If there is one thing I miss about living in New York (and TBH there are many things), it is bagels. I'm not saying they're impossible to find (although some may say that), but the bagel CULTURE is just not here. Just when I had started to learn to live without, we saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen that promised perfect NYC-worthy bagels. Why not give it a go?
A true NYC bagel is crunchy on the outside, dense and chewy on the inside, and has a deep, savory flavor with just the tiniest hint of sweetness. According to ATK, there are a couple of key steps that make this possible: first, that flavor comes from barley malt syrup, which you can get at Whole Foods. When you get the jar home, try a little on your finger. It's delicious! Second is a long, cold proof. Unlike most breads, which prefer a warm place to rise, bagels develop best in the fridge over at least 12 hours. Third, develop the gluten with lots of rolling, twisting, and stretching. Finally, boil the bagels for a minute before baking to get that crust.
Our first batch, we followed the ATK recipe to a T. And after all that, they were...OK. They had the right flavor and crunch, but the inside was WAY too light and airy.
I have no idea what went wrong, but these were not the bagels I was looking for. Luckily, the magic of the internet led me to the Epicurious recipe, recommended by Michael Eisen via twitter. So on a recent long weekend family getaway in the woods, I attempted these. And like a terrible scientist, I changed a whole lot of things at once.
I used the dough recipe exactly (which is not that different from the ATK one) and let it rise in a bowl in the fridge for 30 hrs. This is probably overkill, but I wanted to be sure! Before shaping them into rings, I prepared the boiling water by the Epicurious recipe and added a peeled and chopped russet potato to get the water nice and starchy. I used the ATK shaping method of flattening, rolling, twisting, wrapping, and rolling to seal, just to give that gluten one last workout before boiling a minute on each side, and adding toppings.
Then I baked them in the $15,000 Wolf oven that happened to be in our otherwise reasonably appointed AirBnB.
That's what I'm talking about! I could tell the second I took them off the baking sheet that these were going to be just the right chewiness and density. And OMG yaaaasssss they were divine. Here is the amazing tomato, cuke, dill, & onion sandwich I made.
A couple of notes & tips:
- The recipe says it makes 6-8 bagels, but I'd say that's 6 small ones (by NYC standards), not even close to 8.
- Bagels will stick to whatever you bake them on, even parchment. ATK has a cool trick of baking them on a non-stick spray-coated cooling rack set inside a baking sheet.
- They are perfect and crunchy straight out of the oven, but the outsides will soften after they cool. However, 10 min in a hot oven (pre-sliced) will perk them right back up!
They obviously take some planning, but for a special weekend treat and a huge dose of NY nostalgia, they're worth it. I still think there are little tweaks here and there that could make them even better, so I'm all ears if you've had success making bagels. Gab away in the comments!