Authentic bagels, characterized by a thick, chewy crust and dense crumb, are a rare commodity outside of New York, and they’re surprisingly difficult to come by even in New York City. As with many things in life, looks can be awfully deceiving, but when it comes to bagels it only takes one bite to discern an imposter from the real deal: All too often, I’ve bitten into unmemorable donut-shaped dinner rolls in disguise.
Named for their ring shape (“beygal” in Yiddish, derived from a German root meaning “ring”), bagels have not been part of my baking repertoire until last weekend, while I was visiting my parents in Woodstock, Vermont, for one last stretch of outdoor summer recreation, leisure and rejuvenation before jumping on the fall treadmill of city life.
Faced with the perfect storm of spare time, easy access to King Arthur Flour (home of every baking supply imaginable), and a commemorative occasion for a ceremony symbolized by rings–my parents’ anniversary–I set out to make some celebratory whole wheat bagels that would exceed my expectations, expecting to be humbled in the process.
It turns out that the process really isn’t as cumbersome or as nuanced as I’d expected, but nevertheless, I’ve gained a newfound respect for bagel making; for a first effort, mine turned out pretty well but could stand improvement. It’s safer to squelch any improvisational instincts the first time, stick to the recipe, and don’t take any shortcuts. The two-minute water bath serves two purposes: it creates a chewy, thick crust and it allows the interior of the bagel to develop.
My ten-pound investment in flour, which I hauled with me back to the city, means I’ve made a commitment to the homemade variety. Next time, I’ll experiment with the ratio of bread flour to white whole wheat flour and other techniques I’ve read about. Will adding a tablespoon of brown sugar (or, the harder-to-come-by bread baker’s secret weapon: diastatic malt powder) to the bagel bath create an even chewier, browner crust that defies scooping? After all, a love of crust is the main reason to eat bagels.