Bagels “Old School” – Hand Shaped, Boiled, and Hearth Baked
With its shiny burnished deep brown crust the bagels shiny exterior is the tell-tale sign that they were boiled not steamed before baking. The crumb has just a hint of sweetness from Barley Malt Syrup and the perfect amount of salt to produce a savory finish when eaten. Crisp, dense, chewy, and full of flavor these Bagels “Old School” will make you shout out “Oy Vey! Now that’s a bagel!”
We have to thank the Eastern European Jewish bakers for maintaining this tradition of bagel making and bring it to the North American. Making New York City and it boroughs and Montreal’s “Mile End” the mecca for real bagels made from basic ingredients, that are boiled, and hearth baked to this very day.
Eating a freshly baked bagel that is ever so slightly warm is a real pleasure. My favorite way to eat a fresh bagel is to split it in half, schmear on some fresh cream cheese, top with really good smoked salmon, and finish it with thinly sliced red onions and capers. I’m in sheer heaven when I take that first bite and everything is alright with the world.
What makes a good bagel?
There are 5 key components the baker needs to accomplish to produce a outstanding traditional bagel.
- Recipe and Ingredients; The percentage of ingredient to each other know as “Bakers Percentage” is key in this recipe. The ingredients are few but each one plays an important role in the final flavor and texture of the bagel. Bread Flour is used for its higher protein content making for a chewy dense baked good. The Barley Malt Syrup provides food for the yeast but is used for its subtle sweetness and the ability to caramelize and brown the crust as the bagel bakes. The small amount of Instant Yeast in the dough, works to convert the sugars to carbon dioxide to lighten the bagel crumb. The Sea Salt balances out the flavor making for a savory eating experience.
- Hydration of the dough; The percentage of Water to Flour is the basis of every bread recipe. Low hydrated dough produce a dense crumb and highly hydrated dough produce an open crumb. Bagels are a low hydrated dough. This recipe is 56% hydration. This means the dough will feel very dry and stiff until the dough is well kneaded. Kneading takes much more physical effort on the part of the baker. Using your body weight and leverage to knead is recommended and required. Do not attempt to use a mixer to knead the dough. The mixer will either break or burnout if used.
- Hand Shaped; The bagel are shaped into round balls after the first bulk fermentation. Left to rest for 10 minutes covered with plastic wrap and then shaped into ropes about 9 to 10-inches long before having the ends sealed together to form the traditional ring shape. Traditional bagels have large holes in them. Allowing for the entire surface of the bagel to caramelize and develop a crispy crusty finish.
- Boiling the Bagels; After the shaped bagels go through their final proof and before baking. The bagel gets a hot water bath for 15 to 20 seconds or until the bagels float to the top of the lightly boiling water. This causes the starch on the bagel surface to gelatinized, producing the beautiful mirror like shine as the bagel bakes. It also makes for a very sticky surface which the seeds and other topping to adhere to.
- Hearth Baking the Bagels; Finally the shaped and boiled bagels go on the water soaked Bagel Boards with or without topping before heading to be baked in a 475°F (246°C) preheated oven fitted with a baking stone. The bagels bake for 3 to 4 minutes on the Bagel Board, which dries and sets the crust, before being flipped over and onto the baking stone for its final baking period.
What about the toppings? I’ve gone with the basic traditional toppings for the bagels. Salt, Sesame, and Poppy coat the exterior of the bagels. No sprinkling here! The key is to completely coat each bagel with the topping of choice after it comes out of the hot water bath. Though for me I only dip one side of the bagel in the Coarse Sea Salt. The other topping I go all out and pack on as many seeds that will stick, you want the poppy bagel tasting like poppy. I purchase my toppings at the local Indian Market. The seeds are always fresh and very economical. Choose the Natural Sesame Seeds for their amazing flavor.
Note: Traditional Bagels are a daily bread meant to be enjoyed the same day they are made. Tradition bagels don’t have a long shelf life and should be placed into an airtight plastic freezer bag and frozen after they have cooled to room temperature after baking. Thaw the bagels in the plastic bag before splitting and toasting to revive the crust and crumb for you to enjoy.
The equipment needed to make bagels are very simple though there might be a few item you don’t have. Such as a Bagel Boards, Baking Stone, and Baking Peel. The baking stone I recommend is the “Old Stone Oven Rectangular Pizza Stone”, 14 1/2″ x 16 1/2″ and can be order on Amazon along with a baking peel. The Bagel Boards are something you can make with a very small investment and a little Arts and Craft project on your part. The instructions to make the Bagel Boards are below:
As with all baking I recommend you weigh your ingredients. This will give you consistent results each and every time. Investing in a good electronic scale will take your baking to the next level. You’ll find there will not be variations that can occur as with measuring by volume.
Making Bagel Boards:
- Untreated Wood 2″ x 4″; 3 pieces, 16-inches in length (Check the scraps box at the lumber yard. Most Large Home improvement centers will cut the pieces to length for you for free or a nominal fee.)
- Tape Measure
- Wood Hand Saw
- 2 Yards of Jute (Found at Fabric Store)
- Staple Gun with Staples
- Measure the longest length of the Baking Stone (example 16-inches for the Old Stone Oven Rectangular Pizza Stone)
- Saw and cut the 2″ x 4″ into 16-inch boards if not already cut for you.
