Saturday, April 18, 2020

Baking Bagels in Quarantine with a Buddy

I have a good friend and neighbor who used to live in New York City and he loves the bagels you can get there. It's going to be a while before he gets back there again, so we talked about baking bagels together...apart. He found some great videos on YouTube and made up some baking planks with burlap (which I'd never heard of but makes them more authentic and really helps the toppings stay on, too). Here is a photo of them after I'd flipped the bagels off them and onto the baking stone. He really did a nice job!

The hard part was finding yeast and bread flour. That finally happened this week so yesterday he dropped off a couple of the planks for me (literally left them on the porch and left, then texted me), and we agreed to make the dough yesterday and have it sit in the fridge overnight, then bake in the morning.

So today was bake day. I took the dough out of the fridge as soon as I got up to allow it to warm up and start rising again. At 8 am G texted a photo of his already shaped bagels.... and we began. I was obviously behind since my dough was still in the rising container, but then I read that he planned on letting his rise for an hour, so I was able to catch up since mine only were supposed to rise for 15-20 minutes. We were using different recipes.

There are two ways to shape bagels, by creating dough balls and then poking a hole in the middle and stretching the dough out from there to create the center hole, or by making a dough snake and then wrapping it around you hand to create a circle, then sealing the two ends together. G did the first method and I did one that way...which turned into a blimp once baked, so obviously I didn't create a big enough hole! The one on the right in the photo below is the one where I poked a hole in the middle and shaped it. Clearly I didn't make a big enough hole!

I used the snake method and Sweetie took a video of me doing it to send to G. Don't you just love smart phones? I was hoping to include it here, but it's too large a file for my email. I should look into other ways to get it off my phone and to my computer. It shows me rolling the dough into a snake and wrapping it around my hand, slipping it off and sealing the ends together. You can see the results below, except for the one in the foreground, which is the blimp one.

I probably used too much yeast because the shaped bagels were ready in less than 15 minutes. I'd been preheating the oven for about 45 minutes (an hour is recommended), had the baking stone in place, the baking planks had soaked overnight in a clean sink and were drained, and a large pot of water was boiling on the stove. While the bagels were rising I had put out thee shallow bowls. One held coarse sea salt, one white sesame seeds, and one a mixture 'everything' that had onion, poppy and sesame seeds and salt. I added a little molasses to the boiling water since I didn't have any barley malt syrup, and we were ready to go!

The boiling only takes a minute...30 seconds per side or less...and then I put one side of the bagel right into the salt, then, salt side down, onto the board. I repeated the process with the 'everything', then slid the plank into the oven on top of the pizza stone. Set the timer for three minutes and boiled the other three bagels, dipping one in sesame, one in 'everything' and left the hand-made hole one plain. These went, topping side down, on the second plank and into the oven. The first plank bagels were ready to turn out onto the pizza stone...which puts them topping side up...and the plank was put on the counter. After another three minutes the bagels on the second plank were turned out onto the stone. Now it was seven more minutes of baking for the first set and ten minutes for the second set. The advantage to only making part of the recipe is that 5 bagels only takes a few minutes for all to be baking. Here's how they looked with the first two coming out of the oven.

G and I kept checking back with each other. His actually looked better than mine...not so puffy...but he had some problem with burnt bottoms. It never hurts to check on the bagels close to the finish of baking time to make sure they aren't burning. If you are doing batches that means you can turn your oven down 25 degrees F or so. If they aren't burning, just keep going.

The hard part was waiting until the bagels had cooled a bit before slicing, toasting, and eating them. They smelled great and tasted even better once toasted, buttered and enjoyed.

This is a great project to do during quarantine.  There a lot of steps, but just take your time. Start making the dough on Friday and by 9 or 10 Saturday morning you will have fresh, delicious bagels.

