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Baking misadventure: Homemade Bagels

bagels cooling

File this one under “misadventure“. I’m sure you’ll agree; those are some freaky-looking bagels. I almost didn’t post these at all- I was worried about damaging my reputation as a baker (and, let’s face it, my pride) with these creepy things. I mean, that one on the bottom row looks like it has tumors. It’s not as if I’ve never successfully made bagels before, either. I have, which made this sorry-looking assortment hurt even more. Still, I guess that’s how the cookie (sometimes) crumbles, right?

The inspiration for this ill-fated bout of bagel-making hit on Saturday night. Andrew and I were out with our friend Russell in Brick Lane, and walking back to Liverpool Street station after a few rounds, we passed the famous Beigel Bake bakery. The place is open 24 hours, and as usual for a weekend evening, there was a line out the door. Though hungry, I wasn’t that bothered- I don’t actually like their bagels very much. Too fat, too bready and too much a New York-style bagel. I’m nothing if not patriotic, and in my book, if it’s not Montreal-style, it’s not worth paying for. 

bagels rising

I’ll happily make bagels of any style, though. My flat isn’t equipped with the wood-burning stove required for my favourite type, so any old bread-with-a-hole-in-the-middle has to do for me. My go-to bagel recipe is a Nigella one, and I awoke on Sunday morning confident in producing some tried-and-tested results.

This time around, though, I made a couple errors, the gravest of which was trying to make these before I’d even had a tea. I usually halve recipes for just Andrew and myself, but in my groggy, uncaffeinated state, I completely messed this up, correctly dividing some ingredients (flour, water), but neglecting to halve others (sugar, salt, yeast). I also subbed in some wholewheat flour without adjusting the liquid content, which, along with the extra yeast, led to a too-dry dough that would just not come together properly. Serves me right for trying to be so healthy, no? 

In the end, the bagels’ flavour wasn’t compromised too much- overly seasoned, sure, but the taste and texture were still acceptable. It was mainly the appearance of these that put me off. Still, don’t let my tribulations deter you: bagels are much easier to make than you’d think, and they needn’t look like they belong in a hospital. Just make sure you make them after your morning coffee, and you know- read the recipe. 

bagels being poached

  • Bagels (the way they should be)
  • From How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
  • makes 12-15, depending on size 
  • 1 kg strong white flour
    7g (1 packet) instant or easy-blend yeast
    1 Tbs. salt
    4 Tbs. sugar
    1 Tbs. vegetable oil
    500ml warm water 
  • 1. Mix together the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller jug, add 2 Tbs. of sugar and the oil to the water and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the contents of the jug to the flour mixture, and using a spoon or dough whisk, mix until the water is absorbed. 

    2. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-12 minutes, until the dough is smooth, thick and elastic. Keep flouring the work surface and letting the dough “take up” the extra flour. You want the dough to be stiff and dry (of course not too dry, see above).

    3. Oil the ball of dough and place in a bowl, covered with clingfilm, for an hour to rise. It should double in size and an imprint should remain when you poke it with your finger.

    4. When well risen, punch the dough down and give it a quick knead to get the air out. Divide into 12-15 pieces (I use a scale for this), depending on how big you want your bagels. 

    5. To shape the bagels, form each piece into a small ball. Poke your index finger through the centre of the ball, and “swing” the bagel around your finger, making the hole bigger. You can use your hands to “even out” the shape before setting the bagels on parchment-lined baking sheets. (It is worth noting that these rise and puff up quite a bit, so make the holes bigger than you think you want.) Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 20-30 minutes, until fat and puffy. 

    6. Preheat your oven to 240°C/450°F and set a large pot of water on to boil. When it boils, add the remaining sugar. Poach the bagels 2 or 3 at a time. They will float near the surface- let them sit for 30 seconds before gently flipping them over and cooking for another 30 seconds. Remove to the parchment-lined baking sheets. 

    7. When all the bagels have been poached, bake for 10-15 minutes, until shiny and golden-brown. Cool slightly (or completely, if you like) before serving.   

7 comments

  1. Edd says:

    I was just at the brick lane place on Friday I actually really liked their bagels but I’ve never thought about making them myself.

  2. Hilary says:

    Well at least we know you’re mortal.

    Do you put whole wheat flour in absolutely everything?? I just can’t do it.

  3. Ele says:

    Edd, I saw your bagel pics on Flickr! It was funny, I was searching for a photo of the place and your bagel photo was one of the first I came across. I’ve had them before and think they’re ok, but I was raised on Montreal-style and nothing else will do for me. If you ever visit Canada you should definitely try one- they’re wonderful!

    Hil, I try not to, but it’s a powerful urge to fight. I just think it adds a lot of flavour, textural interest, and it’s healthier! I don’t add it to desserts, of course. (Well, maybe some.)

  4. margaux says:

    Ele – I have the same affliction with whole wheat flour and have been known to add it to desserts far too often only to be sorely disappointed with the results. It’s a fine balance with that flour.

  5. Ele says:

    Margaux, it’s definitely an affliction, you’re right. I only used about 100g in this recipe, but it threw the whole thing off. A few months ago I made Orangette’s Everyday Cake and used a bit of whole wheat flour- that’s one recipe where it actually works.

  6. Lauren says:

    Thanks for posting, it just goes to show it’s not only me who mucks up the halving of recipes (even when I have had my coffee). My main problem with making my own bagels, is that you have to get up really early to make them fresh for breakfast!

  7. Ele says:

    Lauren- I rarely make a whole recipe (it’s just me and my boyfriend here, after all), so I should be used to halving things by now! I think part of the problem was that I was trying to have a conversation when I should have been focusing :)

    Oh, I never make bagels for breakfast- who wants to wake up at 6 on the weekend? They end up being a lunch/early afternoon snack sort of thing around here.