Why did one of my very dearest friends vote in favor of the blatantly blah rubber gobstopper of a chain-store bagel? I can only say this: she’s from Pennsylvania. What do Pennsylvanians know of good bagels? They just want something that will taste like a pretzel. Crunch, elasticity, flavor – these mean nothing to her.
So despite this one conundrum, I’m feeling a little self-righteous and proud of my Jewish self for making what I think are some amazing bagels. It was no small feat, I tell you. Even for an obsessive bread-baker like me.
The recipe, from Baking With Julia and contributed by Lauren Groveman, was a typical 4-page process, spanning 48 hours and at least three loads of dishes. But I am here to report that it was worth it, and the process was relatively straightforward, as bread projects go. It had taken awhile for me to work up the nerve to try baking bagels (until my 40th birthday, in fact), but I’m so glad I finally tackled this right of passage.
Despite not having access to the famous “New York water” way up here in Connecticut, the bagels were everything we’d hoped for: golden brown and crunchy on the outside, and stretchy soft on the inside. They’re perfect for a shmear but also can be eaten entirely naked. Wait, that didn't come out right....
The basic recipe can be found at Heather’s Bytes. Also, I encourage you to check out other bakers' experiences at Tuesdays With Dorie.
The only changes I made were to add four teaspoons of vital wheat gluten to my bread flour to improve elasticity and rise. As usual, I also probably added more bread flour than the recipe called for. At some point I stopped counting scoops and relied on my laser-sharp baker’s intuition to judge when the dough was ready ("eh... that looks kinda close..."). Lastly, I used parchment paper instead of floured towels to prepare the bagels -- floured towels and I have never gotten along.
I topped the bagels with the usual fare: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and one everything bagel. (You’re not going to find blueberry or french toast bagels in my breadbasket – I’m kind of a purist that way.) My “wild card” bagel, if you can call it that, was topped with sauteed shallots. As I poured the shallots onto the bagel, I dripped the olive oil on as well. Each bagel also had a touch of sea salt sprinkled on top just before I popped them into the oven.
Due in equal parts to the sweetness of the shallots and the extra kick of olive oil, the shallot bagel was the clear winner among the bunch, besting even the everything version. Still, every homemade bagel came in miles ahead of the gummy mass they try to pawn off as bagels at the chain store down the street.