I never thought I’d be someone who made my own bagels, or I should say try to make my own bagels. BUT now I am. If you read other blogs, recipes or foodie sites, they may tell you that making New York style bagels “isn’t as hard as it sounds!” Well, friends, it is. At least it is if you’ve ever enjoyed a true New York City bagel. I’m not trying to sound like a bagel snob but it is really hard to replicate that crusty outside with the chewy inside signature to New York. If you’ve never had one, you just won’t know the difference. Add in the fact that I want mine to be wheat everything and well…its hard okay? But before you say it, don’t tell me that wheat bagels can’t be like regular bagels. They can come pretty darn close. I’ve had a few!
As you might know, my husband and I are New Yorkers (me a transplant from Jersey, him born and raised upstate) and we spent the last 4 years living on the Upper East Side. Which meant we were steps away from a ton of fantastic bagel shops including H&H, one of New York’s most famous bagel shops. When we moved into the neighborhood we spent an entire month trying different bagel places every Saturday and Sunday before choosing our “regular” place (we did the same thing with pizza places, but that’s a story for another time!). Bagel Bob’s on York was delicious, had breakfast sandwiches (H&H didn’t make breakfast sandwiches 4 years ago) and was conveniently steps from Carl Schurz Park where we would go to eat our breakfast then take Oscar to the dog park. This quickly became our Saturday tradition, hence Saturday Bagels! (Read the About page for more on how Saturday bagels came to be).
Well anyway, gone are the days of bagel heaven. We moved to Riverdale in the Bronx 6 months ago and sadly good bagels are just far and few between. Not to mention, the closest bagel place is closed on Saturdays! I’ve been having a hard time adjusting to life outside Manhattan (I know I’m only 3 subways stops away, but it’s different!) so I wasn’t and still am not ready to give up on the Saturday bagel tradition. I’ve been taking matters into my own hands and am on the quest for the best NY style bagel recipe! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
I’ve now attempted to make bagels a few different times. Let’s dive into my bagel-making journey so far…
From what I understand, and now believe, there are two (maybe three) very important ingredients in making a proper New York City bagel.
1. High-gluten flour – I won’t go into all the science behind why high-gluten flour is the best for bagel making but just know that the more gluten you have, the easier it is to achieve a chewy texture which is key!
I’m a big fan of whole wheat bagels, but in my experience I haven’t be able to replicate one using all whole wheat flour. I’ve learned that a lot of bagel shops actually use a mixture of high-gluten or bread flour and whole wheat flour to make their wheat bagels. So, that is exactly what I’ve done for each of my attempts. Wheat flour has a relatively high protein level (gluten is a protein) so it doesn’t mean sacrificing that chewy texture too much. Specifically, after some experimentation, I use a 1:1 ratio of King Arthur’s Organic Bread Flour and their white whole wheat option in place of whatever amount of flour in the recipe
2. Barley malt – From my research, barley malt is the New York bagel makers not-so-best-kept-secret. It provides a malty flavor that is signature to the NY bagel taste. Now the question is, do you add it to the dough, to the water bath or both? For the most part, I’ve used it in both because for some reason I’m convinced the more the better but other seem to think that it isn’t as necessary in the water bath as it is for it to be in the dough. I’m going to try a water bath with baking soda and/or honey next time around and see if there is a major difference. I’ll report back in later posts (if you couldn’t tell, this isn’t going to be a short lived thing for me!).
3. NYC water – This one I can’t really speak to for comparative reasons as I’ve always had NYC water when making bagels. I do know that there are bagel shops nationwide who have NYC water shipped to them for use in their bagels. Whether it is worth it or superstitious, I don’t know. I’m glad at least I have the water readily available if it is that important!
If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that bagels take time. You’re not going to get a delicious, fluffy, chewy bagel in under 2 hours, most likely not even under 3 so make sure you take your time and give it the attention it needs. Here are some of the most important steps in baking a delicious bagel.
Proofing – As with any yeast bread, bagels need time to rise and rest. This will allow the bagels to develop the fluffy, chewy texture that you know and love. Side note, this is where that gluten we talked about earlier really comes into play – it can stretch quite a bit without letting the air escape.
Rolling – Sadly, I am absolutely terrible at shaping bagels. The experts roll the dough pieces into long ropes and then form a circle by attaching the two ends. I’m somehow not able to get the two ends to stick together no matter how much rolling, smushing, praying that I do. So I’ve taken to the novice way and roll the dough pieces into a ball and create a 1 ½ - 2 inch hole in the center. It gets the job done, but the bagels aren’t all that pretty.
Boiling – This is what gives the bagel its crusty outside and chewy inside. Without the boiling, the crust won’t form. Also, this is where the barley malt comes into play again adding to the crusty texture when mixed into the water bath.
So far I’ve attempted two different bagel recipes with varying degrees of success which I’m not giving up on yet and have added a third to the list to try as well.
Sally’s Baking Addiction Homemade Everything Bagels I love Sally and basically everything I’ve ever made from her site, but I somehow doubted that she could make a good New York style bagel. To my surprise, this recipe is probably the closest I’ve come to making an actual bagel that I like. The only modification I made to the recipe is the flour swap I mentioned earlier in this post and they came out amazing! The photos I’ve used in this post are all from this recipe attempt. Moving forward, I’ll most likely tweak this recipe until I find perfection.
Peter Reinhart’s Whole Wheat Bagels I really wanted these bagels to be amazing. The problem is, the ones I made were really flat. I may have proofed them too long or maybe something was wrong with my yeast but it is hard to evaluate a bagel’s worth when they’re lacking some key qualities. There are many sources who swear by this recipe so I’m mentioning it now to give you all a fair chance at bagel success! I’m adding this to my list to try again in the future as well.
Sophisticated Gourmet’s New York- Style Bagel Recipe This recipe is amazing-ly simple which is why it makes the list. I’m a little skeptical because nothing about bagel making has proven simple for me but I’m holding out hope. I’ll most likely sub in some barley malt as well as white whole wheat flour as I did with the others but might give it a go as is for comparison purposes too. If any of you have tried it, please let me know your experiences!
The quest for the perfect homemade NY bagel continues and I’ll be sure to keep you up to speed on future attempts and updates on different methods and ingredients that work better than others. Have any of you made homemade bagels?