Unveiling the Art of Crafting Perfect Bagels: A Step-by-Step Guide
Bagels are a beloved breakfast staple around the world. If you’ve ever enjoyed these tasty treats before, you’ve probably wondered about what goes into making them.
Well, in this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through the fascinating process of how bagels are made, from selecting the finest ingredients to achieving that crispy golden crust that bagels are known for.
Step 1: Ingredients
The first crucial step in crafting the perfect bagel lies in selecting and gathering the right ingredients:
Acting as the foundation of the bagel, flour brings the necessary structure and substance to the bread. The best type of flour will depend on what kind of bagel you want to make. For example, some choose high-protein bread flour to achieve that desired chewiness.
This is the catalyst for fermentation, the process that creates flavour within the dough.
- Sugar and salt
Sugar will add sweetness to the bagel while salt adds a bit more flavour to it.
All of the ingredients above are mixed up with water, similar to pizza dough.
The final ingredient that you’ll need in most standard bagel recipes is malt. Beyond merely adding sweetness, malt also plays a pivotal role in creating the iconic crust of bagels. Its unique interaction with the dough during the boiling process contributes to that perfect balance between a crispy exterior and a tender interior that all bagel enthusiasts crave.
Step 2: Kneading the Dough
Once you have all the ingredients mixed, it’s time to move on to the kneading. Kneading is an important process that is critical in creating the perfect texture for your bagel. The process evenly distributes the yeast throughout the dough, ensuring a consistent rise during fermentation. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, kneading aligns the gluten strands, giving the dough the chewiness and texture that we all know and love.
To begin kneading properly, begin by placing the dough on the floured surface. Gently press it into a rectangular shape and fold one-third of the dough over the center. Then, fold the opposite third over the top. This process helps trap air in the dough, contributing to its light and airy texture.
Give the dough a quarter turn, and repeat the folding process. Continue this cycle of folding and turning, maintaining a rhythmic and consistent motion. While kneading, use the heels of your hands to apply gentle, even pressure. Avoid excessive force, as this can lead to overworking the dough and affect the final texture of your bagels.
Every now and then, stop and assess the dough’s elasticity. Properly kneaded dough should be smooth, elastic, and slightly tacky. When pressed with a finger, it should spring back slowly.
After you’ve achieved the right consistency, shape the dough into small balls and pinch a hole in the centre to create that iconic bagel look.
Step 3: Fermentation and Proofing
Once the dough has been kneaded, place it in a well-oiled bowl, covered with a damp cloth, and leave it in a warm, draught-free environment. This is where fermentation will take place.
During this process, the yeast in the dough consumes sugars and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. It’s this production of gas that causes the dough to rise, creating those delightful air pockets within the bread.
The longer the fermentation, the more complex and nuanced the taste becomes. Bakers often experiment with different fermentation times to tailor the bagel’s flavour to their liking.
Step 4: Boiling the Bagels
Next, we need to boil the bagels. Boiling the bagels in a mixture of water and malt syrup is a pivotal step in bagel-making. This process results in that distinctive outer crust. The boiling also contributes to the chewy texture, making each bite a delightful experience.
To boil your bagels, fill a large pot with water, ensuring there’s enough space for the bagels to float freely without overcrowding. For added flavour and crust development, add malt syrup or honey to a pot of water. Afterwards, stir to dissolve the syrup or honey. Place the pot on the stove over high heat and bring the water to a rolling boil.
While waiting for the water to boil, ensure your bagels are shaped and have undergone the fermentation and proofing stages as per your recipe. Make sure to preheat your oven to the temperature specified in your bagel recipe. Boiling is typically followed by baking at a high temperature.
Once the water is boiling, carefully lower each shaped bagel into the water using a slotted spoon or spider strainer. Boil the bagels for about 1-2 minutes on each side. The longer the boil, the chewier the bagel will be, so adjust based on your preference.
Using the slotted spoon or strainer, lift the boiled bagels out of the water, allowing excess water to drain back into the pot. If you plan to add toppings like sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or salt, this is the time to sprinkle them onto the wet surface of the bagels.
Transfer the boiled and topped bagels onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper ready to bake.
Step 5: Baking the Bagels
Place the boiled and optionally topped bagels on a parchment-lined baking sheet or directly on a baking stone if you have one. The parchment paper helps prevent sticking and facilitates easy clean-up.
Baking times can vary depending on your oven and the size of your bagels, but a typical range is around 20 to 25 minutes. Make sure to rotate the baking sheet halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning.
The goal is to achieve a crust that’s golden and crispy, complementing a chewy and flavourful interior.
Step 6: Bagel Toppings and Spreads
A freshly baked bagel is not truly complete without toppings and spreads. While classics like cream cheese and lox have long held the spotlight, there are a wide variety of toppings and spreads that you can explore. You can experiment with avocado spreads, lime and chili, artichoke, whipped feta, jams, jellies, nut butters and even fruits like strawberries or bananas.
As you can see, the process of making bagels is a meticulous journey that blends science and artistry. So, the next time you sink your teeth into a fresh, warm bagel at your local bagel shop, savour not just the flavour but the craftsmanship that goes into making this beloved breakfast delight.
You can also read, How to Make Pasta