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The short life, and tasty demise, of a bagel: A story in pictures.

16abagelfieldAs has been noted here—and as if you couldn’t tell by the big picture of bread right up there at the top of my site—I love to bake bread. There is something about taking a few basic ingredients (flour, water, yeast, salt) and building it into one of the most fundamental foods on earth that is deeply satisfying.

Bagels are one of my oldest “treat” breads—when I was a kid, the nearest decent bagel place was miles away and I only got them once or twice a month. And since bagels meant a schmear and lox—the luck of a kid whose family includes NY deli owners and the people who loved them, the delis i mean—this was good stuff.

So it seems only natural that once I mastered basic breads, I moved to some of my favorites—cinnamon rolls, challah, onion cheese bread…and I worked on bagels…for decades…until about three years ago.

Then one day it all came together in this burst of steam and poppy seeds—dense and chewy, with a gloss and shine to rival my boot camp boots—this is a bagel worthy of the name.

Btw, I’m not posting the recipe because you really should go buy a copy of the Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Really, you should.

In the meantime, sit back, relax and enjoy a story of alchemy. Flour, water, salt, yeast, and honey. That's it. Just five ingredients. And more humble ingredients would be hard to find; you can find it all at almost any store, no matter how tiny. But with a bit of coaxing it's transformed, this time into glossy, chewy circles of goodness...but that's getting ahead of our story...


Starter: Flour, water, and a smidge of yeast. Mix and let sit 3-4 hours. (This is a double batch; I think that’s 5 cups of flour so far)


A bit of honey has been drizzled on the starter, salt and flour measured.


You can see how stiff the dough is by the spoon standing up in it. You can also see how much flour still needs to be mixed in.


Did I mention it’s getting mixed in by hand?


All the flour is kneaded in, and now the bread rests. It’s called the autolyse—I think I mentioned it before—and it allows the flour to hydrate. It also two important things to rest: the gluten, which is important because the rest of the shaping happens next. The other thing that is rested is…


…the baker, which is also important, because my arms are tired from all that kneading.


Next step is shaping the bagels. First, weigh out pieces (about 4 oz. here) and shape them into balls.


Poke your thumb through the middle of a dough ball and gently stretch it into a bagel shape. I usually do this twice, once to create the initial shape, and again to make a larger hole in the center. The few minutes it takes to shape them the first time is about the right amount of time for the gluten to relax and make it easier. The paper makes it easier to move them around.

Big, puffy, pretty things, aren’t they? It’s time to cover them and stick them in the refrigerator overnight. Since this it the only proofing these babies get, the overnight chill really helps both the texture and taste.


This is the coolest thing ever! I have cookie sheets that fit into my new refrigerator like a shelf. Just cover the cookie sheet with a bag and slide it in. How handy is that?


Boiling the bagels before baking them makes them chewy. The baking soda makes them pretty. I used to use sugar, then I tested them side-by-side and baking soda kicked sugar’s butt. (btw, I shot this holding the camera in one hand and dropping baking soda in with the other and I am pretty darned proud of it.)

Boil the bagels for about a minute and a half face down.

Flip and repeat.

I sprinkle the poppy seeds on while they are still in the water because then I don’t have the silly little seeds all over the kitchen. You thought there was a mysterious reason, perhaps?

The tray on the bottom has been in the oven about five minutes. It needs another ten or so.

Ta Da!

I sense a tragic end for the bagel approaching rapidly. Cue the bluesy guitar.

And a delicious death it was.

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