I've been craving carbs like mad lately, and bagels are at the top of my list. Bagels are something that I've always wanted to make. They are a cousin to soft pretzels and have the same degree of difficulty, which I'd say is moderate. As long as you follow the recipe instructions well, you're golden. I looked to fellow bagel-lover, Smitten Kitchen for this bagel run down.
It all starts with a "sponge" which is 1 tsp of instant yeast, 4 cups of bread flour, and 2.5 cups of room temperature water well blended and left to bubble for 2 hours. (PS - My notations are merely notations - a condensed version. Be sure to read Smitten Kitchen's very thorough instructions if you want to make these fantastic bagels.)
After the sponge has rested and is nice and bubbly, add to it 1/2 tsp of instant yeast, 3 cups of bread flour, 2.75 tsp. of salt, and 1 tbsp. of honey. Stir or mix until a ball forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes or for 6 minutes with a mixer. I've always gotten the best results when I use good ol' fashioned human elbow grease.
Now is the time to divide the dough ball into little balls. It's best to weigh your dough out equally so that they all cook evenly. My dough balls were weighed to 3 ounces each and they made an in-between standard and mini sized bagels. If you'd like the standard size, weigh your doughs to 4.5 ounces. I got 21 bagels from this recipe.
After 20 minutes, it's time to make the bagel shape. There is more than one method to forming the bagels, but I like the method of poking a hole in the center of the dough ball and slowly squeezing/stretching into the bagel shape with your fingers.
On a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper and lightly greased, place the bagels at least 1 inch apart. Cover the pans with plastic wrap and tuck them into the fridge for the night. (Or let them chill for 4 hours.) The longer you let them sit, the more the flavors will develop. You can leave them in the fridge for up to 2 days.
When you are ready to bake your bagels, fill your widest pot with water, 1 tbsp of baking soda, and 2 tbsp of sugar or molasses - this will give your bagels a bit of color - and bring it to a boil. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, spray them lightly with oil and sprinkle them with a bit of cornmeal. Working in batches, gently drop about 4 bagels in at a time. Boil for 2 minutes, flip over with a slotted spatula, and boil for another 2 minutes.
Place the bagels on a cooling rack with a sheet pan underneath to catch the hot water, toppings, and egg wash. There are a couple of ways to apply your toppings:
Before adding the toppings, beat an egg and coat the bagels with a light layer of the wash. You may then either sprinkle the toppings over the bagel or dip them in a shallow plate/container as pictured above. Toppings are optional. I'm a huge fan of flax seeds so I used flax meal, whole flax seeds, and poppy seeds for my bagels.
There's little need to worry about expansion during this baking process. I snuggled about 11 bagels on my sheet pans.
Bake them in an oven preheated to 500 degrees. Set the two racks in the center. You can bake both sheet pans at the same time or individually. I choose to bake them together, baking them for about 7 minutes then rotating each pan 180 degrees and switching the top pan for the bottom pan and baking for another 7 minutes - lowering the temperature to 450 degrees after the rotation.
The texture is great! Nice and chewy. If you like a tougher exterior, I'd suggest baking them for a minute or two longer. I can't believe how nicely they turned out for my first bagel-making attempt. I know you can get a bagel for under $3, but it's TOTALLY worth it to make them on your own. Trust me.