How to Form and Bake Bagels
Step-by-step instructions for boiling, topping, and baking perfect bagels.
With a little practice, you can make bagels that rival those in New York's best bagel shops.
1. To make bagels, a stand mixer is highly recommended. The best bagels are made with high-gluten flour or bread flour, so the dough is very stiff. It also requires a long mixing time to develop properly. We used the Bagels II recipe.
2. Once the dough has risen once, divide it into 12 equal pieces and form them into dough rounds. Cover the rounds with a damp cloth and allow them to rest for 5 to 10 minutes for easier shaping. Meanwhile, bring 3 to 4 quarts of water to boil in a large stockpot, preheat your oven to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C) and lightly oil two baking sheets.
3. Lightly coat your hands with vegetable oil and gently press a dough round down with the palm of your hand. Find the center of the round and push a finger through to make a hole.
4. Swing the bagel around your finger to widen the hole. Be gentle; the goal is to widen the hole without ripping the walls of the bagel. The walls should be approximately 1-inch thick and the hole 2 inches wide. Don't worry if the hole seems too large: it will close up quite a bit as the bagel boils and bakes. After each bagel is shaped, place it back underneath the moist towel.
5. Why boil? Boiling gelatinizes the starch in the outer layer of dough, giving the bagels their characteristic chewy crust. Some bakers add malt syrup (available at health food stores and specialty grocers) to the water to sweeten it, enhancing the bagel's flavor. We used fresh boiling water with no added flavoring. Carefully drop the bagels, two or three at a time--depending upon the size of your pot--into the boiling water. Don't crowd the bagels in the pot; this will cause the water to cool down and the bagels to stick together.
6. Boil the bagels until they have expanded in size and underside appears cooked (1 to 2 minutes); turn them with a slotted spoon or spatula. Let them boil for another minute or two, until both sides are evenly cooked.
7. Remove each bagel from the boiling water; the bagels will have puffed up and the centers will be nearly closed. They will be off-white in color and have some blisters just below the surface. Drop each bagel into a bowl of cold water to cool.
8. If you wish to top your bagels, arrange toppings--poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dehydrated onion--on plates. Remove bagels from the cold water bath and dip the top and sides in the seeds. Arrange the seeded bagels on the oiled baking sheet.
9. With strongly flavored toppings, such as Kosher salt, garlic, caraway, or fennel seeds, sprinkle on the toppings rather than dipping the bagels to coat completely.
10. Bake the bagels in preheated oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. After 10 minutes, check the bagels and loosen them from the baking sheet if they are sticking. Once they are done, place them on a rack to cool.
11. You don't need to get up at 4 am, like the bagel bakers do. The shaped rings of raw dough can be frozen and kept for up to three weeks. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, bringing to room temperature before boiling. Bake as directed.