Serious Bagel Making

Food & Beverage

I noticed my pal, and fellow metro Detroiter, Jaime Wolfe posted some gorgeous photos of onion bagels she’d been working on this week on Facebook. Jaime tried out a recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers and the results look pretty good to me. Jaime sent me some background on the process and how it all turned out. Take a look.

OK, so I have a confession. I am secretly obsessed with baked goods. My waistline and thighs don’t really appreciate it, but my husband and dog do. So, it’s cool. The most prized baked good to me is the onion bagel. Chewy yet soft. Warm yet light. Oniony yet not overwhelming. A toasted onion bagel with cream cheese is my small slice of heaven on earth. I have attempted to make bagels a few times before and failed miserably. I had yet to get anything to compare to New York Bagel, the coveted of all bagels for me. Until now…
I read a book called Crust & Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers by Peter Reinhart. It was not specifically an onion bagel recipe, just a general bagel recipe, so I modified it to fit my oniony obsession. The key is starting with a poolish-style sponge. It is a combination of yeast, water and about half the flour needed to make a dough. It comes out looking like the goo from Double Dare (minus the green color). But the sponge is important because it “evokes the grains fullest potential.” My favorite quote from Peter! It is building the bread in stages as opposed to making the dough and just cooking it. It allows the yeast to do its job with a pre-fermentation in multiple stages.
Another thing I was doing wrong before was my choice in sweetener. Bagels are really basic: sponge, unbleached bread flour, water, yeast, salt, and a sweetener. Super basic. But the sweetener of choice is barley malt syrup. If you use sugar, they will not taste good. And my batches in the past proved that. I bought Eden Organic Barley Malt Syrup (Michigan company alert!) at a local organic store in Ferndale (Mich.), Natural Food Path, so it is easy to get your hands on. You can also use honey, but I wanted to go for the gusto on this batch.
The final tip is to poach the bagel in simmering water as opposed to just steaming it. Apparently there is hot debate in the bagel community. A traditional bagel is poached in water, where many bagel shops today are using steam injected ovens. The poaching is what gives the bagel the taught exterior, while remaining chewy inside: a unique characteristic to the bagel. Think about that the next time you are in the bagel shop. Is your bagel steamed or poached? It is a big difference. Support local poachers…in the bagel context of course.
Day one: Make the sponge, refrigerate
Day two: Make the dough, form it, let it rise, refrigerate
Day three: Poach, bake, and then gorge on yummy bagels!
I modified Reinhart’s recipe. I added poppy seeds and onion powder. I also added Eden’s Barley Malt Syrup and salt to the water that the bagels were poached in. I used a stone platter to bake them on. Finally, I gave the bagels an egg wash about three minutes before they were done so that they had a nice sheen. It’s a lot of work, but my belly is saying THANK YOU! And bagels are one of the best baked goods to freeze, so making a large batch at once is highly recommended. That is, if they make it to the freezer.

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