BBA #3: Bagels

January 21st, 2011 by Chris

Although I was totally excited to try this recipe out, I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes for this third week of the BBA Challenge. Three reasons primarily come to mind. First, the bagel procedure involves a few atypical steps that I haven’t done before (boiling). Since it takes at least a few trials to get the hang of understanding how a new baking procedure works, I didn’t have high hopes for attempt number one. Second, I’m a New Yorker, and that means that I’m a horrible snob when it comes to bagel quality. As Reinhart himself says, New York City is the center of the bagel producing universe. It’s true – I grew up with the freshest bagels baked every morning from a whole host of mom and pop bakery joints (there were three with a four block radius of my childhood home). So there was no way I was going to match my own memories of fresh authentic bagels right off the bat. Third, and on a related note, I know that in New York City the bagel making industry is (or at least used to be) ridiculously secretive. Apparently the bagel-making union (yes, you read that right) in NYC used to only accept as new members the sons of the present members. Clearly the “mystery” of how to make a great NY bagel  was closely guarded and protected — kept literally “in the family”. Some schlep stranded out in the Midwest ain’t going to miraculously reproduce that kind of mystery in his kitchen oven. Sigh.

In the end, surprising, it actually turned out pretty good! Some BBA folks have posts up already, such as Adam, Nancy, Sue, Joanne, Lisa, Jim, Paul, DJ and Sharlene. So please click in and see what they’ve done. As soon as the other BBA folks check in, I’ll link to their bagel experiments here, so check back for links or go to the BBA Challenge page where their blogs are posted.)

With those totally low expectations, I forged ahead, more curious to see just how far from the ideal bagel my product would actually come out. In the end, I’ll say that I was surprised – they came out far better than I thought they would. Actually – they were pretty good! Not quite up to Local 338 standards, but that’s okay. It was my first batch, so I’ll cut myself a little slack. After all, I’ve got the rest of my life to approximate the perfection of the New York Bagel. That said, I definitely ran into some technical problems with Reinhart’s formula that caused me to shoot from the hip late in the game.


Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly sure how to rate bagel making. I had to think this one over.

What was the problem? Well, I was stuck going back and forth between novice and intermediate. In the end I chose novice, but only because the actual process itself really isn’t that hard. In fact, I’d say that the process is as easy or easier than it is for making the Greek Celebration Bread in last week’s challenge. However, bagel making has more steps, and the shaping part does require a bit of skill (not much, though). So I wouldn’t rate it as a beginner recipe – the simply process is novice.

At the same time, making bagels right clearly involves experience. Aristotle called this phronesis — he said that experienced people develop a kind of “practical wisdom” that allowed them to adapt rules on the fly to match the needs of particular situations. Of course, he was talking about being virtuous, not about making bagels. But the point remains: to make bagels right does seem to require a type of phronesis that a first-timer just ain’t going to have.  So that made me think “intermediate”. But then I swung back to novice: after all, the recipe isn’t called “amazing bagels” it’s just called “bagels.” So it seemed unfair to rate the difficulty of the process by measuring it up to some Platonic Ideal of the perfect bagel (heh, two philosophy references in one paragraph!) — the “Form of the New York Bagel”  — that is etched into my memory. So with that in mind, the recipe drops back down to novice.

In fact, if you didn’t grow up in New York City or Philadelphia, or perhaps Toronto, then you’ve never been acquainted with the Platonic Ideal for bagels. That’s bad, because they are amazing. However, that’s good, because that means the bar for making these bagels drops!

Comments on the Process

Reinhart’s recipe has four steps. Sponge, dough/shape/retard, boil and bake.

Step One – Sponge

The sponge is simple.

The sponge is simple – a high-water percentage preferment. I was a little taken back by his suggestion that by the time the sponge was ready, it would have doubled in size. I’ve made a lot of bigas before – and a few sponges — and they’ve never increased their volume like that. So I was curious to see it happen with this one because Reinhart said that it would double but then collapse if the bowl was lightly tapped. I was kinda itching to do that tap.

I don’t think the doubling ever happened, so I never got to do the tap. I was robbed!

I’m not sure why. Either the sponge really didn’t double, or I forgot exactly where the level was when I mixed it (I wasn’t absolutely sure). In all honesty, it could have been either. But just to see what would happen, I let it sit one more hour. It didn’t rise any further. So it either didn’t rise at all, or it rose the first time, I forgot to note the level, and then it didn’t rise any further in the third hour. I’m going with “it didn’t double”.

Normally I would have been a bit worried that I’d made some mistake this early in the process, but the sponge was pretty darn bubbly, so there was clearly a lot of yeast action going on. So I was reasonably sure it would be fine.

If it didn’t double, though – I have no idea why. It’s not like making a sponge is rocket science.

