Bagels have become ubiquitous in American cuisine. They are available in every grocery store and many fast food establishments. Most of these bagels, however, are fairly soft and lack the character of what I like to think is the more authentic or old-fashioned bagel. The earliest printed evidence of bagels seems to be in 1610, in the Community Regulations of Cracow, Poland (see the Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten). Bagels in Cracow were to be given as a gift to women in childbirth. My recipe is based on one from Bernard, Clayton Jr.'s book, The Breads of France, which he got from Jo Goldenberg's, a well known delicatessen in Paris. These bagels have a crunchy crust and a chewy interior. They are superb right out of the oven, but keep up to a day at room temperature, and freeze well for up to 3 months.

Bagels are as close as you can get to instant gratification in yeast baking. From start to finish it's less than a 2 hour process, much of which can be spent on other activities. With very little effort you can have all the benefits of homemade bread - the flavor, the texture, and the marvelous aroma.



Yield: 12-18 bagels, depending on how large you like them

Preheat oven to 425°F.
Mix warm water and yeast in a measuring cup. Let it sit 1 minute until creamy. Put flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the plastic blade (or in a large bowl if you are doing this by hand), turn on the motor, and add the yeast mixture. If the liquid is not quickly incorporated, turn off the motor, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and continue to process. Process (knead) the dough until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes by hand or 2 minutes in food processor). Put the dough in a clean bowl, covered with plastic, to rise for about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare a large frying pan with boiling water and sugar or malt, let simmer. It's worthwhile trying to find the barley malt syrup. It gives a darker color and nutty flavor to the crust of the bagels.

When the dough has risen, turn it onto a flour-dusted surface, punch down, and divide into 12-18 pieces (depending on the size you want). Shape each of these pieces into a bagel as follows: roll the piece of dough into a smooth ball, press a hole with your thumb through the center of the ball, with thumb and forefinger, smooth the rough edges, pulling the dough slightly away from the hole to form a torus.

By the time you are done forming all the bagels, the first ones will be ready to boil. Have a slotted spoon or Chinese skimmer ready. Put 3 or 4 bagels at a time into the boiling water, and leave them for 30 seconds. If they don't immediately rise to the top of the water, use a spatula to release them from the bottom of the pan. Turn them carefully with the skimmer or spoon, and continue to boil on the other side for 15 seconds. Remove from the pan, using the skimmer or spoon, drain briefly, and put on a greased baking sheet. When all the bagels have been boiled, brush them with the glaze and sprinkle generously with seeds.

Bake at 425° for 25-30 minutes, turning at the half-way point, until brown but not overdone. Place on a rack to cool. Freeze if bagels are to be kept longer than a day.

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