Maybe I just need to watch a few more videos on making bagels, but mine consistently look like they were tortured before baking. Baking sets the scars and dislocations in their places. Taking a bread knife to one of those bagels requires a bit of strategy: how to slice a bagel in half that has no dimension of symmetry whatsoever.
But this much I know: These bagels are delicious. Close your eyes, and it’s the beautiful flavor and texture that will win you over. Don’t judge a bagel by its appearance (I remind myself).
Nevertheless, I persist. I would love to be able to share the bagels I make without first offering an apology. I would love to see a little round hole in the middle, surrounded by a uniformly sized ring of chewy bagel.
I started making my own bagels when I ran out of patience with reading the labels of commercially sold bagels with a shelf life heavily dependent on sodium and ingredients listed only by their chemical descriptions. (The amount of sodium in a regular bagel is unconscionable.) I pored over online recipes, went through my various baking cookbooks, and recalled bagels I’d particularly enjoyed. While I am not a die-hard New-York-style bagel person, I appreciate that those bagels are satisfying in a way that bagels with lighter textures and densities just can’t match.
I call my recipe “Mostly Whole-Wheat Bagels,” although the ratio is 2 cups of whole wheat flour to 1½ cups bread flour. I like to throw sunflower seeds into the dough before kneading the dough for about ten minutes. What trips me up every time is the wetness of the dough: not wet enough and the bagel dough doesn’t stick together when shaped into discs; too wet and the bagel dough sticks to everything it touches. Either way, the raw bagels are already disfigured for life.
Occasionally, I’ll have a batch of dough that can maintain a hole in the middle of most of the bagels. This mostly happens when the dough is too dry. I transfer the raw bagels to a pot of simmering water using a flat skimmer. At this point (too late) it becomes clear whether the dough is too wet or not wet enough. You would think that putting a raw bagel in very hot water would be easy; it should slide off the skimmer. Here’s my observation: The wetter the dough, the more it clings to the skimmer. I have unintentionally tested this theory quite a few times.
I will continue to persist. But this morning, I had one of the whole wheat and sunflower seed bagels I made yesterday, lightly toasted. I closed my eyes, breathed in the warm scent of yeast and wheat, and bit into a perfectly chewy, flavorful bagel. It was a beautiful thing.