Step Two – Dough and Shape, Retard

The dough stage is pretty easy and straightforward. Reinhart does point out in the book that the dough should wind up to be tough and satiny when you are done, and he was right on target with that one. That’s exactly how it turned out.

<— Here it is

Look at that thing. You can almost see that it is tough and satiny in the shot. And it really was. In fact, I think this was probably the toughest dough I’ve ever made. It barely even stuck to the counter (if it even did at all).

After making the dough, you need to divide the dough into 12 pieces. At this point I’ll admit that I was a bit taken back by Reinhart’s instructions that each of the 12 pieces be 4 1/2 oz. Immediately I thought: “how the hell am I supposed to know if it is 4 1/2 oz?” Of course, I have a scale, and I could just keep adding and subtracting dough from each piece until each was 4 1/2 oz – but in my experience it’s really not easy to get a dough to come together at this stage as a solid chunk when you are adding new chunks of dough to it.  So I sight-divided (after rolling the dough into a roughly sized oval) and wound up with pieces ranging from 3 1/2 – 5 1/2 oz. I figured that this meant that my average piece was around 4 1/2 oz. Good enough. (In the end, I noticed that I wound up with thirteen balls – not twelve. Not sure how that happened, but that clearly screwed up the individual weights of some of my balls!)

One you’ve got the 4 1/2 average sized pieces cut, the next step is to shape them into balls. The process to do this is simple, but a bit of a pain. All you need to do is to press the dough against the counter with your palm and then turn your hand so that you roll the dough into a ball.

The problem I had here was that it was really hard for me to roll the dough in this manner against my counter. I’m not sure if the granite counter was the problem, but there was zero friction – and friction is what you need.

Reinhart does recommend wetting the counter a bit for added friction, and he was right, but I was surprised at just how often I had to wet the counter. Basically, every piece of dough required a new patting down with a wet rag. Without that, I’m not sure I would have been able to roll the balls.

Next is shaping.

Reinhart says to poke a hole in each and shape out a 2 inch diameter hole in the middle to form the bagel shape.

That seems easy enough.

Note that my hole is close enough (I’m OCD, I measured) – about 2 inches. By the way, you’ll have to excuse the beat-up “D” that I used. I call it a “D” because my father in law – who is 82 and whose name is “D” (yes, “D” – long story apparently) – is so often fixing and building things that my now 5 year old starting calling tape-measures (which at some point he seemed to always have on him) “D”s.

This particular “D” has clearly had a rough life, torn up as it is. It still seems to be doing the job, though, even if the “2″ is missing.

Back to the dough.

Once you’ve got this shaping technique down, repeat 12 more times (in my case), move on to the next step.

Next up: float test.

How hard can that be?

The book says not to retard the dough (which kept striking me as an odd way to express “put it in the refrigerator for cold proofing”) until the dough passes the float test.

What’s the float test? Well, toss one of your bagels in a bowl of cold water and see if it floats within 10 seconds. If not, let it sit out on the counter and warm-proof until it passes the test. I was curious how many seconds mine would take.

It took my dough….

….0 seconds.

It never sunk below the water for a second. That baby was packed with gas! I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but I’m going to assume it’s a good thing and stick to that story.


Now you can go and “retard” your dough.

Step Three: Boil and Bake

I had no problems with the boiling part, so I’ll just add a picture and then move on to the last stage, baking. (I will add that I boiled for the time Reinhart advises for half, and for the other half I doubled the boiling time to see if it made a difference in chewiness. I didn’t detect any difference, for the record).

<– Boil, baby, boil!

Okay, now we get to the area where I had problems. Reinhart says to bake the bagels for 10 min total at two different temperatures. I’ll be honest, that just seemed to me like a really short amount of time, but I figured he knows what he’s doing – he’s the bread man, not me!

I broke the baking into two batches, (half each). The first batch I baked for 12 minutes, because they didn’t seem right after 10. The second batch I went for 14 minutes, because the first batch (after finished) didn’t seem done to me.

As they cooled, my wife took a bite of the 14 minute ones, and said that the bottoms were amazing, but the tops were completely not done, and were still gooey. Okay, that’s pretty nasty. But how could they not be done after 14 minutes, when it called for 10? That’s 40% more baking time!

So I transferred the bagels to the top half of my oven. I have a large bottom oven, and then a smaller half sized top second oven. In the top oven, the coils are closer to the product. Perhaps in the long run I should have baked them up there? In any case, I re-baked the bagels – each batch of 6 – for an additional ten minutes in the top oven. That means that I wound up baking them for a total of 24 minutes, when the recipe called for 10.

At that point, they were clearly ready, though I’m sure they could have stayed in for a few more minutes.

