Having lived in the South for almost eight years now, there’s very little I miss about the Great Frozen North where I grew up. Good bagels are one of those things. Every time I go home, my mom stocks up on good Chicago bagels (and lox, if I’m lucky).
Birmingham has a reasonably-sized Jewish population; you’d think we have one halfway decent bagel shop. We do not. Not even an Einstein Bros., which has locations in Auburn and Troy, oddly enough. (And don’t get me started on the mushy garbage that is a grocery-store bagel.)
So what’s a desperate foodie to do? Make my own, of course. I found a surprisingly easy and deliciously successful bagel recipe from CHOW. (Full disclosure: I interned at CHOW a few years back, but had nothing to do with this recipe.)
The photo above is my first batch, which came out beautifully. I’ve been making a dozen about once a month since and haven’t had any problems at all. The recipe has a lot of different steps, but only takes about two hours start-to-finish, including rising and baking.
- The recipe calls for malt syrup to give the bagels authentic flavor. It really does help, and isn’t as hard to find as the recipe makes it seem. I got mine at Golden Temple; try your local Whole Foods or other organic/natural/run-by-hippies grocery.
- The CHOW recipe is a bit heavy on salt. I use a tablespoon and a half instead of two tablespoons.
- Cooking in simmering water before baking is what makes a bagel a bagel and gives it that kinda leathery surface you want. Make sure the water is not boiling, just simmering, and feel free to cook for a little longer than the 30 seconds they call for—the texture will end up better.
- Whole-wheat bagels work really well with this recipe, too. Substitute half the bread flour for whole wheat.
- If you’re topping with onion, don’t caramelize the onion before topping the bagel and baking—it’ll burn like in the photo. Chop the onion pretty fine, then saute just until it starts to soften, maybe 2 minutes. The oven will get the onion nice and brown.
- Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onion, and coarse salt are the ONLY acceptable toppings for a bagel this good. I cannot vouch for your bagel if you put cheese or nuts or any other weird crap on it.