Homemade bagels - it's not a huge project or a task only for proficient bakers. Basic, plain bagels are surprisingly easy to make at home: prepare the dough the night before and cook them the next morning. New York bagel experience at home!
Bagels are zombie bread
Bagels are magic. Anyone who knows a thing or two about bread, dough and all things yeasty will work out that if you stick a bit of yeast dough into boiling water the yeast will be killed off and there’s no way it can come back to life and rise further in the oven. But bagels do - zombie breads or what?
Why are bagels boiled?
The method seems bizarre and yet it works, regardless of voodoo factors. The reason why bagels are dunked in boiling water goes back centuries: persecuted Jewish communities were not allowed to use the village baker's oven where all the Christians brought their loaves to be baked - lest they poison the roaring furnace presumably - and so they had to inventively find another way of cooking their bread.
The origin of bagels
That's one theory; another more boringly says bagels were copied on the Polish obwarzanek, 14th century small round bread eaten at Lent, doubtless related to the German pretzel.
But the best tale traces bagels to Jewish communities in Russia under a particularly greedy Tsar demanding a tenth of all the bread they baked, and to come from the middle of each loaf, thus effectively depriving them of bread altogether. Cleverly, they came up with bagel, where a tenth of the bread, precisely in the middle is - nothing.
How to bake the best bagels
I had struggled with bagels for a while, using various sources and resources but for a long time they'd refused to rise from dead, remaining invariably, albeit quite tasty, flat as pancakes. Only since I encountered Dan Lepard's recipe (Short & Sweet – The Best of Home Baking), things have been on the rise.
I have modified the recipe slightly to give them a slow and long rising to improve the flavour. It sounds like an awful lot of work: shaping, boiling, baking, but it really is not. And the end result will save you about £3k not having to travel to New York or Montreal for a decent bagel.