I’m very curious to hear from everyone else how the baking stage went. Was it just my bagels? Increasing a 10 minute time to 24 minutes is not a tweaking. That’s a massive readjustment. Did anyone else have this problem?

Comments on the Final Product

Once I baked them for the right amount of time, they were really awesome bagels. It’s a great recipe. Did these bagels approximate the Platonic Form of the New York Bagel? (I’d put a “TM” up there after saying that but I can’t figure out how to do superscripts in this medium). No, they didn’t. But I would have fallen over with a coronary if they had. But still, they were really damn good. I would have served them to others without any worry at all. I even reproduced the nice crunch that I like in a bagel crust, and they were nice and chewy on the inside. Here’s a group shot:

Not sure if you can tell what I made here, but I made a few of each of these:

1. Poppy (the top one)

2. Sesame (on the left)

3. Asiago (right top)

4. Plain (bottom)

5. Sesame and Salt (hard to see, bottom left)

Kid and Family Test

My wife loved them. She ate three.

My 5 year old is still boycotting my baking/cooking (remember from last week – she says that I spend “too much time in the cookbook”).

The 2 year old walked around the house with the plain bagel. I’m not sure if she ate it. Every once in a while she’d walk by still gripping it. I think she wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to do with it (I don’t think she’s ever seen a bagel). She may have thought it was a toy. I’m not sure.

So all in all, I’d say that with the exception of my wife, who was positive, the kid-family test is inconclusive at this point. Still, I’m pretty sure they’d love these things if they ate them.

Other Photography Shots

I got a lot of good shots of these bagels. Here’s a sampling:

The whole platter -

A close up of the sesame one -

The sandwich I made out of one -

NEXT WEEK (Challenge #4): Brioche!

Making a brioche means I need to eat a few salads this week. Brioche has a lot of calories. I also need to order on Amazon some brioche tins, as I don’t have any. In any event, it looks appetizing! See you next week!

59 Responses to “BBA #3: Bagels”

  1. Adam Says:

    They certainly look yummy. I just started mine tonight so I can bake them fresh tomorrow morning, and the sponge is definitely doubling in size (maybe more actually). I’m a little confused by the process you followed. My copy of BBA doesn’t call for an overnight biga or pre-ferment, just a two-hour primary fermentation. Maybe that made the difference with the doubling?

    Also, I think it’s called “retarding” because the refrigeration dramatically slows down the rise, unlike proofing in which you’re trying to get some rise. But I’m just guessing. Maybe others with more knowledge can set me straight.

  2. Chris Says:

    Adam –

    Thanks for pointing that out – it was due to a mistake. I didn’t overnight the sponge. Not sure why I said that (I edited that sentence). I typed the post late, I was probably tired.

    You’re right on the reasoning for the “retarding” – you are just slowing down the proofing, basically to “retard” the speed of rise. Still it’s a weird word for obvious reasons.

    I’m also not sure (lack of technical knowledge) why retarding matters so much. I mean, you could let them warm-proof for 20 minutes, they’d be the same size. Why not bake them at that point? What does cold-proofing add?

  3. Geraint Says:

    Chris, they look, and sounds like they tasted, great! It seems they even passed the NY native test!
    The purpose of retarding (very common with sourdough baking) is to improve flavour.
    Maybe when I get round to making the bagels I’ll bake half with normal proof & retard the rest and see what difference it makes.

  4. saltandserenity Says:

    I love your philisophical discussion about making bagels. I do believe that phronesis applies to bagel making. BTW, “phronesis” is my new word for the day. I love it. It applies to so many things in life(even raising children!). I am learning so much from your blog!

  5. Chris Says:


    Thanks! I’m trying to insert *something* philosophical into each bread post. After all, the blog is about mostly philosophy and food, so why not? I figure if those parts are uninteresting, people can skip over them.


    I have a question about bagel toppings that I’d like to know your take on. Notice that above I had a baking time problem (I baked way longer than the recipe). Now some of the bagels needed even MORE time – the asiago ones particularly. I suspect that the melting cheese interfered with the proper baking time for the top surface. This didn’t happen with the poppy and the sesame bagels.

    So what would you do? I’m thinking that if you have an external cheese topping, perhaps you should bake the bagel plain, and then in the final few minutes, splash an egg wash on them and then apply the cheese and finish baking.

    I’ve used asiago toppings on rustic italian loaves before, with no problem, but that’s a 50 min baking time, so it’s a bit different.

    Any ideas?

  6. Adam Says:

    I finally got my post up here: They turned out great! I too had to ramp up the baking time.

    I didn’t try any kind of cheese topping, but maybe it would work better to add the cheese after the first rotation of the pan? I figure that you need to add the seeds, salt, and what have you right after boiling just to get them to stick, but the cheese should still melt and stick after everything’s dried up a little. So you might be able to add it later.

