Bake Club: Bagel Nightmares

I love bagels. Claire Safitz posted a a how-to video on NYT Cooking. It was a recipe from her new cookbook Dessert Person. Only it wasn’. She is a liar. Well…. It wasn’t the same recipe and this caused me stress because I felt like I was doing something wrong. I watched the video then read the recipe. I decided to follow the recipe in the book because so far – the recipes were fantastic. I figured I had nothing to lose. Except I had some issues, complications and problems.

The first one was finding barley malt syrup. No luck. It might be because I am in western Canada, or it might be because its a pandemic, I could not find any. The recipe did say molasses would be a good substitute. I had that – no problem. I used 100% bread flour as directed. My yeast was now a year old – and in my freezer. I had doubts.

I made everything like she directed and the dough was stiff. I had to let it rest a few times along the way just so I could knead it. If I had used my mixer like directed in the book (the video advised not to use my mixer) I would be shopping for a new stand mixer. The dough was that stiff – and very dry. Her video showed a shaggy but definatly wetter dough – ‘Add more flour as needed’ ummmmm Okay – sure it is dry here on the prairies but for the love of all things delcisious – not that dry!

I set it out to rest and rise – nothing. Okay – so my yeast was dead. I kinda expected that. I made everything the way the book advised. left it overnight, did a float test – it did not float – even after the suggested warm up time of 15 minutes. No floating. I popped them into the boiling water and when they floated after 3 minutes – I pulled them out and set them on a rack.

I sprinkled sesame and flake salt on them and baked for 15 minutes as directed. a few got a bit dark but they baked up nice. Cutting them was a another story – hole LEE! These suckers were tough. They were super chewy but SO DAMN DELICOUS!

Okay – I will try again but with new fresh yeast.

I tested and proofed the yeast – so frothy!

Followed the book again – damn the dough is tough. I could barely knead it. It looked like dried up brains. I left it to rise and headed straight to google to do research. I watched her video again. She used baking soda in the boiling water – omits it from the book. Her dough was soft and pliable. WHY???? I did some more research and learned Canada has higher quality flour than America. Canada has a standard that requires it to be 13% protein. This results in higher hydration than their American counterpart. American flours vary from 8-13%. Their bread flour is 13% – the same as our all-purpose flour. WHAT THE HELL??? I then started watching Montreal style bagel recipes and found they used bread flour but had more water. The baking soda makes a softer crust – chewy but penetrable with human teeth and no need for a chain saw to slice it.

Summary: Use more water. Use baking soda. Use less bread flour because we don’t have enough left in the pantry.

This is what happened.

I mixed tablespoons of fancy molasses and 1 1/4 cups of 110F water. 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast and set aside until it foamed – about five minutes.

Meanwhile mix 2 cups of Canadian AP flour and 2 cups of Canadian Bread flour, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Whisk together and make a well in the centre. Whisk the yeast mixture and add to the flour. Pull it together with your hands – add more water as needed. I ended up using another 1/4 cup of water to get the dough to come together. It was soft and pliable like bread dough should be.

I did not add flour to the counter – I kneaded it until smooth. The one on top is the hydrated dough. the one on the bottom is Claire’s version (Canadian ingredients in an American recipe). I kept kneading until it was smoother.

I divided the dough into nine portions per batch. Rolled them into balls and let them rest while I did more research. No one – and I mean NO ONE including Fairmont’s famous Montreal Bagels let the dough sit overnight in the fridge. Claire says do it – I say don’t bother. So I got my pot ready. I filled the pot with about 4L of water – and brought it to a boil. I added molasses until it looked like strong tea. Montreal version use honey and a pinch of salt. I like the dark colour you get from the molasses.

I punched my finger through the centre of the dough ball. and stretched to get a 4″ring. I couldn’t do it with the 100% bread flour – it was too tough. (traditional Montreal Style – roll into a log and wrap around your hand. Pinch dough together.) I covered with a damp towel and put three into boiling water. These fellows floated! New yeast for the win.

After boiling for 2 minutes a side, I transferred to a rack with a towel underneath. Sprinkled with sesame seeds and salt. Placed them on a bed of cornmeal and repeated the process until one batch was ready for the oven. I baked at 450F for 15 minutes. Same as before but none of the bagels were too toasty this time. I think that had to do with the dampness of boiling correctly.

I repeated the process with the 50/50 flour bagels.

I let them cool and then did a side by side visual and taste test. Both were easy to cut – thanks baking soda. Both had a chewy texture expected from a bagel. Thanks bread flour. But my recipe was just that much easier to chew. PLUS it was a bit more tender and had a nicer crumb. the 50/50 is on the left. They puffed up more while boiling.

I had one of the 50/50 bagel for breakfast – lightly toasted with butter. Damn…. it was delicious. I froze half the bagels and will eat the other half for breakfast this week. I won’t be following Claire’s bagel recipe again – mine was really good. Next time I make bagels, I will find a Canadian Montreal Style recipe and compare that for fun.

Stay healthy friends!

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