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A Nearly No Knead Approach to Bagels!

As I was testing and researching cold water dough techniques for Chinese dumplings, I found that my preferred method took lessons from the bread technique of autolyse. That is, mixing the flour and water together to form a dough, then simply letting it rest for 20-30 minutes or longer so that the flour can fully absorb the water before you add the yeast. This is a common bread baking method, and for dumplings it meant hydrating the dough and forming a rough ball of dough, then covering it to rest for 20 minutes, then giving it just 30 seconds of kneading, and then repeating the rest and knead cycle two more times. By the second and third kneading cycles, you can feel the texture of the dough has changed dramatically. It goes from a rough, chunky dough with little bits of hard dry flour to a smooth, pliable dough.

The idea of a no-knead bread that uses autolyse, long fermentation times, and high hydration levels is not new. My dumpling dough, with minimal kneading, and added rests (autolyse) was smooth and easy to work with. Initially I didn’t think much beyond that. I wasn’t concerned with gluten formation that much since I didn’t need the dough to rise like bread. The gluten does provide strength and a nice bite to the dough, but I was mostly focused on making good dumplings.

Then, I had a thought. My dumpling dough is 50% hydration. Bagels are a low hydration dough. I’ve made them at 50% hydration, although my recipe is higher at 58% as it’s a little easier to work with at that level. Nonetheless, my thought was, “could I make bagels with minimal kneading, but use the same basic method of autolyse and minimal kneading?” Bagels traditionally are kneaded using a stand mixer or a robust food processor. It’s a dough the can challenge a lesser appliance, and I’ve manually kneaded the dough before, and it took me 40 minutes! Would this approach still yield a good bagel? Long fermentation of no-knead or almost-no-knead bread doughs have typically relied on high hydration to ensure that the water and proteins formed gluten. Using my usual bagel formulation of 58% hydration, would this work?

The short answer is yes! Here’s how:

Measure out your flour, salt, and non-diastatic malt powder into a bowl and mix stir to distribute the malt and salt. Then add the water, and stir until you have no more water, and just a collection of clumpy bits of dough. I use chopsticks like I do with Chinese dumplings because the low surface area means they don’t stick to the dough. Any little bits that do are easy to dislodge by rubbing the chopsticks against one another.

Just stirred together with some chopsticks until water is absorbed and most of the dry flour seems to be incorporated.

Then, use your hand to squeeze the dry clumps of dough together to form a shaggy ball of dough. Cover it with another bowl or plastic warp, and let it rest for 30 minutes.

No kneading yet, just enough squeezing and handling of the dough to get it into a ball.

Knead for just a tiny bit. I counted, and I did 15 kneads. That is, 15 times I folded the dough over on itself and pressed it down with the hell of my hand, then rotated the dough a quarter turn. That’s it. Then cover and rest another 30 minutes.

After just one rest and 10 seconds of kneading, the dough is already smooth and soft.

This round, before kneading, I used my hands to press the dough into a flat circle kind of like a pizza. I sprinkled it with the yeast, and then rolled it up like a jelly roll, and then rolled that up like a snail shell, then kneaded. This time, I counted 30 kneads. Took less than 20 seconds. Cover and rest another 30 minutes.

After the 3rd round of kneading, at this stage a total of 60 “kneads”, and the weight of the dough stretches the dough, and you can see light through it. Window Pane Test Passed!

One final set of 15 kneads, and then I left the dough covered for 30 minutes. If you read my New York Style Bagels recipe, these preceding steps replace the normal mix and knead in a food processor or stand mixer. From here on, it’s the same. After a 30 minute rest, I portion the dough and form balls, cover them and rest for 10 minutes. Then I shape them into bagels. Looking at my recipe, I also noticed I didn’t provide much help on shaping, and I remember that’s because I wrote that recipe as a companion to my bagel classes, and I knew I’d be demonstrating the process. There are two common methods:

Portioned and resting for 10 minutes.

My preferred method is to take the portioned ball of dough, and press it down with my fingers to flatten the dough and press out any bubbles. Then starting at the edge furthest from me, I fold and roll the dough back toward myself, pressing sealing with each fold. This forms a tight roll or rope. Next, use your hands to roll out this rope and lengthen it to about 8-10 inches. If you start with your hands in the middle and roll it back and forth while working your hands outwards, the rope will lengthen. This is no different than how you make a long rope of clay as a kid. Wrap the dough around your palm so it overlaps about 2-3 inches, and roll the ends together to seal the seam. If there are noticeable seams still, you can pinch them to seal even if it leaves a bit of a pinched edge provided you plan to do an overnight rest. Those seams will smooth out during that long rest.

