Sunday, October 21, 2007

finally, bagel perfection

satiny smooth goodness flecked with fleur de sel

After many strange attempts, I finally made the perfect bagel. Of course, there's always room for improvement. But this bagel was everything I could ask from a bagel - plump, shiny, smooth, chewy, golden & delicious.

before rise ... plumper after 12hr rise in fridge

even plumper after boil ... golden & plump after 12min in oven

Earlier this week, I made the saddest bagels ever (see pic below) as a test run for a bake sale. My previous attempts had problems, but they were always plump and yummy. These were even lumpier, while also squat and dense: a winning combo. They didn't raise a lick during the 12hrs in the fridge. I used the Bread Baker's Apprentice recipe I've used before (which was ok, but far from perfect), but measured instead of weighed my flour. This set off a chain of events that I suspect led to the ultimate failure. This book suspiciously uses 4.5oz per cup while most other resources use 5oz per cup (which is also what my typical cup weighs). This discrepency always makes me second guess these recipes.

So this time I measured, as an experiment, potentially adding several more ounces of flour than intended by the recipe. My dough was so big and stiff, it was jumping out of my KitchenAid and I had to result to hand kneading. I was physically unable to add the final 3/4 cup flour and I couldn't knead nearly as long as I should have. The dough should be stiff, but it also must be kneaded good and long to develop the gluten despite that stiffness. So maybe with my poor kneading, the gluten didn't form properly, resulting in floppy, flat blobs. However, they were chewy and kinda tasty so I did eat three before throwing away the rest (I just couldn't stand looking at their sorry shapes anymore).

sad, lumpy, flat bagel wannabes

After this debacle, I almost gave up. But I had to redeem myself, so I tried the Cook's Illustrated recipe that I've been avoiding because it firmly states that you should not even attempt bagel making without high gluten flour (much higher protein than even bread flour), available only by special order. I live in Zurich and I can't even get bread flour (anything over 13g protein).

my new secret weapon

But my step-mom recently brought me a secret weapon - vital wheat gluten. You add 1 tsp per cup of flour to increase the gluten/protein level of any flour. I used 6 tsp to my 4 cups of flour and I think this made a huge difference. The dough was so elastic and strong, not just stiff. It was amazing! Shaping was a breeze; I rolled into a smooth rope and firmly fastened the ends into a circle, seemingly just as nature intended. And they baked into satiny smooth golden wonders, a dream come true.

Now that I've made the perfect bagel, I finally know what the dough should feel and look like - super stiff, super smooth, not one bit of sticky. With this knowledge, I'm confident I can try other bagel recipes (with sponges and other techniques to develop flavor) and adjust the flour properly (as all good bakers can) instead of strictly adhering to the recipe's measurements.

Gallery of losers:

attempt 1: lumpy, lop-sided and pale

attempt 2: lumpy (raisins don't help), swirl instead of circle

attempt 3: lumpy, no hole

Other things I learned:
- Shorter boil (30sec total) is better. The longer the boil, the thicker the crust, preventing it from plumping in oven.
- Rolled rope shaping is better than hole punching - ensures super smoothness
- You must create a big hole during shaping, at least 2.5in for normal sized bagel. Any smaller and it will completely disappear.

Unsolved mysteries:
- I'm still not sure what to add to the boiling water. I'm kinda sold on baking soda, though the Cook's recipe adds nothing and other swear by barley malt syrup.
- Must find barley malt syrup. All recipes include this in the dough for "traditional" flavor. I don't know where to get it in Zurich.


Astrid said...

Oh my oh my, what beauties! You did it! Congratulations! This is exciting. I'll be going to the US in December, can I buy your secret ingredient anywhere?

Tanya said...

Thanks! Arrowhead Mills brand can often be found in health food stores or gourmet markets. I'll ask my step-mom where she got it.

Inga said...

I can attest to how good these bagels were....they never made it to the "official" bake sale..they were bought up by all of the sellers!

Aluwicious said...

Beautiful!!!!! Looks so good:)

xander said...

In Germany wheat gluten is sold as "Weizenkleber" or "Glutenmehl". Some Health Food stores carry it, perhaps you can also find it in Switzerland. Definitely have to try baking those Bagels... :)

Tanya said...

xander - thanks for the tip! I'm definitely looking for this on my next trip to Germany.

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