The Hole: Plain bagels with Golden Glen Creamery Cinnamon and Spice spread.
The Shit: We Seattleites love criticizing our local bagel options. They're too bready, too bland, too overly schmeared, too not-New-York. (Though I've certainly eaten a few that wow'ed my carb-loving palate.)
I have certainly participated in my share of bagel disparaging. But one thing I've never attempted is making a bagel. And that's just not fair or right. So this week, rather than picking apart bagel technique of a baker out in the world, I bought three packets of yeast and headed for my kitchen.Like anyone attempting something new, I turned to the internet, typing "best bagel recipe" into Google. The first hit was titled "New York-Style Bagels" so naturally I clicked. Because the recipe required so few ingredients, could be accomplished in an afternoon, and was the first hit on the only search engine to become a verb, I decided to use it.
Given how particular people seem to be about what makes a good bagel, I was rather shocked at the simplicity of the ingredients list (courtesy of Sophisticated Gourmet):
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups warm water
3 ½ cups flour (with extra for kneading)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
I've never really been a wiz in the kitchen. I once shredded my finger tip into the salad bar at the Pizza Hut where I worked in high school (sorry about that, Spokane). I also set my oven on fire in an attempt to woo a guy with broiled salmon.
So predictably I immediately screwed up the recipe by stirring up the yeast, sugar, and warm water without letting it set. On realizing my mistake, I decided that no, this time I would do it right. I threw it all out and opened a second yeast packet.
This time I followed the instructions verbatim, but still managed to splash soapy water into the mixture when tossing a utensil else into the sink. I looked at the few soap bubbles on the surface of my yeast mixture and decided that I didn't want to waste my last yeast packet, so my bagels would just have that fresh, recently-washed flavor.
The bagel on the left won prettiest bagel (only if you don't look at the underside.) The bagel on the right is better representative of the rest in my batch.
By far the hardest part of the prep work is kneading the dough. After finally getting the flour-sugar-salt-yeast-water ratios right, I was left with the task of folding, pounding, and massaging the dough into a useable form. I recommend focusing on something that's really pissing you off, like Tim Eyman. I would also suggest being at least six feet tall so you have better mechanical advantage on the counter top.
After 10 or 15 minutes and arm cramps, I gave up, figured it was good enough, covered the dough and prayed to the carbohydrate gods to make it rise. Then I got out of the house for an hour to keep myself from checking it every two minutes.
When I returned, I peaked in the bowl. Low and behold, my ball of dough had expanded to twice its size!
The next task was forming it into bagel wheels. The photos at Sophisticated Gourmet show perfectly round little dough balls. Mine did not have such a lovely surface. Most were instead lumpy, and slightly misshapen.
I prepared to boil the dough and, for the first time, deviated from the recipe. Eltana Bagels, which just knocked my cynical socks off, boils its dough in honeyed water. I find this obnoxiously pretentious, but I also think the bagels taste amazing. So I poured a couple tablespoons of honey and a teaspoon of salt into the water as it came to a boil, then dropped my misshapen wheels in for two minutes a side.
The most important thing is following the recipe Google tells you is best. Or spilling dish soap in the yeast. One of the two.
I was hoping the bagels would sort of round out in the boiling process. They didn't, ending up even more lumpy than they were before.
But it was too late to back out now, so I heated the oven to 425 degrees and popped them in for 20 minutes. The baking did them good. The lumpiest bagels emerged still ugly, but most of the rest had rounded out least a bit and acquired a lovely golden hue.
The real test, though, isn't the appearance. The key to an East Coast-style bagel is having a crunchy crust and chewy interior. Before I proceeded with any doctoring, I took a bite. There wasn't as much crunch as you might desire of the crust, but it did break in your teeth, and the interior was somehow both fully cooked and chewy.
I couldn't quite believe it.
When my ever-patient, bagel-eating companion arrived at home, I presented one. "You have to eat it," I explained. "For journalism."
He is a foodie (though the same guy for whom I burned the salmon, so he can't be that picky) and carefully chewed his bagel. After a suspenseful minute, he looked at me. "That's really good," he declared, somewhat surprised.
Apparently all you really need for great bagels in Seattle, is the first recipe you find on a Google search, honeyed water, a little dish soap, about three hours, and very encouraging friends and family.
Of course, even with all that going for me, mine still aren't going to win any bagel beauty contests.