The other method is to use your thumbs to create a hole in the middle of the dough portioned dough ball, and then stretch the hole open with your fingers. This works for some people, but I believe the other method creates a tighter bagel and a better shape. It’s up to you.

While you can let the bagels do a final rise for about 30-40 minutes, then boil and bake, I find that the crust of the bagel is significantly improved by transferring the shaped (and covered) bagels into the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to about 12-14. If you know you want to go longer, I would decrease the yeast to 1 teaspoon for a 16-20 hour rest, and perhaps down to 3/4 teaspoon for a 20-24 hour rest.

For many of you, you may never utilize this nearly-no-knead method because you have a stand mixer or food processor. I don’t plan to use it in lieu of using my appliances. With the food processor, I can get bagel dough kneaded and ready for it’s 30 minute rest, portioned, shaped an into the fridge in about 45-50 minutes. Then I just need about 35-40 minutes in the morning (or whenever the long rest is done) to boil and bake them. But, I’ve found myself in other people’s kitchens without a good appliance, and wanting to make bagels, and this method produces a bagel that is pretty indistinguishable from my other bagels with very little work, just a little more resting time! Or for those of you out there without a stand mixer or robust food processor, you can now make bagels at home without trying to hand-knead a stiff dough for 40 minutes to get a to window pane stage!

These bagels had a 10 hour overnight rest in the refrigerator. They sat on the counter at room temp for as long as it took me to get the water bath boiling and the oven preheated, maybe 10 minutes total. Then boiled and baked at 475°F. Rotate the pan 180° after 15 minutes and then another 10 minutes baking for even browning.

A nice dense crumb. These bagels had a nice chew and a crispy crust! Perfect!

 

Portioned and resting for 10 minutes.

My preferred method is to take the portioned ball of dough, and press it down with my fingers to flatten the dough and press out any bubbles. Then starting at the edge furthest from me, I fold and roll the dough back toward myself, pressing sealing with each fold. This forms a tight roll or rope. Next, use your hands to roll out this rope and lengthen it to about 8-10 inches. If you start with your hands in the middle and roll it back and forth while working your hands outwards, the rope will lengthen. This is no different than how you make a long rope of clay as a kid. Wrap the dough around your palm so it overlaps about 2-3 inches, and roll the ends together to seal the seam. If there are noticeable seams still, you can pinch them to seal even if it leaves a bit of a pinched edge provided you plan to do an overnight rest. Those seams will smooth out during that long rest.

The other method is to use your thumbs to create a hole in the middle of the dough portioned dough ball, and then stretch the hole open with your fingers. This works for some people, but I believe the other method creates a tighter bagel and a better shape. It’s up to you. place the shaped bagels on a sheet pan or board that has a good layer of course corn meal to prevent sticking. Cover the bagels with plastic wrap or place the whole pan into a large plastic bag. If you can prevent the bag or covering from touching the bagels, do so. If not, be gentle when you remove the cover in case it gets stuck to the bagels.

While you can let the bagels do a final rise for about 30-40 minutes at room temperature, then boil and bake, I find that the crust of the bagel is significantly improved by letting them rest at room temperature, covered, for about 20 minutes then transferring the bagels into the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to about 14 hours. If you know you want to go longer, I would decrease the yeast to 1¼ teaspoon for a 16-20 hour rest, and perhaps down to 1 teaspoon for a 20-24 hour rest. 

For many of you, you may never utilize this nearly-no-knead method because you have a stand mixer or food processor. I don’t plan to use it in lieu of using my appliances. With the food processor, I can get bagel dough kneaded and ready for it’s 30 minute rest, portioned, shaped an into the fridge in about 45-50 minutes. Then I just need about 35-40 minutes in the morning (or whenever the long rest is done) to boil and bake them. But, I’ve found myself in other people’s kitchens without a good appliance, and wanting to make bagels, and this method produces a bagel that is pretty indistinguishable from my other bagels with very little work, just a little more resting time! Or for those of you out there without a stand mixer or robust food processor, you can now make bagels at home without trying to hand-knead a stiff dough for 40 minutes to get a to window pane stage!

 

These bagels had a 10 hour overnight rest in the refrigerator. They sat on the counter at room temp for as long as it took me to get the water bath boiling and the oven preheated, maybe 10 minutes total. Then boiled and baked at 475°F. Rotate the pan 180° after 15 minutes and then another 10 minutes baking for even browning.

 

A nice dense crumb. These bagels had a nice chew and a crispy crust! Perfect!

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