- Place the jute on one end of the board and staple into place to secure the jute.
- Lightly stretch the jute over the top board to the opposite end and staple the jute to secure it.
- Cut the excess jute with the scissors.
- Repeat the process to attach the jute to the remaining boards.
Note: The Jute on the Bagel Boards is always soaked with cold water before using in the oven. Dry the Bagel Board completely before storing.
- Measuring Cups/Spoons or Electronic Bakers Scale
- Mixing Bowl
- Rubber Spatula
- Wooden Spoon
- Plastic Bowl Scraper
- Metal Bench Scraper
- Large Wooden Cutting Board or 1/2 Sheet Trays
- Plastic Wrap or Food Grade Plastic Bag
Bagel Dough (Yields 12)
- Measured Grams Ingredients
- 2 1/4 cup 511 g. Water (room temperature)
- 1/4 cup 80 g. Barley Malt Syrup
- 1 tsp. 3 g. Instant Yeast
- 6 1/2 cups 907 g. Bread Flour (King Arthur, Unbleached, Unbromated)
- 1 Tbsp. 22 g. Sea Salt (Fine)
Mixing the Bagel Dough:
- In the large bowl combine the water, barley malt syrup, instant yeast, and half of the bread flour.
- Stir together and beat using a rubber spatula until the mixture is well incorporated and resembles a batter.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let ferment for 1 hour.
- After 1 hour the batter will have doubled in size and be very bubbly.
- To the batter add the remaining bread flour and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon in incorporate or until the dough becomes shaggy. Note: The dough has a low hydration and will seem dry at this point.
- Scrape down the bowl and scrape the dough onto the work surface.
- Knead for 2 to 3 minutes to incorporate the dry ingredients into the dough.
- Once the dough become a cohesive mass. Knead the bagel dough for 8 to 10 minutes or until the Bagel Dough is smooth and elastic. Note: Because the dough has a low hydration it will require you use your body weight to knead. Also known as the Bagel Workout.
- Place the Bagel Dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and ferment for 1 hour.
Shaping the Bagels:
- After 1 hour of fermentation. Uncover the bowl and turn the bagel dough onto the work surface.
- Cut the bagel dough into 12 pieces each weighting approximately 4.4 oz. (124 g.).
- Pre-shape the bagel dough pieces into cylinders.
- Leave the pre-shaped dough pieces on the work surface and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest covered for 5 minutes before final shaping.
- Lightly flour a wooden cutting board and set aside to receive the shaped bagels.
- After 5 minutes of resting the bagels will be ready to final shape.
- Working with 1 piece of dough at a time; Leaving the remaining bagel dough covered with plastic wrap.
- Place the rested bagel dough on the work surface with no flour. Shape the bagel into a 9-inch log by rolling the dough underneath the palms of your hands. Making long motions back and forth and applying pressure to degas and lengthen the dough. Knocking out large air bubbles with your palm if necessary.
- Wrap the log of dough around your palm with the ends of the dough over lapping by 1-inch in your palm.
- Place your palm on the work surface and roll to connect the ends of the dough. The hole in the center of the bagel will be large at this point.
- Remove the shaped bagel from your hand and place on the floured wooden cutting board.
- Shape the remaining bagel pieces.
- Cover the shaped bagel pieces with plastic wrap and let proof for 1 hour at room temperature.
Pre-heat the oven and Baking Stone to 475°F (246°C) for 1 hour before baking the bagels.
- Baking Stone
- Bagel Boards (See above)
- Large Pot filled with water
- 1/2 Sheet Tray
- Large Spider Strainer with Handle
- Small Bowls (For poppy, sesame, and coarse sea salt)
- Baker’s Peel
- Cooling Rack
Boiling and Baking the Bagels:
- Bring a large pot of water to a light boil.
- Soak the Bagel Boards with cold water and place the Bagel Boards on the work surface next to the 1/2 sheet tray while boiling the bagels.
- Uncover the bagels and place 3 bagels into the lightly boiling water.
- The bagels will sink bottom and then float to the top. This will take about 15 to 20 seconds. Remove the bagel immediately using the Spider Strainer and place onto the 1/2 sheet tray.
- Dip and cover the Boiled Bagel in your favorite toppings and place the plain or coated bagels onto Bagel Board (3 Bagels per Board).
- Place the Bagel Board with Bagels onto the Baking Stone in the 470°F (246°C.) pre-heated oven.
- Bake the bagels for 3 minutes on the Bagel Boards to dry the surface of the bagel.
- After 3 minutes flip the bagels off and over onto the Baking Stone and bake for another 16 to 18 minutes or until the bagel are a deep golden brown.
- Rinse the Bagel Boards under cold water to remove any seeds or toppings and prepare them for the next go round.
- Remove the baked bagels from the oven using the Baker’s Peel and place onto the cooling rack to cool to room temperature.
- Repeat boiling, coating, baking, and cooling the remaining bagels.
- Eat the fresh bagel on its own or split the bagels with a serrated bread knife and slather with butter or cream cheese. Toasting the split bagel is also an option too.
Storing your Bagel; Bagels are meant to be eating the same day they are made or frozen in a air-tight plastic bag after they cool to room temperature. Thaw frozen bagels completely in the plastic bag. Then split and toast the bagel to revive the crust and crumb of your handmade boiled bagels.