Some photographs of my latest batch of Lye Bagels. I've been working on this for some time and feel I have finally achieved the bagels I remember as a child in Philadelphia in the 1960's. The lox in the picture are home made, this cream cheese wasn't but sometimes it is. I grew up in an Italian household but my mother frequently craved bagels and lox and knew the Jewish Delicatessen to get them. I remember her stressing "novies" for the lox and then the deli manager would smile and out would come the good stuff. The bagels were chewy and moist and did not require toasting to be edible. I now live in the South and can't buy good bagels (lox/novies are now accessable but I prefer to continue to make them.) Recently at a Jewish wedding in Gainsville, Florida, I was invited to the family's brunch the following day and sat at a long table discussing the bagels. To a person they all lamented that, while good novies were available, there were no good bagels in the town, hell, the south, including all of Florida, down to Miami. I bragged that I knew what they wanted and had learned to make them. In May I plan to bring them a couple of batches (10 bagels to a batch). Since I'm finally happy with the recipe (and I'm really picky) let me share it with you.
(recipe ADAPTED from "The Professional Pastry Chef" by Bo Friberg, 4th edition, 2002, John Wiley and Sons press, pp 187, 188)
All Measurements are by WEIGHT, grams for small quantities and ounces for larger ones, that includes the water, measure by weight.
7 grams Instant Dry Yeast
10 1/2 ounces of Water at 115 deg. F. By the time you get the yeast into it in the bowl it will have dropped a few degrees.
About 1 Tablespoonful of honey (just guess but don't leave it out)
20 grams Sugar (I use raw or turbinado)
10 grams Salt (I use kosher but may try sea)
1 pound 4 ounces of High Gluten Bread Flour
Dissolve the honey, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl, when fully dissolved add the yeast and stir until its disssolved (suspended). Add all but about a 1/4 cup of the flour and mix with the paddle. The dough will be heavy and dense. If the dough is not, add the rest of the flour. change to dough hook and knead for 5 minutes, pausing to pull the dough back into the bowl if it climbs the hook and test for smoothness/density. Add more flour if dough is sticky at all. You should not need bench flour to work this dough after rising.
cover with plastic wrap and rise for 60 minutes on top of the local water heater, about 85 degrees F. When doubled, place onto a board and work with fingertips and knuckles to keep a round log about 20 inches long. Try to compress the dough and redistribute the co2 avoiding folds. Cut into 2 inch rounds. Poke a finger though the middle of the round and form a ring with about a two inch hole in the center, keep the ring even in thickness by pushing thin areas together and stretching fat ones. Put on a silpat and let rise while you bring the water to a boil. Add a ratio of 1 teaspoonful of lye crystals (available at Lowes in the plumbing section labeled as Crystal Drain Opener) to 1 quart of water, I use a 6 quart pot with 2 quarts of water and 2 teaspoonfuls of lye. You may want to start heating the water earlier so the bagels have time to rise to slightly less than double their volume before boiling. Do not let alot of water evaporate and concentrate the lye or you will make round pretzels. (in fact for pretzels use 1 tablespoonful of lye per quart and the same recipe but roll into pretzel shapes)
Boil the bagels 3 at a time for 1 minute turning at 30 seconds with chopsticks. Place on silpat for 1 minute or so to cool enough to handle with only minimal pain and no permanent damage. The lye will not burn you once dissolved to this concentration (more on lye later). Once you can handle the bagels apply topings if desired. I put sesame seed, poppy seed, dried minced onion, dried minced garlic, caraway seed, charnuska or any combination thereof and kosher salt, or nothing, they're good plain and plain good.
Bake for 7 minutes (or until deep golden brown) at 410 degrees F. under convection, rearrange trays halfway through if your oven is uneven. Use 450 degrees F. for 10 minutes or so if no convection. Cool on wire rack, they freeze realy well.
About Lye. I have yet to have a bagel that I would consider as even anywhere close to my childhood memories that was not boiled in lye. Same goes for pretzels, remember I'm from Philadelphia. So here goes my treatise on lye in baking written from the point of view of a Pharmacist, yes, I'm a pharmacist. Lye is the strongest of alkalies and is dangerous in concentrated solutions. The crystal form is not dangerous per se, but mix in a little water, say dampness on your skin and it will burn. Do Not Get Crystals Or Solution in Your Eyes. Once diluted to the degree used in baking the solution will not burn the skin in brief contact (don't soak in it and rinse your hands if you get some on you and there will be no problem.) If you spill the crystals immediately dilute it with water and mop up, remember once sufficiently diluted it will not burn you. the crystals will, however, pull enough moisture out of the air if left on a counter top or floor to form a very concentrated and dangerous solution, once again, just dilute further. Lye, while toxic itself, does not contain toxic ingredients. It contains sodium (Na), just like table salt and a hydroxyl group (OH) as in Baking Soda. It just the degree of dissassociation between the OH in baking soda and lye that make the difference. Nothing can live in lye crystals (for many reasons), so its basically sterile in the container. Be sure the container you use states Sodium Hydroxide as the only ingredient. I've read the discussions in the forums on this site and many other references and have come to the conclusion that lye is safe when properly handled and the only available compound to do with it does. What does it do? It hydrolizes proteins in the flour and makes them brown by the malliard reaction like nothing else. Or you could just say it makes things brown, tasty, and chewey. Keep the lye container in the safest of places, away from kids and pets and accidents. Only open the container to measure the needed amount and immediately close tightly and put away. Don't shake it up before opening and don't breath any dust. Keep it in the original container (once again, for may reasons).
Stefania (the husband half)