If you don't have burlap for planks, and clean boards, too, you can bake them right on the baking stone. If you don't have a baking stone, just use a greased baking sheet. You can go on YouTube as G did to look at different techniques and recipes. It's fun. G is going to try a different recipe and slightly lower oven temp. and see how that changes things. This is art as well as food, so perfect isn't really the point, enjoyment is. Happy Baking!

Real Jewish Purist's Bagels
A variation of Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels
Recipe Quantity: Fifteen (15) large, plain, Kosher bagels

Ingredients:6-8 cups bread (high-gluten) flour
3 teaspoons Active dry baking yeast
6 tablespoons granulated white sugar or light honey or 3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups hot water
a bit of vegetable oil
1 gallon water
3-5 tablespoons malt syrup or sugar
a few handfuls of cornmeal if not using baking planks


large mixing bowl
wire whisk
measuring cups and spoons
wooden mixing spoon
butter knife or baker's dough blade
clean, dry surface for kneading
warm, but not hot, place to set dough to rise
large stockpot
slotted spoon

baking planks: clean 2x4s, 14-inches long, with a strip of burlap on top of each, stapled at the sides
 or 2 baking sheets

or cornmeal and a bakers peel
3 clean, dry kitchen towels or a wire cooling rack

How You Do It:Step 1- Proof Yeast: Pour three cups of hot water into the mixing bowl. The water should be hot, but not so hot that you can't bear to put your fingers in it for several seconds at a time. Add the sugar or honey and stir it with your fingers (a good way to make sure the water is not too hot) or with a wire whisk to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water, and stir to dissolve.

Wait about ten minutes for the yeast to begin to revive and grow. Skipping this step could result in your trying to make bagels with dead yeast, which results in bagels so hard and potentially dangerous that they are banned under the terms of the Geneva Convention. You will know that the yeast is okay if it begins to foam and exude a sweetish, slightly beery smell.

Step 2- Make Dough: At this point, add about three cups of flour as well as the 2 tsp of salt to the water and yeast and begin mixing it in. Some people subscribe to the theory that it is easier to tell what's going on with the dough if you use your hands rather than a spoon to mix things into the dough, but others prefer the less physically direct spoon. As an advocate of the bare-knuckles school of baking, I proffer the following advice: clip your fingernails, take off your rings and wristwatch, and wash your hands thoroughly to the elbows, like a surgeon. Then you may dive into the dough with impunity. I generally use my right hand to mix, so that my left is free to add flour and other ingredients and to hold the bowl steady. Left-handed people might find that the reverse works better for them. Having one hand clean and free to perform various tasks works best.

When you have incorporated the first three cups of lour, the dough should begin to become thick-ish. Add more flour, a half-cup or so at a time, and mix each addition thoroughly before adding more flour. As the dough gets thicker, add less and less flour at a time.

Step 3- Knead Dough: Soon you will begin to knead it by hand (if you're using your hands to mix the dough in the first place, this segue is hardly noticeable). If you have a big enough and shallow enough bowl, use it as the kneading bowl, otherwise use that clean, dry, flat counter top or tabletop mentioned in the "Equipment" list above. Sprinkle your work surface or bowl with a handful of flour, put your dough on top, and start kneading. Add bits of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking (to your hands, to the bowl or counter top, etc....). Soon you should have a nice stiff dough. It will be quite elastic, but heavy and stiffer than a normal bread dough. Do not make it too dry, however... it should still give easily and stretch easily without tearing.

Step 4- Let Dough Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, a shower cap, or a
 clean kitchen towel, dampened somewhat by getting it wet and then wringing it out thoroughly. If you swish the dough around in the bowl, you can get the whole ball of dough covered with a very thin film of oil, which will keep it from drying out.

