I read somewhere that “an unboiled bagel is just a roll with a hole,” and it caused me to think about the intricacies of various foods, how they’re made and what makes them unique. Good boiled breads, such as bagels and pretzels, are soft and chewy, and they take a while to get through. Fresh from the oven, homemade bagel recipes and other boiled bread recipes are shiny and deliciously yeasty.
It’s amazing how different something can taste when it hasn’t been corrupted by preservatives, trucked 1,500 miles to a grocery store and aged on the shelf for several days. Mass-produced bagels are vastly different from homemade. Most brands sold today are extruded; that means the dough is forced through tubes, mechanically cut to size, then steamed (rather than boiled). This high-speed process turns out thousands of “units” per hour, but it stresses the dough. Hand-forming a bagel, followed by boiling, gives much better results.
Why boil? Let’s look at bagels ‒ boiling is responsible for this holey bread’s unique qualities. Specifically, boiling serves three purposes: First, it sets the shape and kills off some of the yeast on the outer surface of the dough, limiting the bagel’s expansion when it’s baked. Second, it gelatinizes the starches on the surface, leading to a shiny coating and a chewy texture. Finally, it activates the yeast in the inner layers of dough.
Creating boiled breads is a multistage process. They aren’t a snap to make (especially when it comes to rolling and shaping pretzels), but they aren’t microsurgery either. After bringing together the dough, there’s shaping, rising, broiling (to brown the surface), boiling and, finally, baking. If you have modest kitchen acumen and a little experience handling dough, you should be able to pull off something resembling a bagel or pretzel on your first try. However, don’t expect to just whip these things out while chatting with company in the kitchen. Give yourself a few quiet hours to assemble your equipment and ingredients, play with your dough, and bake the finished little masterpieces.
Have some fun with these recipes – add toppings to your pretzels or bagels, or create uniquely flavored bagels by following the plain recipe and adding your favorite herbs, vegetables, dried fruit or spices to the dough. Freeze excess bagels and pretzels, and when you’re ready to eat them, defrost in the microwave and pop into the toaster oven for a few minutes.
Just Top It
For some variety, top your boiled breads – after boiling, before baking – with any of the following toppings:
- Poppy seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Caraway seeds
- Dried onion flakes
- Dried garlic flakes
- Red pepper flakes
- Parmesan cheese
- Cinnamon-sugar mixture
- Sunflower seeds
- Dried savory herbs
- Pumpkin seeds