Bagels!

By Matthew Yglesias

Kate and I decided to deal with the paucity of good bagels in DC by taking matters into our own hands and making some Saturday morning. Actually we decided to do this a few weeks ago, but it turns out to be way easier to make bagels when your yeast works. Indeed, other than “this will take some time” there’s really nothing to it beyond avoiding bum yeast.

You put one point of bread flour, one teaspoon of yeast, one teaspoon of salt, one tablespoon of sugar, and 1.25 cups of warm water into your mixer. Then mix it up a bit with the paddle, then a bit more with the hook until it forms a nice ball. (or, you know, do this by hand like a sucker). Then knead by hand for a minute. Then let it sit covered for two hours, punch down, let sit for 30 minutes, and divide it up into your bagels. According to Mark Bittman you can make 12 small bagels out of this much dough. I assumed he meant that the bagels would be small relative to the giant bagels you see everywhere these days—i.e., like normal-sized traditional New York bagels. It turns out that Bittman, a real New Yorker, meant those would be small relative to traditionally sized New York bagels so I wish I had actually made eight.

All the authorities seem to agree that you ought to take your small dough balls, roll them into dough snakes, and then turn the snakes into bagel-shaped loops. I didn’t do that—I just rolled the balls into ball form and used by thumbs to poke holes in the middle. That seemed more logical and works just fine. Then you boil each bagel one minute on each side, then bake ’em for 20 minutes (I used a pizza stone, which seemed to work well). The results are delicious, and it was all pretty easy.

Indeed, it was actually frustratingly easy. Time-consuming is not a good quality in a breakfast product. You can’t get up in the morning, start cooking, and then have something to eat three hours later. You just can’t. At the same time, the technique here is quite simple—you don’t need years of training or whatever to make delicious bagels. In other words, this is a food product that’s ideally suited for someone to make in bulk and sell to the public. So why don’t more people do it? I get that this is a bit more time-consuming, and therefore less-efficient, than the process used to produce sad pseudo-bagels. But I’d happily pay a premium for the good stuff. And yet instead of quality spreading, my impression is that we’re seeing more and more bad bagels even in the heart of New York.

21 responses to “Bagels!

  1. Bagels freeze well, and so does dough. Making enough for the week on Sunday should be a breeze… and yes, homemade bagels and soft pretzels are so, so much better than in most stores.

  2. Even as someone who lived in NYC for a long time, I gotta admit that Montreal wins when it comes to bagels.

    from Wikipedia:
    “The Montreal bagel is a distinctive variety of hand-made and wood-fired baked bagel. In contrast to the New York-style bagel, the Montreal bagel is smaller, sweeter and denser, with a larger hole, and is always baked in a wood-fired oven. It contains malt, egg, and no salt and is boiled in honey-sweetened water before being baked in a wood-fired oven, whose irregular flames give it a dappled light-and-dark surface color.”

    Now that I’m in Texas, I’m facing an absolute dearth of good bread products, be it bagels, pizza crust, a baguette…anything! Its all terrible. This post may just inspire me to make them myself.

  3. So is this recipe in “How to Cook Everything”? I’ve been meaning to try Peter Reinhart’s vastly more complicated offering, but I have bothered to get the 14% gluten flour he says is pretty key… but I’m in the market for a couche, so maybe I’ll grab both from King Arthur and give it a shot.

  4. Uhm, one point of bread flour???? Is that one pound? One pint? One measure of which I’ve not heard?

    Also, can you rise them either the first or second time in the fridge, like pizza dough? I could imagine, even if it’s only the first rise, doing the dough before bed, putting the dough into the fridge to rise, getting up on Sunday, punching it down, grabbing a shower during the second rise, and then baking bagels while making everything else. At least, I can if I’m having enough people over for breakfast to need 8 bagels.

    Is that a plausible approach? Anyboddy know?

