Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bagels & Giant Soft Pretzels

Finally, after a sweltering, dry summer, it has cooled off and I think I can say with confidence that Autumn is come at last. It's a great time of year for baking since there is an abundance of fabulous produce available: apples of all kinds, pears, berries, and soon, my favourite, pumpkin. But right now, I'm just glad it's cool enough to do some good old fashioned yeasty baking. Today, in a rare fit of energy, I decided to make a couple of things because they involved similar processes. I made Soft Pretzels from a recipe in the latest Canadian Living edition. I also made the bagel recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible. I must have wanted to do this badly because I spent $9 on organic barley malt syrup at my local overpriced grocery store.

Both recipes involved boiling each item in a sweet water bath. I began with the pretzel recipe, since the bagels required a sponge and an extra rise after dough development (though I skipped the 24 hours in the fridge part because I didn't want to make this into a two-day affair). I boiled the pretzels in a bath with baking soda and honey, and when it came time to boil the bagels, I just added a touch more baking soda and a bit of molasses to sweeten the water back up. Baking soda helps in the browning process.

Soft Pretzels, adapted from Canadian Living

1 tsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 pkg. dry yeast ( 2 1/4 tsp)
3 - 4 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
baking soda


1 egg, beaten (optional)
2 tsp coarse salt

1. Combine sugar, salt yeast, and 3 cups of flour. Add water to make a sticky dough. Turn out onto floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if necessary. I used my Kitchen Aid and developed the dough on speed 2 for about 6 - 8 minutes.

2. Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease all over, and cover with plastic wrap or a wet tea towel. Let rise until doubled in bulk.

3. Punch down the dough. Cut into 8 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a 20" rope. Form into a circle, crossing the ends left over right above the circle 3" from the end. Pick ends up and cross left end over right again. Bring ends over and under to bottom of circle, overlapping by 1/4" to create a pretzel shape; press to seal. (This is where I had trouble. My pretzel-shaping was really off, and they wound up looking more like my knot buns instead. Oh well. We live and learn.) Place on parchment-lined baking pans. Cover and let rise for 15 minutes.

4. Add 2 tbsp baking soda to large, wide saucepan of boiling water. (I added 2 tbsp of honey, but this is optional.) Boil pretzels, 3 at a time, turning over once with slotted spoon, until puffed up and set - about 1 - 2 minutes. Transfer back to baking sheets and let cool slightly.

5. Brush with egg wash, if using. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 400F fro 25 - 30 minutes, rotating if necessary, until golden brown and bottoms sound hollow when tapped. Transfer to racks and cool.

Bagels, adapted from The Bread Bible


1 tsp instant yeast
2 1/4 cup warm water
3 cups bread flour
(if using barley malt syrup as opposed to the malt powder in the ingredients list to follow shortly, add 1tbsp of it to the water in this step)

In a mixing bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer (should you be fortunate enough to have one, but be aware that this is a large recipe and the regular 4 1/4 quart or 5 quart Kitchen Aid bowl will probably not be big enough; also, the small watt models like the 325 and 350 watt ones require extra caution because this is a really dense dough and you don't want to burn out your motor; making this by hand may be safer), whisk these ingredients together to form a thick, batter-like mixture. Scrape down the sides. Cover with plastic wrap.

Flour mixture:

3 tbsp unsalted butter - optional (I didn't bother)
2 1/3 cups bread flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp malt powder (if you're not using the syrup)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper (I didn't bother with this either...couldn't see the point, really)

Combine these ingredients well and gently put it on top of the sponge mixture.

Cover the whole thing up again and let it sit for a minimum of an hour or up to 4 hours. You can also refrigerate it overnight for up to 24 hours. The sponge will bubble through the flour mixture - this is fine.

Stir the flour mixture into the sponge until it becomes too stiff to mix. Hand-knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together. If using a stand mixer, stir on speed 1 with the dough hook until the mixture comes together.

Knead until smooth and elastic, or develop on speed 2. Now, I have the 525 watt Kitchen Aid with the 6 quart bowl and I only developed this on speed two for a few minutes, because I could feel the machine heating up. At this point, I removed the dough to a lightly floured surface and hand-kneaded it until it was properly developed. Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes.

Let the dough rise in a greased bowl, covered, until doubled in bulk - about 1 to 2 hours. The original recipe now instructs you to deflate the dough and put it back in the greased bowl and put the whole thing in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight, or even 2 days. This allows for flavour development. I skipped this part, as I mentioned above.

Shape the bagels. To do this, divide the dough into 10 equal portions. As you work with one piece, keep the rest covered so they don't dry out. Roll the portion into 12" long ropes and seal the ends together tightly with a bit of overlap. Or, roll the portion into a ball and poke a hole in it with your index finger, gradually hooking the bagel over your thumb and index finger on your other hand, until the hole is about 2 1/2 inches in diameter.

Preheat the oven. The original recipe says 500F; my oven won't do that (it's old), so I settled on 450F. If you want to use a baking stone, chuck it in now.

Boil the bagels. Remember that nice water we used for the pretzels? Reuse it. Or, bring a large dutch oven full of water to boil and put in some baking soda (1 tsp) and some molasses (2 tbsp). Gently transfer the bagels into the pot, boiling three at a time. They need room to puff up. Boil for 1 - 2 minutes, turning over once with slotted spoon or spatula.

If you want, you can put an egg wash on them after they come out of the bath. Just beat an egg up and brush it on the bagels. Sprinkle on some poppy or sesame seeds, or some herbs, or whatever. If you don't want the egg wash, the seeds will still adhere to the surface.

Bake the bagels for 15 - 20 minutes, or until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom. Remove to wire racks and cool. Enjoy!

This sounds like a lot of work, I know. But it's done in quite gradual stages, so it's manageable. And the results are fantastic and so worth it.


sp said...

Looks delicious. It must be nice to be baking.

Heidi Grether said...

Good grief you must be a patient person, or you don't have a busy schedule??? Wow, I am impressed. Yours look like they should be in a mag or book! YUM!

Wandering Coyote said...

Hattigrace: Uh, yeah, I have a bit of time on my hands...

mister anchovy said...

both look amazing!!

Cakespy said...

ReTorte...I just came across your blog! I am making a comment since your email wouldn't load for some reason. Your bagels look amazing--having moved to seattle from nyc they're one of the thing I crave (and miss) most.

I thought you might like my blog too, since I just posted a few days ago my idea for "What comes after the cupcake" and one of them was retorte! And then I did a google search to see if any of them existed and I found you. Enjoy!!

Cakespy said...

Hi there Miss Retorte,

Anyway, I'm glad I found you online--I added you to my site, as a link!

I also wanted to see if you have any insight for me on the mighty nanaimo bar. My husband and I are headed for a 3 day weekend in Victoria, BC and wonder if you have any suggestions on what bakeries I might be able to hit up. I am especially interested in the nanaimo bar, which I'd never heard of before moving to Seattle. Do you know anything about it? Is it a favorite dessert around those parts? Have a good recipe for it?

Any insight is much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

These look great. Bagels take a lot of patience, I agree, looks like you did all the right steps....


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