    I liked the part about the tape measure, by the way. My dad always seems to have one too. It’s like he can conjure it from thin air. Must be a generational thing.

  7. Coz Says:

    Wow Chris, I loved your post on bagels and all your photo’s. I’m going to start mine-I live in Wisconsin and there is some football game on tomorrow with the Packers I guess so I will be making bagels while everyone watches football. I also think you got 13 bagels because you did a bakers dozen!!!

  8. Chris Says:

    @Adam –

    (Added your post to the above link)

    Right, I think that’s the trick. Unless the cheese is inside, wait for the last few minutes and put it on secondarily. I think the melting cheese keeps the dough moist and stops it from baking correctly (or at least throws the timing off quite a bit).

    I don’t understand the oven timing problem. My sister-in-law decided to join along and finished her bagels yesterday, but she said that 6 min each resulted in overdone bagels. Which means the 5 and 5 timing worked for her.

    What gives? I’m a bit confused. She has a better stove than mine, but I can’t imagine that it would make that big a difference in timing (maybe in temp evenness – via convection – but not actual temp itself).

    @Coz –

    Cool! Looking forward to seeing yours! Thanks for the comment on the photos, though I’m pretty sure that the photos of my sister-in-laws bagels were even better. Hopefully she posts them here so we can all see.

  9. Sue Says:

    Here are mine!

  10. Chris Says:

    Everyone –

    The above post (and pic) is from my aforementioned sister in law!


  11. jim Says:

    I firmly believe no two ovens are alike..gas/electic two different animals.Even same fuel source ovens vary by make in performance.It took me a while to learn how to cook on an electric cooktop.The baker needs to learn their particular ovens temperment and performance..not an easy task.Especially when trying a ‘new recipe.I’m still learning…
    Did the bagel recipe before the Greek Bread due to waiting on the seed culture.
    Chris your bagels look great so do Sue’s.I also got a bakers dozen,although the last one was a bit smaller.I baked 1/2 on Sat to feel my way thru the process.
    Like Chris I’m originaly from Ny (bklyn),But I must comment that I was very impressed with these bagels,they were chewy & tasty,not quite NY,But here in NC they are better than what’s available.
    My Bake time needed a minute more also , I personally wanted a less brown bagel.
    I also added vital wheat gluten to my flour,first sifting in and then wisking thoroughly.I used 4 tsps total.That’s probably why they were so chewy?
    I made the second Half of bagels this morning…not bad but even though Mr Reinhart claimed they could sit in the fridge 2 days,I wasn’t pleased with the result.They lost so of their proof in handling.
    My wife and I really enjoyed breakfast Sat morning! Here are some Photos..

  12. jim Says:

    Here are some more

  13. jim Says:

    the last photo

  14. Lisa Says:

    Chris! The bagels look beautiful. Your photos of the process are great. I need to do a bit more of that. As to the time for baking, I increased the bake time to get the color I wanted, and time added was significant. The results were the best I have had for the three times I have made bagels. I have a better understanding of dough textures, handling and shaping.

    Is there not a brioche pan with several forms in it like a muffin tin? They are various sizes and sold individually? No time for shopping for me today so your amazon tip is good. I did get a new KA Catalogue and they do have various tins on sale!

    I have to check out everyone’s bagels. Have a great week and salads it will be for the week!

  15. NancyB Says:

    I think my comment got eaten…will reconstruct, and hope that the previous one doesn’t appear later.

    Gorgeous bagels, everyone! My post is here:

    For others who tried the asiago version, I found a post with Reinhart’s suggested modifications for them (8 min at 500/rotate/8 min at 450) and it worked well. There’s a link in my blog to the post where I found that.

    If anyone would like a BBA Challenge ‘badge’ for their blog, I made one to match the one I have for the Heavenly Cakes bake-along. Feel free to grab a copy if you’d like one–maybe I’ll make a version that adds the ’2011′ to it one of these days. I’ve got mine linked to my bread list where I track my progress, but it could also just be linked to Chris’s BBA Challenge 2011 page.

  16. Adam Says:

    Lookin’ good Jim and Sue. Should we be ready to call the third challenge the first universal success amongst our team?

  17. Chris Says:

    @Adam – I’d say so. A few of us had some problems, but I think they were all fairly minor. I for one would love to crack the baking time dilemma!

    @Nancy – Thanks for the Asiago note, that’s helpful! I figured afterward there had to be some adjustment for adding cheese. Though I do think now that the cheese should be added later in the baking process, to assure that the crust bakes properly. Likely a fast egg wash/cheese addition late in baking. Thanks too for the badge – could it say 2011 too? – I’ll add it to the BBA page later on today.

