Making Bagels - My Journey
I have been working on learning to mix, shape, ferment properly, boil and bake Bagels. Everyone in our household and all of my friends and neighbors likes these delicious breads and are happy I have taken up with this obsession.I have migrated to using Hamelman's formula for home bakers which makes 12-120 gram bagels. It's a very simple ingredient list, adding only malt powder to the basic 4. When I am making a batch destined for my In-Laws, I swap whole milk for 20% of the water to make the crumb softer. There are lots of bagel recipes out there. I say, find your favorite multi grain recipe and mix it to 58-60 % hydration. I frequently make a 20% rye or WW mix which we love. That's what is shown below.
There are a lot of small nuggets of information in the text below. I have discovered there are many variables and "must do" bits of advice out there on this subject. I want to finally get to the bottom of this and find out what matters and what doesn't
My personal goal is to find an easy way to make delicious Bagels quickly in the morning. No complicated thinking at 5:30 AM please. It's a two day process, and the putsey stage is the evening before, mixing, kneading and shaping. The next morning, I get up, turn on the oven to 500F, turn on the stove to boil the water I drew the evening before. It takes 45 minutes to bring my stone up to 430F. So at 45 minutes I boil the first set of 3 bagels and prepare them for baking. I leave the sheet pans in the refrigerator until just before I'm ready to boil the dough in the water. No bench time to warm the dough. They usually float right off and I'm only using 1/2 teaspoon of IDY instead of the 3/4 tsp Hamelman calls for.
My first major discovery was that I could make at least as good of a dough by hand as I could by machine. It is far easier to work the flour and water together by hand than it is to try to use my DLX mixer fitted with the dough hook. The DLX isn't taxed by the job but at 58% hydration, the dough just doesn't wan t to be moved, once the gluten starts to form and become strong. I can stand there pushing and prying the strong dough into position so it will travel around the bowl and be forced between the bowl and hook. Honestly it's much easier to just combine the ingredients by hand in the bowl. A series of 3 stretch and folds at 20 minute intervals will produce a beautiful smooth dough and well developed gluten.
The next thing I wanted to understand is the whole shaping thing and if the requirement to refrigerate overnight is warranted. I am convinced that the slow extended fermenting in the refrigerator is a beneficial step in developing a better flavor. AND, if you shape your bagels right after mixing/fermenting briefly, they stick together and don't come unglued in the boiling water. As a sub set of shaping I get best results when using the dog bone shape and then grinding the ends together as shown in Ciril Hitz video on bagels  The pre-shaping method Hitz demonstrates is beautiful. I had to watch it several times to fully appreciate the subtle aspects of his technique. He uses the Dog Bone roll out which I have found works perfectly if I remember to remove one finger and "grind" out the joint using 3 fingers. If you are at all perplexed about making bagels, do your self a favor and watch the Hirtz video.
The next decision is weather or not to use ice water after the boil as Hamelman suggests or to place the boiled circles on a rack to cool and dry briefly before seeding. Hamelman says to boil 1 minute each side, Hitz says 10 seconds. I like my results using a 1 minute per side. As for the ice water bath or not, I think Hitz method of a shorter boiling time followed by cooling/drying on a rack works fine and simplifies the production line on the stove top. I don't see any benefit of adding an ice water bath. It's just one more thing to mess with, adding ice after each batch.
I wanted to be a purist and use bagel boards. If I was using a rotating oven in a production setting, bagel boards would be the answer to drying out the bottoms and getting a well done product. After baking maybe 15 batches of bagels during the last few Months, most using my home made red wood boards. I can see a minor difference on the bottom but certainly nothing that would indicate the need to flip the bagels over after a few minutes. This process is risky for me and I frequently end up having one or more not turned over properly and need to go in the back of the oven with tongs to fix my errors. It is way easier to seed the dough after the rack and place them on the parchment they proofed on in the cooler. The sheet pan slides in on top of the stone nicely. Yes, I have been steaming when I bake on a sheet pan. The wet webbing on the boards negates the need for additional steam.
One other small thing I have found I can eliminate that makes the process a little cleaner is to skip the corn meal. I noticed Hitz places his seeded bagels on clean parchment where most other authors say to sprinkle cornmeal on the proofing sheet. I have been spraying a light coat of Pam on the parchment to make it easier to remove the cold dough from the paper, with out disfiguring the shape on the way to the hot water. The boiling water stays cleaner and there is no down side after baking. So again I find the Hitz method to be preferable.
The last big question is what to put in the water, if anything. I have tried a heaping Tablespoon of Baking Soda, Barley Malt Syrup, Honey, Molasses and Sorghum Syrup. Oh and also plain old water too. Hamelman says use enough Malted Barley to make a dark tea. That's about 2 tablespoons. Hitz says something similar or to use honey for a slightly sweet flavor on the crust. Honestly, I can't taste any difference but it does smell nice when the barley is steaming in the pot. All of the add in ingredients smell great in the pot but not much of that good aroma is transferred to the bread product. So, if you feel like you have a pallet that is sophisticated enough to notice, go for it. But if you thought you had to wait for another day because you didn't have Malted Barley, don't bother waiting. The crusts MIGHT be a wee bit softer, less crispy if you use a syrup. Take a good hard look at the photo below of two bagels side by side. One was boiled in clean water, one was boiled in water with a large scoop of Baking Soda. Both have a soft sheen and are very close to the same color. Both boiled for 2 minutes total, 17 minutes @500F with steam for 4 minutes on a sheet pan.
I hope this lengthy write up is of interest to those of you who have hesitated in making Bagels. I know they seemed complicated from start to finish at first. I was sure if I did a few batches I could make uncomplicated the process and gather the proper equipment to be able to easily make authentic NY style water bagels.
Column 1 and 4 are boiled in water only. 2 and 3 had Baking Soda added.
Can you tell which bagel was boiled in water only and which had baking soda mixed in? I had expected the one with baking soda to be darker. If there is a color difference, I'd say the one on the left is slightly darker. That's the water only version.
The crumb structure is still more open than I would like. I have reduced the amount of yeast and I am lowering the DDT temp to try and control the activity. But, it looks pretty good now and has a nice chew. This is 80% All Trumps High Gluten flour and 20% fresh ground WW from Country Creations (Flourgirl51).
Baked on parchment on a sheet pan. Certainly not burned and just a nice crisp crust on the bottom.