – even in the historic Jewish areas of London. I systematically tried bagels from all of the shops in Brick Lane and Golders Green. Alas, though some of the bagels were edible enough, they weren’t much like the kind I grew up with in the Boston area. Boston, MA, that is. I confess I haven’t been to Boston, Lincolnshire, to check on their bagel situation.
I tried making my own from the only likely-looking recipe I could find on the intertubes. It was funny, opinionated, and New York Jewish in tone, but overly chatty and rambling, and hence hard to read. Its editorial inadequacies aside, I tried the recipe twice, following as closely as possible, with unhappy results.
When I visited the States this past May, I consulted my bread-making guru friends Paul and Marcia. Paul has a few opinions about bagels, which pretty much concurred with mine, and I knew he could steer me right. He pointed me to a recipe from a restaurant in Paris of all places, Jo Goldenberg‘s in the Marais’ Rue des Rosiers, via Bernard Clayton, author of several excellent bread volumes.
Here’s my adaptation for European audiences, so everyone can make them.
350 ml lukewarm water (1 1/2 cups)
3 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp sugar
~450 g plain (all-purpose) flour (3 1/2 cups), or more as needed to make a somewhat firm dough
1.5 l (2 quarts) boiling water
1 Tbsp malt extract/syrup, or sugar
1 egg white + 1 Tbsp water (for optional glaze)
Optional toppings: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion, caraway seed
Because this dough is a bit sticky before rising, I recommend a stand mixer or food processor.
1. In the mixer bowl, dissolve yeast in water for 2 to 3 minutes. Add sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. (If using processor, pulse a few times to add flour.) When 450 g flour is mixed in, knead for 3-4 minutes by machine or 8 minutes by hand.
2. Scrape dough from mixer and put in a lightly greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in volume. [Note: I rose the dough in the fridge over night, and the dough was became less sticky and easy to manage. Lots of good bakers recommend a long, slow rise for the best texture of the final product.]
3. When dough is risen, set water to boil in a fairly large pot, and add malt extract or sugar. Preheat oven to 220°C (425ºF).
4. Turn dough out onto floured surface, squeeze air out, and divide into 8 pieces; a dough-scraper works well for this. Let dough balls rest on a floured surface for several minutes.
5. To form bagels, make a hole by putting your thumb through a ball and twirling it once or twice; do not overstretch. Place formed bagels on a floured surface, cover, and give them a brief, 15-minute rise.
6. To boil bagels, you’re not actually boiling them; reduce the heat so the water is simmering. Put one or two bagels in the water at a time and cook for 45 seconds, turning them about halfway through. Remove delicately – e.g., with a perforated pancake turner – and drain on a tea towel.
7. Brush bagels on both sides with egg white diluted with water. Sprinkle with toppings.
8. Put bagels on baking trays lined with baking paper or parchment.
9. Bake for 25 minutes at the middle level of the oven. Turn halfway through for even browning and to help prevent one side from being too flat.