  5. @Ron:

    The Peter Reinhart recipe I referenced (see http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/09/bronx-worthy-bagels/ ) says you can put them in the fridge for a couple of days after you’ve shaped them into bagels and let them rest/proof at room temperature for 20 minutes… so I don’t see why you couldn’t do the same with Bittman’s recipe.

  6. I make a batch of bagels about once a month. Saturday I make the dough, it rests, then Sunday I boil and bake. I have even gotten up a little early before work on a Monday to bring in fresh bagels to work. It’s a crowd pleaser. I plan on doing it for my new job sometime soon.

  7. Pingback: Matthew Yglesias » Endgame

  8. Where in New York does someone go for a good New York bagel? I’ve had plenty of good bagels in New York but it seems like the only thing bagel lovers love more than bagels is complaining about how every bagel place in New York is terrible and maybe if you had a time machine to go back 25 years you could get a “real” one. So that makes me think I’ve never actually had a “real” one to compare the “fake” ones to.

  9. My favorite bagels in the DC area are from Ize’s Deli and Bagelry in Rockville. It is a bit of a drive but worth the time!

  10. MythReindeer

    @Ron: a bit of Google searching leads me to believe that the measure in question is “one pound.” I found one site that talks about using Bittman’s recipe and specifies 1 pound flour and 1.25 cups water, plus Bittman seems hip enough to measure flour by weight rather than volume.

  11. erne –

    H&H is the undisputed king of the ‘fluffy’ style bagel, but the best ‘dense’ style is much more controversial. I like Tal for that. Kossar’s is the best for bialys.

  12. Agreed — the “dough snake” method is a waste of time and can lead to splitting along the connecting point between the two sides. To get the dough into shape, just roll your dough into a ball and poke in the middle. That said, everyone should be sure to rearticulate the shape of the bagel before boiling — the shape of the bagel when it goes into the water is pretty much what you’re going to get when it comes out.

    Don’t know if you tried this, but boiling the bagels in water mixed with some brown sugar (or molasses, or maple syrup) is better than water on its own. It gives the bagel a nice glaze without an egg wash.

  13. erne, My favorite bagel in NYC is Ess-A-Bagel on 1st Ave and 20th (there’s also one on 3rd and 50th). It’s getting harder and harder to find a really good bagel. There’s not that many straight-up bagel shops left around town and deli bagels are generally crap.

  14. elizardbreath

    Ess-a-Bagel is decent except for the size — they’re huge, because it’s a sandwich place, and a rightsized bagel is smallish to sell as a lunch sandwich. There was a hole in the wall on 14th between 1st and A that had perfect bagels (and bialys, which I like better and are harder to find) but they closed in the early eighties.

  15. Speaking of bialys, does anyone know a good recipe for them? Where I’m living now, they wouldn’t know a bialy if it jumped up and…well, never mind.

  16. john chamberlin

    30+ years in DC and yet to find a good place for bagels.

    I buy mine at Once Upon a Bagel in Highland Park Ill when home visiting, bring em back here and freeze them and parcel them out until my next visit.

  17. Ebenezer Scrooge

    Feh! Damn kids these days. All old-timers know you get good DC bagels in Posins. So what if Posins closed down late last century?

  18. A reasonably good bagel shop called Goldberg’s just opened in Silver Spring on Georgia Avenue. The same little strip mall as Tropical Ice Cream, which is also worth a try. (Not to mention Silver Cycles, but this is turning into an advertorial.)

  19. Brooklyn Bagel by the Courthouse Metro in Arlington has excellent bagels, although I’m just an ignorant Midwesterner so don’t take my word for it. I have heard from many that it’s the best in the area.

  20. I have been making bagels for a while now (no decent bagels here in Richmond either!) and the best way I’ve found to shape them is in the Baking with Julia book: form a ball by stretching the dough on itself to make a “gluten cloak.” Poke a hole in the middle and stretch between index fingers (I make a circle in the air with my fingers) until it forms a long ring of dough. It gets into shape while boiling/baking so it’s fine. The snake-joining at the ends thing has never worked for me, they never bake and look appetizing.

  21. Nice posting :)

    watch this:

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