This recipe is featured in Tina Wasserman's newest book, Entrée to Judaism for Families, filled with tools to help children learn to cook with confidence, with clear, step-by-step instructions for every recipe and tips for adults to make the experience safe and rewarding.
Bagels, the boiled and baked dough with the round shape, have been mainstays in the Jewish kitchen for hundreds of years. Whether it is the round roll with the hole that was eaten in Eastern Europe or the hard round ka’ak biscuit eaten in the Middle East, circular bread always represented prosperity and the circle of life.
Many Jews in Eastern Europe were so superstitious that they wore bagels on a string around their necks to fight off any evil spirits around them. A bagel peddler could easily sell his chewy rolls, piled high on a stick, to customers on the street or to workers in the field, so the bagel was made into a ring. (In German, bagel means “ring” or “bracelet.”)
When Jewish immigrants came to North America in the 1800s, they brought the love and lore of bagels with them, and many bagel stores opened in New York. After World War II, bagels with all their mystical powers of protection and prosperity were served with expensive smoked fish to ensure that the person eating would appear prosperous. The tradition of bagels with cream cheese and lox was born.
- Place 2 cups of the flour and the yeast in a 4-quart mixing bowl. Using a handheld electric mixer, mix for 5 seconds on low to combine. Set aside.
- Measure the water in a liquid measuring cup and add 3 tablespoons of sugar and the salt. Stir with a spoon to combine, and then microwave on high for 45 seconds or until the water is 125°F.
- Stir the liquid again with a spoon to combine and immediately pour into the bowl with the flour. Mix on low speed for ½ minute. Remove the mixer from bowl, and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Resume beating the mixture on medium for 3 minutes. Unplug the mixer and remove the beaters. Scrape the beaters clean.
- By hand, stir in enough of the remaining flour (about 2 cups) to make a stiff dough. Use some of the extra flour to lightly flour your counter or a pastry board, and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic (about 5–7 minutes). Place the mixing bowl over the dough on the counter, and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
- Using a chef ’s knife, cut the dough in half and then each half into 6–8 pieces (depending on the size bagel desired).
- Shape each piece into a ball. Flatten the ball to about ½ inch. Flour your finger and poke a hole through the center of the ball. Stretch the hole gently to make it bigger, and adjust the shape to make it round. Lightly cover the finished bagels with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap, and let rise for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Fill a 6-quart pot with 4 quarts of water and the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Place 3–4 bagels in the water top side down, and cook for 3 minutes. Using 1or 2 slotted spatulas or spoons, turn the bagels over, and cook 3 minutes more. Remove the bagels with a slotted spatula to drain, and place on a greased cookie sheet or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Bake the boiled bagels for 25–30 minutes or until golden brown and baked through.
- Would you wear a bagel around your neck? Do you or anyone you know wear other symbols for good luck? Examples include the blue evil eye from Turkey and the Middle East, or the hamsa (or “hand”) from Israel. Do you think these charms really work? Why or why not?
- Ancient cultures in Egypt and China had round pastries. Explore the Internet to see if you can find examples of these. How are they similar to bagels?
- If you are working with young children, you will find this recipe is easier to make in a stand electric mixer, using a paddle first for mixing and then the dough hook for the kneading. This eliminates the safety and coordination issues of very young children as well as the time necessary to knead the dough by hand. Attention spans are short and kneading for 5 or more minutes will lose the cook under the age of six.
- It is very important to remember to unplug a handheld mixer before you remove the beaters. Little hands can accidently push the on/off button and get fingers caught in the beaters if the machine is plugged in.