    @Lisa – I looked around for brioche molds the other day (I’m waiting for mine from Amazon as we speak). I saw plenty that were like cupcake tins, with 9 or so molds per tin. Check out Amazon or just google the mold itself, you’ll find them pretty quickly.

    @Jim – what’s the bagel second down on the right column? What type of topping is that? By the way, I totally agree on the after-time. These bagels do not keep well at all. You have to eat them right away or they don’t taste good at all. Where in Brooklyn, by the way? I’m originally from the Bronx myself. I suspect we’ll have some arguments later when it comes to making the pizza recipe!

  18. NancyB Says:

    @Chris: Give me until this evening and I’ll try to add “2011″ to the badge before you put it on the BBA page. Oh, and the bluish bagel is indeed poppy seed–I had a thick coating on that one!

  19. Joanne Says:

    I plan on finished my blog on the bagels today, but right now I have a kitten in my arms and am drinking my coffee and watching Fox News.

    Just a thought on baking times…

    I live at 3800 feet elevation, and my times are always off just a little bit. Usually have to bake slightly longer. My breads also brown differently if the dough has been retarded, if I have water in my oven, if I use honey vs malt, if there is oil or egg wash on the bagels, and finally if my project is being contrary! There are many reasons why it could have taken longer.

    Mine were not brown enough and I think I added about 4 minutes to my bake time. I boiled mine for 1 minute on each side, and a couple for 2 minutes on one side.

    Joanne (very impressed with all of the pictures I am seeing)

  20. Joanne Says:

    Ok, posted my results and process onto The Fresh Loaf. Here’s the money shot though….

  21. jim Says:

    @ Joanne: Those look great! onion/garlic topping?
    @ Chris: the bagel is an attempt at everything topping(mistake to use dried ingredients)should have hydrated them for a few minutes before ,as they scorched in the bake.
    Gravesend area of Brooklyn,could walk(1 1/2 mi to Coney Island,Mmm Nathans !)
    Pizzeria on almost every corner!!

  22. jim Says:

    @Joanne looked at your post at the fresh loaf..sauteed onions!! i’m going to give that a try,maybe bacon too.I guess whatever one can think of!
    Did you proof them over night before boiling?

  23. Joanne Says:

    @Jim: Yep, I proofed them just like he said to. The onions were awesome, just watch to much salt on them. My husband would love it if I added bacon on top, as for me the cheese topping sounds good. I was thinking of that and black olives on the next go around, but adding bacon to the mix sounds good too.

    I’m glad to get the tips on putting the cheese on top, because I think it looks so good that I must try it.

    Brioche pans: I think the recipe says you can make it with a regular loaf pan too. I doubt that I will make this more than one time, so I am thinking that buying something for one use wouldn’t make much sense.

    @Chris: I wonder if you could put the link up for the next bread we will be making, even if you actually make your post to it later on? This way we can keep comments for the bread we are making together, and maybe talk about some of the prebaking things too? Just a thought running through my head, and those can be kinda dangerous at times…..



  24. Chris Says:

    @Joanne –

    That’s a good idea.

    Here’s what I’ll do – I’ll start the thread for each bread on Wednesday, even though we’re not scheduled to actually bake it until that weekend. This way we can discuss pre-baking issues and other stuff related to that recipe. When I’m done baking mine, I’ll just complete the top part so that my post is finished (on Fri or Sat).

    I’d put it up earlier, but since I post other stuff too, I wouldn’t want the week’s recipe to wind up too far down the page by the time we actually post the completed pics/discussion.

  25. Chris Says:

    @Jim –

    I’m not sure why you’re having that image problem. I wonder whether your pics are too big, perhaps? I’ll check it from my end later tonight and see if there’s anything I can do to help.

  26. Joanne Says:

    Here’s a link to a BBA Challenge group. She has a list of breads, and if you follow the link it will show you her blog on that bread, plus she put links to others in her group who did that same bread. It really gives you a lot of different ideas, but it also helps with what to expect when you are making them.


  27. Joanne Says:

    Here’s a conversion tool for changing from ounces to grams. I find it is easier to reduce the size of a recipe in grams.


  28. Paul Mihalyov Says:

    Here is my attempt with the Bagels. I have a different bagel recipe I like that I use regularly but these turned out pretty good. I mixed up my salt and sugar containers so the dough got 2 3/4 tsp of sugar in addition to 2 3/4 tsp salt (luckily I realized my mistake and added the salt). This may have contributed to the browning they exhibited. I boiled them for 90 seconds per side and baked them for an extra 5 minutes. Unlike my other recipe, these did not call for flipping during baking but they still browned pretty evenly. All in all, I would make these again (maybe trying the cinnamon raisin form much to the horror of the bagel police).

