Saturday, August 21, 2010


July 8th was John's birthday and I wanted to surprise him with a spectacular brunch spread. I knew he'd love bagels, cream cheese, and fixings, but I struggled for days deciding whether or not to make the bagels from scratch or buy them. They seemed so complicated! But the night before I just decided to go for it. Worst case scenario I'd run out the next morning and buy a few. As it turns out, bagels are a bit time consuming but not difficult. You have to allow about three hours of prep time the night before (including rising time), but once they're prepped, the boiling and baking part doesn't take long.

The first time I made them I used regular spelt flour instead of bread flour and they turned out fine. Bread flour has a higher gluten content than all-purpose flour, but I've never seen spelt bread flour. The second time I made them, I added some powdered wheat gluten to my flour. Wheat gluten can be found in most baking/spice isles of grocery stores, and the ratio is 1 tablespoon gluten to one cup flour to make a substitute for bread flour. I was reluctant at first since the bagels turned out well the first time, but the bagels were much better with the gluten added, more bagel-like. I made one dozen with spelt and one dozen with wheat four. I made these bagels for our housewarming brunch and I'm still the talk of the town because everyone was so impressed. I didn't get any pictures of them the second time around because they disappeared while I was in the kitchen boiling and baking the last few.

The one weird ingredient is malt powder. The first time I made them I went to Whole Foods to inquire about it. A helpful employee said they were out but he stole me a ramekin full from their bakery. The second time I made them I went back to Whole Foods hoping the same scenario would play out. No luck, but an equally helpful employee said that barley malt works just as well.

I got this recipe from The Fresh Loaf, and I chose it because someone commented that they made them successfully with spelt flour. The recipe yields one dozen bagels, but if you're baking for a crowd, plan on every other person having 2. I made about equal numbers of sesame, poppy seed, onion, salt and pepper, and cinnamon and maple sugar. From my experience, onion was the most popular followed by sesame. Next time I'll experiment folding stuff into the dough like blueberries or herbs or olives.


1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups bread flour
2 1/2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3 3/4 cups bread flour
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons malt powder
1 tablespoon malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar

Finishing touches:
1 tablespoon malt powder/syrup for the water
Cornmeal for dusting the pan
Toppings for the bagels such as seeds, salt, onion, or garlic

The Night Before

1. Stir the yeast into the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and stir until all ingredients are blended. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for two hours.

2. Remove the plastic wrap and stir the additional yeast into the sponge. Add 3 cups of the flour, the malt powder and the salt into the bowl and mix until all of the ingredients form a ball. You need to work in the additional 3/4 cups of flour to stiffen the dough, either while still mixing in the bowl or while kneading. The dough should be stiffer and drier than normal bread dough, but moist enough that all of the ingredients are well blended.

3. Pour the dough out of the bowl onto a clean surface and knead for 10 minutes.

4. Immediately after kneading, split the dough into a dozen small pieces around 4 1/2 ounces each. Roll each piece into a ball and set it aside. When you have all 12 pieces made, cover them with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes.

5. Shaping the bagel is a snap: punch your thumb through the center of each roll and then rotate the dough, working it so that the bagel is as even in width as possible.

6. Place the shaped bagels on an oiled sheet pan, with an inch or so of space between one another (use two pans, if you need to). If you have parchment paper, line the sheet pan with parchment and spray it lightly with oil before placing the bagels on the pan. Cover the pan with plastic (I put mine into a small plastic garbage bag) and allow the dough to rise for about 20 minutes. Place the pans into the refrigerator for the night.

Baking Day

1. Preheat the oven to 500. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding one tablespoon of malt powder. It is key to have a large pot and lot of water because adding the bagels lowers the water temperature and you want to try to maintain a boil.

2. When the pot is boiling, drop a few of the bagels into the pot one at a time and let them boil for a minute. Use a large, slotted spoon or spatula to gently flip them over and boil them on the other side.

3. Before removing them from the pot, sprinkle corn meal onto the sheet pan. Remove them one at a time, set them back onto the sheet pan, and top them right away, while they are still slightly moist. You may need to very lightly press some of the toppings into the bagel so they stick. Repeat this process until all of the bagels have been boiled and topped.

4. Once they have, place the sheet pan into the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 450 degrees, rotate the pan, and bake for another 5 minutes until the bagels begin to brown. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool. Top with vegan cream cheese, tomato, red onion, lettuce, roasted red pepper, or whatever your heart desires.

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