Hopefully, sometime in your life, you have had the opportunity to enjoy the fresh, soft, chewy, doughy piece of heaven known as a bagel. I am not talking about the commercially frozen or shelf stable versions that some call bagels, but the “just out of the oven where is the schmear?” bagel.
So, what is a bagel? A bagel is a yeast bread roll with an O-ring shape. It typically has a shiny, crispy crust and a chewy inside. These features are the result of the bagel’s composition, rising time and the dough-boiling step prior to baking. Traditional bagels are very chewy while commercial bagels tend to have a bread-like texture. They are topped with “everything:” cheese, sea salt and sesame seeds, just to name a few.
What is “schmear?” Typically, schmear is a cream cheese base with added ingredients such as smoked salmon and capers, chives, fruits or pretty much anything that sounds good on your bagel. Breaking with tradition, I typically use Mascarpone for my base as it has both the buttery and cream cheese flavor.
Bagels originally were brought to the United States by Polish-Jewish immigrants who settled in the Northeast area. Bagels were made by hand until 1960 when Dan Thompson invented the first bagel-forming machines. In 1962, the Lender Co. introduced frozen bagels that were made on high-speed production lines and sold through supermarkets.
An interesting fun fact: With this same recipe and one small addition (2/3 cup baking soda), you can also make soft pretzels. The difference is the boiling of the dough and the shaping of the dough. Should you want to make soft pretzels, then shape your dough into your favorite pretzel shape rather than the bagel shape. Add 2/3 cup baking soda to your boiling water... only add the baking soda if you are making soft pretzels; do not do this for bagels. The rest of the recipe steps are the same.
This recipe makes a New York style bagel, which tends to be a little fatter and chewier.
Makes: 8 medium-sized bagels
Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1⁄2 tablespoons (4 1⁄2 teaspoons) granulated sugar
1 1⁄4 cups warm water (you may need ±1⁄4 cup)
3 1⁄2 cups bread flour or high gluten flour (will need extra for kneading) 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
In 1⁄2 cup of the warm water, pour in the sugar and yeast. Do not stir. Let it sit for five minutes and then stir the yeast and sugar mixture until it all dissolves in the water.
Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the yeast and sugar mixture.
Pour 1/3 cup of the remaining warm water into the well. Mix and stir in the rest of the water as needed. Depending on where you live, you might need to add anywhere from a couple tablespoons to about 1⁄4 cup of water. You want moist and firm dough after you have mixed it.
On a floured countertop, knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Try working in as much flour as possible to form a firm and stiff dough.
Lightly brush a large bowl with oil and turn the dough to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp dish towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size. Punch the dough down, and let it rest for another 10 minutes.
Carefully divide the dough into 8 pieces (I used a scale to be extra precise, but it’s not necessary). Shape each piece into a round. Now, take a dough ball and press it gently against the countertop (or whatever work surface you’re using), moving your hand and the ball in a circular motion pulling the dough into itself while reducing the pressure on top of the dough slightly until a perfect dough ball forms (as pictured below). Repeat with 7 other dough rounds.
Coat a finger in flour, and gently press your finger into the center of each dough ball to form a ring. Stretch the ring to about 1⁄3 the diameter of the bagel and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet.
Repeat the same step with the remaining dough.
After shaping the dough rounds and placing them on the cookie sheet, cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Reduce the heat. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to lower the bagels into the water. Boil as many as you are comfortable with boiling. Once the bagels are in, it shouldn’t take too long for them to float to the top (a couple seconds). Let them sit there for 1 minute and them flip them over to boil for another minute. Extend the boiling times to 2 minutes each, if you’d prefer a chewier bagel (results will give you a more New York Style bagel with this option).
If you want to top your bagels you will need to use an egg wash to get the toppings to stick before putting the bagels into the oven, transfer them to a lightly oiled baking sheet or parchment paper covered baking pan,
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack.
Cynthia Ferris-Bennett, a Nevada native, is the owner of the Sierra Chef Culinary Center, Italian Bakery and Gourmet Market in Genoa, which specializes in weekly cooking classes, gourmet culinary pantry and market, Italian desserts and pastries. She manages the Sierra Chef Farmers Market on Wednesdays in Carson Valley May through September. Ferris-Bennett also is the event manager for Orchard House in Historic Genoa for weddings and events. Sierra Chef recently was honored with the 2019 Douglas County Spotlight Award for Retail.