Place the bowl with the dough in it in a dry, warm (but not hot) place, free from drafts. Allow it to rise until doubled in volume. Some people try to accelerate rising by putting the dough in the oven, where the pilot lights keep the temperature slightly elevated. If it's cold in your kitchen, you can try this, but remember to leave the oven door open or it may become too hot and begin to kill the yeast and cook the dough. An ambient temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Centigrades) is ideal for rising dough. You can also let the dough sit in the fridge overnight as I did, covered with a clean shower cap (or use plastic wrap). Remove it an hour or so before shaping time to allow it to warm and rise a bit more. Soak the planks overnight in water in a clean sink. Drain while the water boils (Step 6)

Step 5- Pre-heat Oven: Begin to preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow about an hour.

Step 6- Prepare Water and Toppings for Bagels: While the dough is rising, fill your stockpot with about a gallon of water and set it on the fire to boil. When it reaches a boil, add the malt syrup (or molasses) or sugar and reduce the heat so that the water just barely simmers; the surface of the water should hardly move. Put toppings in shallow bowls. Set drained planks near the bowls, or, if using a baking sheet, place greased baking sheet near bowls. If baking directly on baking stone, place a peel near bowls and lightly sprinkle cornmeal on peel.

Step 7- Form Bagels: Once the dough has risen, turn it onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide immediately into as many hunks as you want to make bagels. For this recipe, you will probably end up with about 15 bagels, so you will divide the dough into 15 roughly even-sized hunks.
Begin forming the bagels. There are two schools of thought on this. One method of bagel formation involves shaping the dough into a rough sphere, then poking a hole through the middle with a finger and then pulling at the dough around the hole to make the bagel. This is the hole-centric method. The dough-centric method involves making a long cylindrical "snake" of dough and wrapping it around your hand into a loop and mashing the ends together. Whatever you like to do is fine. DO NOT, however, give in to the temptation of using a doughnut or cookie cutter to shape your bagels. This will push them out of the realm of Jewish Bagel Authenticity and give them a distinctly Protestant air. The bagels will not be perfectly shaped. They will not be symmetrical. This is normal. This is okay. Enjoy the diversity. Just like snowflakes, no two genuine bagels are exactly alike.

Step 8- Half Proof and Boil Bagels: Once the bagels are formed, let them sit for about 10 minutes. They will begin to rise slightly. Ideally, they will rise by about one-fourth volume... a technique called "half-proofing" the dough. At the end of the half-proofing, drop the bagels into the simmering water one by one. You don't want to crowd them, and so there should only be two or three bagels simmering at any given time. The bagels should sink first, then gracefully float to the top of the simmering water.  Let the bagel simmer for about 
 thirty seconds, then turn them over with a skimmer or a slotted spoon. Simmer another thirty seconds, and then lift the bagels out of the water and dip them right away into the toppings, if using. The bagels should be pretty and shiny, thanks to the malt syrup, molasses or sugar in the boiling water.

Step 9- Bake Bagels: As the bagels finish boiling, dip them in the topping and put them, topping side down on the planks with burlap side up.  Put them in the oven, right on top of the baking stone. If you don't have the plank, put the topped bagels topping side up on peel and then onto the baking stone, or on a greased baking sheet...which goes into the oven. Let them bake for 3 minutes on the plank, then flip over onto the baking stone...toppings will be right side up...then set timer for 10 minutes. If not using planks, set timer when bagels first go into the oven for 13 minutes. You can leave them in longer if they are not browned. Check bottoms, too, and turn over if getting too brown. You want them to be a dark golden brown so that they are fully baked.

Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks, or on a dry clean towels if you have no racks. Do not attempt to cut them until they are cool... hot bagels slice abominably and you'll end up with a wadded mass of bagel pulp. We didn't really wait long enough, so they didn't slice cleanly, but didn't wad to much. Sweetie has a really hard time smelling baked bread and waiting until it is cool.


  1. This is so cool! What a lovely thing to do together, even if it is virtually. And what a great result at the end.

    The Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels are our favourites too!

  2. BURLAP!? Wha???
    Mom made bagels when I was growing up, and while we never had burlap boards, we did indeed enjoy the taste, the smell, and the weirdness of boiling bread we were going to next bake. This is such a fun sounding project.