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Water Bagels

We've hosted dozens of the most discriminating bagel eaters - residents of New York City.  And without exception, they have said Bev's bagels are as good as they've ever had.  Now this recipe is a bit intimidating at first, but taken in stages, it is manageable.  Be adventurous and try these, you'll be heralded as an M double B (Master Bagel Baker)!

Makes 1 dozen large bagels (4 oz) or 16 smaller bagels.

Time:
Sponge: 10 minutes mixing, 2-hour rise
Dough: 1 hour kneading and shaping
Retarded rise: Overnight
Baking: 15 – 25 minutes

(in all recipes C = cup, T = tablespoon, t = teaspoon)

Ingredients

Sponge:

4 C high-gluten bread flour OR –
4 C bread flour + 4 T of vital wheat gluten
2 t instant yeast
2-1/2 C water at room temperature

Dough:

3-3/4 C flour
1 t  yeast
2 T of honey

2 T sugar
1 T of salt

1. Make the sponge.

Mix 4 bread flour, 1 instant yeast, and water in a 4 quart mixing bowl. It should look like thick pancake batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place in a warm environment and let the yeast do its job the mixture will double in size (at least two hours).

2. Make the dough

Mix the honey, yeast, salt and about 3 C of the bread flour to the sponge. Save the remaining 3/4 C of flour for kneading. Yo can do this in a bread machine or stand mixer - but only a stout mixer will handle a full bowl of sponge, as it requires additional strength and effort (your bread machine might overheat!) Once all of the ingredients have been mixed in, knead the dough by hand, adding the remaining flour as necessary for about 6 to 10 minutes, until the dough is soft (not tacky) and a little springy. It should be satiny and smooth, without any dry bits of flour.

3. Divide the dough

Once the dough has been kneaded, roll it into a long 'hot dog' and divide it into 12 to 16 pieces. Shape these into round smooth balls by using your thumbs to pull one surface of the dough around to that it forms a nice smooth skin and squeeze the folds on the bottom together to seal this ball. Take it and roll it between both cupped palms to further smooth out the folds and form a nearly perfectly round ball.

4. Shape the bagels

You are goig to shape these into the rings that form the bagel - like a donut with a hole in the middle.  Grab a ball of dough and push your thumb into the center and poke a hole. With fingers of both hands, begin enlarging the hole until it is at least 3″ in diameter. Work your hands around the circle so that the dough remains the same thickness around the hole. As the hole closes up, keep stretching it until it shrinks to no less than about 2″ diameter when relaxed. As each bagel is formed, place them on the greased parchment, or an oiled silicone baking mat. 6 – 8 bagels will fit on one cookie sheet. It's essential that the bagels lift off of the parchment without stretching when ready to move towards the baking steps, so be sure that the surface is well greased.

5. Retard the dough — ah, here's the big secret!

Once the bagels have been formed, let them rest for a few minutes to allow them to proof. You can tell if they're ready by dropping a test bagel into a pot of room temperature water. If it floats, pat it dry. They're ready for retarding. If it sinks, allow the bagels to rest for a few minutes longer. Spray the bagels with a light cooking oil spray and lay a sheet of plastic wrap over them. Now place them in the refrigerator to retard overnight or up to 36 hours. Retarding the dough allows the yeast to work on the proteins in the dough and yields some of the classic flavors that make bagels taste like bagels.

5. (alternate)  You can freeze the shaped bagels for days and weeks.  Freeze on cookie sheets laid flat in a freezer, then place them in a good quality plastic freezer bag.  Thaw out on a greased cookie sheet until they increase in size, then boil and bake.

6. Boiling step – Place two baking racks in the center of the oven and preheat to 500°F.

If you ask someone the secret around baking bagels and they'll invariably tell you that it's the boiling that makes a bagel a bagel. It's true, but it is only a small part of the whole picture. The preceding steps have just as much to do with baking an authentic bagel as the boiling does.

Fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil. Prepare a couple of baking sheets. If you're using the oiled parchment, sprinkle some corn meal or semolina flour on the parchment. If you're using a silicone baking mat, the corn meal or semolina is optional. Take the bagels out of the refrigerator. Carefully lift them and gently place 2 to 3 of them at a time in the boiling water, without crowding them. If you put too many in the water at once, you'll cool it down below boiling. Boil them for 60 seconds on one side and then flip them over and boil for an additional 60 seconds on the other side. The longer you boil them, the tougher and more chewy the crust will become. . Place them on the baking sheet and sprinkle them with a topping or leave them plain. I usually sprinkle them with a small amount of kosher salt or sesame seeds. Poppy seeds work really well, too. At this point the bagels may appear lumpy and misshapen — not to worry. The magic of the oven will take care of that in no time.

7. Baking

Place the cookie sheets in the center of the oven and bake for five minutes at 500°F. After five minutes, lower the oven temperature to 450°F. Rotate the sheets by turning them around 180 degrees and put the top sheet on the bottom and vice versa. After another five minutes, rotate them as desired. My oven requires that I swap positions at least one more time, but other ovens may vary. Put them back in and bake for approximately 7 to 10 minutes until they're golden brown (or until they look like the bagels you remember). Once they're done, place them on cooling racks and let them sit for about 15 minutes. Then go get 'em!