  29. Coz Says:

    Here are my bagels and more info at my blog Everyone’s bagels look great and I have learned so much from all of you especially those from the East Coast, the true bagel experts!

  30. Joanne Says:

    @Coz: Just wondering what kind of flour did you use? I had trouble seeing what it was in the picture. I used bread flour, and my dough didn’t come out nearly as firm as what yours looks like. I usually allow my dough to autolyse for about 30 minutes after I rough mix, and this usually helps with mixing. This is a habit after years of having a very old mixer that I babied along, but it really helps with the kneading. I was actually thinking of adding a couple tsp of wheat gluten to my dough if I make them again.

  31. Coz Says:

    Hi Joanne, I am a huge King Arthur fan but they did not have the high gluten in that brand at the store. In the health food section I found the brand-Hodgson Mill, it is high protein and high gluten. The label did say made from hard spring wheat which I read in the BBA book as something to look for in high gluten bread flour. I could not find a gluten percent on the package. It was expensive-2 pounds was $5.99.

  32. NancyB Says:

    FYI, King Arthur’s web site says their high gluten flour (“Sir Lancelot”) is not available in stores, only on the web. My order of the Sir Lancelot flour just arrived, so if I get a chance I’m going to make another round of bagels for comparison to the ones made with KA bread flour. The family is asking for more–the half-recipe I made didn’t last very long.

  33. Chris Says:

    @Coz and Nancy –

    I must admit, I’ve never bothered to use KA, much as I’ve heard so many people talking about it. Why is it seen to be such a necessity? Perhaps I’m just not as well schooled in flour as I should be at this point. I use a brand of bread flour I get at Sams – 25lb bag for a little under $15.

    Is KA really worth the cash? What does it add?

  34. NancyB Says:

    I buy from the KA catalog only stuff I can’t find locally, like the more-gluten-than-bread-flour flour. I’m not enough of a connoisseur tell one AP flour from another, but these days I am in the habit of buying KA unbleached AP for my ‘usual’ AP and KA bread flour for bread. (I also keep White Lily bleached AP for biscuits and other low-gluten baking.) I don’t have the storage space or the baking volume to buy in bulk.

    I think I gained my KA habit after reading Beranbaum’s discussion of flours in The Bread Bible. She says KA is more consistent about gluten content than other manufacturers, and does tend to have somewhat higher gluten than others in each flour type. Even if I can’t tell the difference I like the idea of the consistency in a fundamental ingredient.

    So, why KA otherwise? I like the corporate story–don’t tell me if it’s a myth–of an employee-owned business that tries hard to produce/sell high quality products in a specialty area. They do a good job promoting their products through promoting baking, too, also something I applaud. Their baking blog has seduced me into several specialty purchases (and produced some very tasty results) since I’ve been reading it.

  35. NancyB Says:

    For “gluten” above, read “protein”. Which relates, of course, but is not the same thing. Beranbaum’s flour analyses were of protein content.

  36. Joanne Says:

    I use bread flour from costco (about $1.68 for 5 lbs), simply because it’s cheaper. The times I have used KA I have found that the depth of the flavor produced by their whole wheat flour is amazing. I am lucky to find it in the store locally, but usually they only have the AP and White Whole Wheat (also has excellent flavor). When I go to the big city, about once every 3 months, I try to find it at Walmart or Fred Meyer. They usually have a lot larger supply of flours than my tiny town. We can also get Bob’s Red Mill, but I find that the flavor is just not as good.

    Here’s the debate I have been having with my husband, who likes quality but also has a definite desire for spending less money. I use about 6 to 10 cups of flour each week, and maybe a total of 10 lbs each month. I think that is a generous estimate. Even if I spend $6 for a 5 lb bag of flour, that is only $12 a month. If I were buying bread I would spend almost $9 a week to get decent bread at the store. These are only rough estimates. Ok, here’s the tough part for him to swallow…. If I am trying to produce a superior product to feed us, then why not spend the money on the higher quality flours? I mean, I spend more on decent meat each month and would think nothing of picking up a $12 package of meat.

    I think I won this debate, because I have bags of some of the different varieties of KA flours in my freezer from my last trip.


  37. Geraint Says:

    My bagel photos are now on flickr:

    Hope to blog about them at TFL later but am not very well at the moment, but will certainly do so by the weekend.

    Was hoping to do the brioche yesterday/today or today/tomorrow but don’t feel up to it, so I’ll be lagging behind you all again on the next challenge as can’t do it at the weekend.

  38. Joanne Says:

    @Coz: Would love to see the crumb it produced. It looks like it was a lot harder to work with than regular bread flour.

