29 February 2008

Home-made bagels

Bagel ingredients. Just add water and yeast.

A few days ago I was watching Cuisine TV (like most days) and a French bread-maker and baker showed how to make an Alsace-Lorraine specialty, the bretzel. That's what we'd call a pretzel in America, but it's the big soft pretzel as opposed to the small crispy ones you buy in bags at the grocery store. I think soft pretzels are common street food in New York and Philadelphia.

This is the dough. Nice and soft but not sticky.

Soft pretzels are also common fare in eastern France — the Alsace and the Lorraine provinces — evidently. As the bread-maker, whose name is Gontran Cherrier, showed how he made them, I remarked to Walt that that was how I understood bagels are made too. You make a dough, let it rise, shape it as you want, and then drop the pieces of dough into boiling water for a few minutes for a first cooking. Then you put the pretzel or bagel into the oven to brown for a few minutes.

Cut the dough into fairly thick strips.

This looks like about a "foot" of dough, doesn't it?

Here are the 12 bagels, before they get rolled up.

Thinking about bagels sent me to the Internet to look up recipes. We live in France, but that doesn't mean we don't still crave certain foods we enjoyed in the U.S., among them cornbread, fried chicken, baked beans, thousand island dressing with iceberg lettuce, meatloaf, and of course bagels. We make all those other foods ourselves here in Saint-Aignan, at home, from time to time. So why not bagels?

The bagel maker met la main à la pâte.

The recipe I found was for "Water Bagels" — here is a link to the page it is on. You'll have to find it on the list at the top of the page and click the title to jump down to the recipe itself. Embedded in the text of the recipe is a notice that I'm not allowed to reproduce the text of the recipe on a blog or in any other way.

These raw bagels have risen a little
under a warm towel on the work surface.

The ingredients are pretty simple: flour, water, yeast, salt, and honey or sugar. The process isn't too complicated, but as with all yeast breads you have to give the dough time to rise a couple of times. You also have to simmer the bagels in boiling water and then put them out on a rack to dry before you bake them for a few minutes in the oven to brown them.

These are simmering in a good quantity
of hot water with honey added.

Now I know that the almond croissants I saw and photographed in a bakery window in Montrichard a couple of days ago set your mouth to watering, but a good bagel can do the same thing when you haven't had one in a long time. We can get cream cheese (called fromage à tartiner, or "cheese for spreading") at the supermarket. "If we just had cream cheese, we could have bagels and cream cheese... if we just have bagels." Now we do.

After simmering, the bagels dry for a few minutes on a rack.

But we can also get fresh goat cheese from the farm a couple of miles up in the vineyards, and it is spreadable too. Monsieur and Madame Bouland, who run the ferme-auberge, the farm-inn, called La Lionnière in Mareuil-sur-Cher, make the best goat cheese around. Their goats are free-range animals, which I've read is not often the case with the goats that produce milk for cheese in the Cher River valley. Just ask CHM — the last time he was here we looked far and wide for herds of goats, without much success.

Now they are ready to go into the oven to brown.
Some have sesame seeds sprinkled on, and some poppy seeds.

Be that as it may, a good toasted bagel spread with soft, fresh goat cheese is a real treat. And now we can have one, because we can make our own bagels. The secret is in the boiling, I think. The dough rises slightly but the bagel remains fairly heavy. And tender. And chewy.

Warm, golden sesame-seed and poppy-seed bagels.
Can you believe it?

None of the cooking takes very long. First, you do a seven-minute simmer in water to which you have added a little honey or sugar — that, evidently, is what gives the bagels their nice smooth crust. After 10 minutes or so of drying on a rack, into the oven they go for 10 or 15 minutes to turn golden brown.

It's funny, the first 6 came out more puffed up
than the second 6, but we don't know why.

Of course, a third cooking is usually desirable, and that's a light toasting in a grille-pain or in the oven. Bagels are better if they are at least warmed through before you eat them. Yesterday Walt got some smoked salmon from Intermarché, so we are having our version of lox and bagels for lunch today.

And here they are, ready for the eating.

If you are in America, you of course have no real need to make your own bagels. But if the only bagels you can get are the ones from the supermarket, I'll tell you: these are better. Of course, you might need for Walt to come and make them for you. I'll come along and take pictures and then eat a bagel with you. Do you want me to bring the goat cheese?


  1. oven was already hot ;-) - the second cannot take time to puff

  2. Yesterday I was at Irving's in State College, stocking up on the best bagels in rural PA. Later I bought some goat cheese and wondered if they'd go well together. At the time I thought not, but now I can't wait to try it.

    By the way, congratulations on baking bagels. To me they are the fussiest thing I've ever baked. Pita is a snap by comparison.

  3. Add some smoked salmon on top of the cream cheese ;-Miam !Miam!

  4. I'd love for you to bring some goat cheese! I bet that goat cheese sprinkled with a bit of honey and herbes de provence would be yummy.

  5. I like your foot. Who needs a little toe to walk?
    It smells so good.I expect you and Walt anytime. Bring everything, even the water. But above all bring the weather!

  6. I agree with Claudia... smells SO good. I may have to run to the bagel store because I'm too lazy and too hungry to make my own bagels right now. Thanks for sharing your bagel adventure.

  7. Ch, if we had a House of Bagels shop within a couple of kilometers of the house, we would just drive there too. Bagels are good.

  8. The main difference between "real" bagels, like the ones you made, and the style available at all too many bagel emporiums in the US is the boiling. The Noah's chain, for example, steams them instead of boiling. The result is light and fluffy -- everything a bagel shouldn't be. Yours look wonderful -- and I bet they tasted even better. And with a little lox and goat cheese, yum.

  9. Hi Susan, well, that explains why I never liked Noah's Bagels. Ours were very good b any standards I'm aware of. It probably sounds strange when I say that some of the best bagels I've ever had come from the House of Bagels in Sunnyvale. But they are so good. And I've had bagels at the Carnegie Deli in NY too.

  10. Ken, you should stop in Montreal the next time you are in North America. We have got two great places for bagels and you can even watch the bagels being made ( from the dough to boiling and baking in this huge brick oven) .
    BTW: after my gym I made a detour to go and bought a couple of dozens with sesame seeds

  11. Susan, I couldn't agree with you more! Not only that Noah's bagels are sub-par, I have found their staff to be surly at times when I've stopped in (Los Altos). My favorite... House of Bagels. And, yes, I did stop there this morning after reading Ken's post. I was not disappointed.

    Beaver, I would love to visit Montreal and sample the bagels!

  12. P.S. I don't know where my family buys bagels in Chicago, but they are equal to or better than the aforementioned House of Bagels in Sunnyvale.

  13. I am duly impressed. By the way, if you're ever pressed for time, Picard's bagels are pretty good.

  14. Hi Betty, our problem with Picard is that the closest store is 40 km from Saint-Aignan. We don't go there (meaning Blois) often. The next closest is Tours Sud — 60 km.

  15. Yes, that tends to be a problem with frozen food, LOL! And anyway, if you have time to make fresh bagels, what's the use?

  16. Aha, I did some checking and the House of Bagels Ken and Cheryl are raving about is the same chain that we used to go to when we lived in San Francisco. Their main store is on Geary between Park Presidio and 14th and they do have the best bagels I've had in California. We stopped there last week when we were taking a visitor on a tour that just happened to include that part of town, ahem. I bet Ken and Walt's were better, though.

    And Cheryl, I know what you mean about the surliness that seems to be endemic at Noah's -- it must be caused by the chagrin that comes from serving inferior bagels.


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