WHAT IS A BAGEL?
Originally known as a beigel in its native Poland, these gluten bracelets are beloved all over the world. An Ashkenazi Jewish delicacy, these breads are unique in that they’re cooked for several minutes in boiling water (malted) before being baked. When placed in the oven, water quickly evaporates from the bread’s surface. This gives them their hard outer shell while still maintaining a dense interior. The air pockets that are formed are known as “fish-eyes” and help give this bread its chewy mouthfeel. While today bagels are strongly associated with New York City, this adoption didn’t happen overnight. The New York Times in 1958 described this food as donuts that were old, hard and unsugared.
HOW ARE THE BEST BAGELS MADE?
Asking this question is like walking into a Devils-Islanders Hockey game and asking which team is better. Passionate fans can become almost violent over the subject. Some bakers insist the bagels need to set for at least 18 hours before their flavor is fully developed. Others swear that the quality of the water used needs to be from New York City (a.k.a. have low levels of magnesium and calcium). This results in a slightly softer texture then you’d get with more mineral-rich water. However the most important factors are allowing the dough to rest for several days (cold fermentation) and boiling your raw bagels in cold water mixed with a malt barley solution.
WHAT KIND OF FLOUR AND STARTER SHOULD I USE?
One of the simpler recipes around, only flour, water, yeast, salt and some cold fermentation is needed. However all-purpose flour doesn’t always give the best results. Commercial bakers favor a high protein (a.k.a. high gluten) flour. Some home cooks will reduce the amount of water to achieve a similar effect. But using a high protein flour is a safer option. If you don’t want to rest your bagel dough for several days prior to cooking, Fine Cooking recommends using a sponge starter.
HOW SHOULD BAGELS BE STORED?
Don’t refrigerate them. Either store them at room temperature and eat them within 1 to 2 days (throw them back into the oven if they’re a bit past their prime). Otherwise seal freshly cooked bagels (once cool) in a zip lock bag and freeze for several months. Use a sharpie and write the date on the outside of the plastic bag so you’ll know when they were stored.
HOW CAN I BRING A STALE BAGEL BACK TO LIFE?
Some people recommend placing some water and bagel on a plate and microwaving. I’m not a huge fan of this method. Chatelaine.com uses an oven instead which is more gradual and gives better results.