    I really wonder what a higher gluten content would have done to my bagels, and am thinking of trying them again soon. My local store has a good variety, for the middle of nowhere, but no specialty items. I am in a pretty remote area, a single stop light town. If you leave town from the stoplight in any direction it is at least 2 hours till you reach another stop sign, much less light. Walmart is 3 hours away in any direction I go. Mountain views all around though….


  39. Joanne Says:

    @Geraint: What nice looking bagels. The crumb shot was more like I was expecting with mine. I am definitely thinking the adding the extra gluten would have been a good thing. Beautiful color on yours too…

    Hope you feel better soon…


  40. Joanne Says:

    @Geraint and Chris: I think that the dates for the actual challenge are pretty flexible, and that I actually was a week ahead simply because I started going through the book myself before Christ decided to host the challenge. My schedule usually stops me from baking over the weekend, so I try to do mine before or after just so I have the time. Normally I think the date on the bread list is the starting date, rather than the ending date. Is this correct?

  41. Joanne Says:

    That was meant to say Chris, not Christ…..

  42. Coz Says:

    Hi Chris-I’m excited to tell you what I know about flour. NancyB is right about the protein/gluten. In regular AP flours the percentages on those things can run a variance-not sure on the numbers but something like 8%-12% where KA is the same percent every time-no variance. They test all their flour to be at the spec. I work in a bakery and we notice the difference as we don’t us KA-much more expensive. Sometimes the muffins will have a nice big crown, sometimes not so much-that is because of those gluten amounts-it is not consistent therefore your product will never be consistent. The other thing about flour is to watch out for bleach and bromulate. Would you want to drink bleach out of your bleach bottle at home that you do cleaning with? Bet not. Well that is in your bleached flour. All sorts of other things too that the FDA say’s the consumer should assume it is there even if not labeled, for example plaster of paris-wicked huh? I do believe this past spring some labeling laws have cracked down on this practice. The reason for the bleach is it helps the product go thru the mass production machinary better. I have heard that U.S. flour was banned from export into Europe because of these issues although I have heard something about that ban having been lifted this past spring due to the labeling law changes. I have also heard that due to our soil vs. Canada’s soil-Canada can grow a more hearty wheat that produces a better flour. So much to learn once your dive in.

  43. Coz Says:

    Here is the inside of my bagel.

  44. Adam Says:

    So just a quick note to say that your bagels look excellent, Coz. And as usual, Geraint, your gorgeous photos make me want to move to Canada and open a bakery. Also, I hope you feel better!

    For flour, I’ve been using something called “Hudson Creamery Short Patent Bread Flour”. I’d always used King Arthur before but, for reasons passing understanding, the only KA flour my local markets don’t carry is their bread flour (???). I don’t have anywhere near enough experience to judge its quality, but I think it’s a good sign that the flour bag goes out of its way to mention protein content and all sorts of other things that I see mentioned in BBA.

    But now that I know King Arthur has a catalog, I might have to get a large amount delivered…

  45. Joanne Says:

    @Coz: Oh my those look good inside! I’m thinking I will definitely do another batch, just need to know what to do with all this bread I have right now! Filling my freezer is not a good sign….


  46. DJ Says:

    Hey everyone!
    So I know I’m running a bit behind but I made the bagels and posted about it on my blog, go check it out and let me know what you think. It’s been great seeing how everyone’s bagels came out! Here’s a picture of my finished bagels, tell me what you think. Brioche here I/we come!!

  47. DJ Says:

    Hey Adam, check out They have some great flour and they also list things like protein content and you can even get information for things like the falling number as well as ash content. I work at a bakery and we use a lot of Giusto’s products.

  48. Lisa Says:

    Hey DJ~
    Your bagels look amazing. Nice shaping, coating, baking….

  49. Joanne Says:

    Very nice bagels…. they look so good!

  50. Geraint Says:

    Hey guys & gals, I’m back on my feet again. Many thanks for the good wishes.

    I wasn’t really up to eating the bagels at their freshest (I read somewhere they are best consumed within the first 5 hours) although I did sample one pretty much fresh from the oven & it had a nice thin crispy crust & chewy interior.

    They were still enjoyable the following day & even the day after (see extra photos at end of with smoked salmon & cream cheese (lox & schmear!) and roast beef, gherkins & mustard. I didn’t get chance to try one of my favourite bagel combo: ‘wasabi melt’ (toasted bagel with wasabi, fresh tomato & melted cheese), but will surely be making these again & again.

    I’m planning to have a go at sourdough ones next time.

