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Did you know Mike sends out a newsletter (almost) every week? It's filled with news about bread or whatever Mike is excited about this time. It's "Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips"!

2019-05-12 - An apology and a long post about bagels!

A quick apology - I hated leaving you with a cliff hanger last week, but the newsletter was already too long. Worse, I won't be resolving it this week. Sadly, my dad went back into the hospital (we think he'll be fine, but there could be a few bumps remaining in the road), so I am again short on time. So, we'll have a shorter piece this week and with luck I'll wrap up the cliff hanger next week.

Saturday May 11 (yesterday), we had a BagelMania class. This is one of my favorite classes, and may be my favorite food event, second only to Thanksgiving - it revolves around bagels and a bagel party with a host of flavored cream cheeses. If you've never made flavored cream cheese, you should! Easy, cheaper and WAY better than the stuff in the grocery store. We're thinking of doing a video on the topic for The New Burgundians, another of our food focused web sites.

After class, we send students home with dough that they should retard overnight, and then finish off the next morning by boiling and baking. Only.... Larry, one of our students, reported it just didn't work right for him. The dough didn't rise and the bagels didn't float in the boil. That's not good! And we've heard this report from other people who followed our recipe. So, it seems we need to put more detail in the process of making the bagels. This is largely a time line and troubleshooting article. For our recipe, please refer to our Sourdough Bagel recipe.

I hate to admit this, but I view time tables in cookbooks and food web sites with a great degree of skepticism. A Julia Child recipe said her brioche should take four hours to rise. Probably true in Massachusetts, but in Texas it was up and overflowing the bowl in an hour! Just as my kitchen isn't like hers, your kitchen isn't like mine in ANY way, other than (perhaps) also being on planet Earth. Still, with the proviso that your time table may bear little resemblance to mine, and that this time table is a starting point you will need to refine for your kitchen, here's how I make bagels.

These aren't just any bagels, these are classic New York Bagels, the sort that is hard to find even in the big apple. They are dense, chewy, have a crisp crust and are bursting with a neutral flavor - not too sweet, not too savory - a perfect platform for whatever you want to put on them. These are not light and fluffy tire shaped things that are more like a doughnut than a bagel.

Start by mixing the dough. Bagel dough is VERY stiff dough, please pay attention to the mixer warnings in the Back to Bagels cookbook! If you don't have the cookbook, you can get it here, but the short warning is for most KitchenAid mixers, don't make more than 4 bagels at a time. Bagels are a mixer killer!

The First Rest Once the dough is made, let it rest, covered, at room temperature for an hour. This lets the gluten relax so you can form the dough into bagels. Because this is such a dense dough, it should not visibly rise, and that's OK. This rest is often called "floor time".

The Second Rest Cut the dough into 140 gram pieces. After baking, these will be right at 4 ounces. Shape into bagels, as shown in the bagel recipe. Place the shaped dough on bakers parchment, cover and let the bagel doughs rest at room temperature for another hour. This rest us again called "floor time". Since this is still an amazingly dense dough, it won't be rising. However, during this time, the yeast and bacteria in the dough are multiplying and becoming more active.

Retarding the Dough Bagels get their depth of flavor from an overnight rise, called a retard. Many commercial bakeries have a specialized cooler called a retarder. It keeps things at low, but not refrigerator cool temperatures. Depending on the bread, we retarded breads at 45 to 55F (7.2 to 12.7C).

In short, refrigerators are just too cold for the purpose. Refrigerators are usually around 34F (1.1C), at that temperature yeast goes dormant. When you put dough into a refrigerator, the yeast activity slows as the dough cools, and then pretty much stops when the dough is refrigerator cold. When we had a commercial bakery, we used a walk in cooler as our retarder, now we use a wine cooler at 48 to 50F (8.8 to 10C) for bagels. Regardless of temperature, the bagels should not visibly rise overnight, though the bacteria and yeast were active overnight (if only until the dough went to refrigerator temperatures).

The Last Rest In the morning, the bagels should come out of the cooler and rest for another three hours or so. Again, the bagel dough will not rise.

The Boil! To a true bagel fanatic, this is simple - if it ain't boiled, it ain't a bagel! Boiling the bagel gives the bagel a crisper crust and a nice sheen.

When you pull the bagels out of the cooler for the last rest, you should set a pot of water on to boil. You want a nice rolling boil. As the water comes to a boil, put a cup of cold water near the pot, you may need it later. When the water is boiling, toss in a tablespoon of dry malt extract (available at homebrew supply houses) for each gallon of water. When the malt is added, the water may foam up and threaten to overflow the pot. If this happens, add the cup of cold water.

Drop the bagels into the water. Not so many that it crowds the pan - they need to be able to float around freely. And here's where things get interesting!

  • The bagels should sink. If they do not sink, they were allowed to rise too long at some stage. The bagels will probably be fine, though a bit light, but next time adjust the rise by...
    • Reduce the second rest, or the time between forming the bagels and retarding them, and/or
    • Reduce the temperature of the retarder, and/or
    • Reduce the time you are retarding the dough, and/or
    • Reduce the time in the third, and final, rest.
    • The most effective thing to change is the temperature of the retarder.
    • Take notes and only change one of these factors at a time until you get bagels that sink for just a bit.
  • The bagels may stick to the bottom of the pot, so you may need to nudge them with a utensil to let them float free.
  • The bagels should float in 15 seconds or so. If they do not, they weren't allowed to rise long enough at some stage, see below.
  • After 1 minute, flip the bagels and let them boil 1 more minute.
  • If they did not float inside of the 2 minute boil, give the rest of them another hour at room temperature and try to boil some more of them.
    • I don't recommend boiling the bagels for more than 2 minutes - the dough tends to lose cohesiveness and you get a big mess.
    • If you get to this point in the trouble shooting three times, you might want to write off the current batch.
  • If your bagels floated, they almost certainly puffed up a bit in the boil.
  • If your bagels were slow to float or didn't float at all, you didn't let them rest (rise) long enough. Next time...
    • Increase the second rest, or the time between forming the bagels and retarding them,
      • If you have to use a refrigerator, some web sites recommend extending the second rest until the bagels float in room temperature water in 10 to 15 seconds.
      • After you try to float a bagel, dry it off with a soft lint free cloth and then either let it rise some more, or move on to the retard.M
      • We haven't done this, and it seems excessive, but if nothing else works, it may be worth a try.
      • And then let us know what happened!
    • Increase the temperature of the retarder, and/or
    • Increase the time you are retarding the dough, and/or
    • Increase the time in the third, and final, rest.
    • The most effective thing to change is the temperature of the retarder.
    • Take notes and only change one of these factors at a time until you get a good rise time.

Once the bagels have been boiled, bake them with some steam in the oven.

Enjoy!