That time I mastered making bagels at home (and you can, too!)

The finished product. Beauties, aren't they? Photo by Lara Cerri, Tampa Bay Times

The finished product. Beauties, aren't they? Photo by Lara Cerri, Tampa Bay Times

It should come as no surprise that some of my greatest kitchen triumphs are carb-related. Because my love for bread runs deep, I have always been interested in learning how to make the stuff at home. And today we're heading back into the archives, because two years ago this week I reached the holy carby grail: BAGELS. 

Here's what I wrote back then: There are a couple of key secrets to bagelmaking — fudge any one of these steps and you could end up with dense rounds of dough. But once you master them, the entire process is pretty straightforward. Heck, the actual dough contains just five ingredients: flour, yeast, water, sugar and salt. The most laborious part may be summoning the patience to let the dough rise — twice.

So true! The process is lengthy but not difficult, and taking a bite of your hot-from-the-oven bagel and realizing you just made bagels is very exciting. You can totally do it. And the weekend is a good time to practice. Here's my best advice:

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Step 1: Use bread flour

Most bagel recipes call for bread flour, or high-gluten flour, which helps create more gluten in the dough. This is what gives bagels their signature chew and texture. Bread flour is found in most grocery stores near the regular flour.

Step 2: Add sugar

Most bread products need sugar to activate the yeast, but bagels especially benefit from some sort of sweetener. Adding sugar to the dough gives bagels their shiny brown crust, and provides an extra kick of flavor. Regular sugar or honey work well; the recipe below calls for both. Some recipes call for malt syrup, which health food stores typically have on hand if your regular grocery store doesn't.

Step 3: Shaping them

Getting that distinctive bagel shape can be the toughest part about making them yourself. There are a couple of different methods. The rope-and-loop method calls for rolling the dough with your hand to form a long snake shape, then looping it around your hand to form a circle, then rolling the part where the dough meets itself on the counter to seal it. The other way, the stretch-and-poke method, calls for stretching and shaping the dough into a round, bagel-like shape, then poking a hole in the middle with your finger. I like the first method because it tends to produce a rounder, less flat bagel.

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Step 4: Boil them

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What sets a bagel apart from, say, a roll? Bagels get a bath. Traditionally, they are boiled in a pot of bubbling water before they are baked, which helps set the crust and keep it hard (but not too hard) and chewy. Make sure your water is generously salted. Some recipes also call for the addition of sugar (I like to use brown sugar) or baking powder to help give the bagels more color or shine. Boil each bagel on one side for about 1 minute, then flip and let them boil on the other side for the same amount of time. When they're done, transfer with a slotted spoon or fork to a baking sheet. Tip: This is the best time to add your toppings, because the bagels will still be sticky from the water.

Step 5: Oven temperature

Bagels require a really hot oven to cook properly, at least 400 degrees. It also helps to turn the bagels over onto the other side halfway through baking, so they cook uniformly.

From here, knowing how to store your bagels is important. Like most homemade bread products that don't contain preservatives, these bagels taste best a few hours after they are cooked. To keep them longer than that, store in a sealed container or zip-top bag. You can stow one or two on the counter for breakfast the next morning, but in general, if you're keeping them longer than two days they should go in the fridge or freezer. In the latter case, slice the bagels first before freezing, then when you're ready to eat, pop one out and into the toaster, which revives them nicely.

For the full recipe and topping ideas, click here.