    Here in the UK there are few authentic bagel joints to compete with those of NYC, however I’ve been fortunate enough to live near two of them in my time: there are 2 bakeries on Brick Lane in East London which were always packed in the hours just before dawn & which I used to frequent after a night of revelry back in my late teens (& they are still going strong); and in my twenties, I lived in Leeds which had a large Jewish community and nascent bagel shop (‘Bagel Nash’, now a small national chain) at Moortown which we used to stop off at 6am for takeaway breakfast on the way to work.

  51. Geraint Says:


    Really glad to find out what ‘phronesis’ means (I know, I could’ve looked it up). There’s a young jazz band here in the UK called that & it seems appropriate to their style of playing (& they are good – they must be: they’re supporting Wayne Shorter when he plays in the UK later this year).

  52. Geraint Says:

    PS/ I think the concept of ‘phronesis’ applies to any bread recipe – flour quality, humidity, temperature and whatever are all so mutable. I read somewhere recently (if only I could remember where!?) about a French bakery where, whatever the conditions, the bread was baked at exactly the same time each day: master bakers controlling their materials rather than being controlled by them.

  53. Geraint Says:


    Re. baking time: have got an oven thermometer? It might be worth investing in one (& they’re not expensive, at least in the UK). I baked my bagels in my bottom oven oven as I know my top oven doesn’t get above 250oc (482F) whereas my bottom oven easily gets up to the 260oc (500F) needed for the bagels (even though the highest mark on the dial is 250oc).

    Re. flour. I’m sure as your baking progresses you will get to appreciate the variability of different flours, both different wheats (& other grains) & different millers. For the bagels, I bought a Very Strong Canadian Bread Flour (15% protein: protein content doesn’t directly correlate to gluten quality but is a good indicator) as the recipe specified a strong, high gluten flour. I will try this recipe again with my usual brand of bread flour to see how it compares, but I doubt the bagels will be as chewy.

    In particular, you will notice a huge difference between stoneground & roller-milled flours, both in flavour & performance (stoneground tend not to rise as well but are far more nutritious and flavoursome).

    Bleaching of flour has been banned in the UK since the 1980s but it sounds like this still continues in the USA?

  54. Chris Says:

    Geraint –

    Yep, I have an oven thermometer, and used it. Everything was a-ok. That’s why I’m so baffled at the issue I had. Note also in this case, I had the problem with the bottom oven (which ran at the right temp). It was putting them up in the top oven that seemed to help. Beats me!

    Only a year or so into the baking scene, I’m just not as well versed in different flour kinds as I should be. Hopefully the BBA challenge fixes some of that!

    Bleached flour is still widely available in the US, but I never buy it. I’ve read too much against it to ever consider using it. For my baking I just buy bread flour, which I think is 13 – 14%. The regular unbleached flour is a little lower on the %. I tend to use that for cakes/cookies and other sorts of dessert baking.

    Is there really a band called Phronesis? That’s too cool!

  55. Geraint Says:


    Totally mystified by your baking time issue. Have you asked the folks at TFL?

    It’s worth experimenting with different flours; the variety out there is amazing. There seems to be a lot of home milling going on in the US as well.

    You could use a bread recipe you’re familiar with and try making it with a few different flours to identify the varying characteristics.

  56. Frieda Says:

    This is a great post, with a lot of support from fellow bakers! I love the sandwich pic you have at the end. Yum!

    I wish bread baking was an exact science, but unfortunately, many factors come into play, the weather (humidity), temperature, and elevation are some. It helps to take notes, which you are doing through your blog, and try the recipe again.

    I added vital wheat gluten to my flour and it was by far the stiffest dough I have ever worked with. Shaping also takes some practice and you will get better each time you do.

    You asked about retardation…doing that helps develop the flavor. I have loved baking most of the breads in the BBA and my only complaint is that I wish the breads were listed in order of difficulty, of which you are doing a great job.

  57. Miss_Rachel Says:

    Hello! Wonderful-looking bagels! They look just like the ones at the store. :) Very well done. ;)
    I was wondering if perhaps it would be possible to post the recipe(s) with the posts you do? I don’t have the book, and most of the recipes aren’t posted online. :( I am kinda scared about making bagels, though I make challah every week (I read your post on that too!) but yours have inspired me to make them. :)

  58. Judy Says:

    Bagels! Was I excited to think I could actually make bagels! It was an interesting and different process. Unfortunately, I did not like the results although my daughter thought they were fine. She has never eaten a New York bagel fresh from a streetside vendor. Those are absolutely the best bagels anywhere! I was willing to accept a lesser bagel from my inexperienced hands but I thought mine were too dense and so I was not pleased with them. I told no one outside my daughter that I made them:) Maybe they didn’t rise enough or degasses somewhere along the line. They looked good though.

  59. Joanne Jones Says:

    Hmmm, I am thinking of making these again. I bought some sir lancelot flour, just to give it a try. I love bagels….

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)