Jalapeño Cheddar Bagels

Cheddar cheese and jalapeño peppers are one of those savory matches made in heaven. The savory equivalent of peanut butter and chocolate, in my book. Sharp, creamy cheese is the perfect complement to crunchy, spicy peppers, and the two inevitably become constant companions in many dishes. A couple of examples include Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread and Jalapeño Popper Dip. Those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the ways that Cheddar and jalapeños work their magic together. A few years ago I tagged along with my Chief Culinary Consultant and his parents on a Costco run while they were in town for a couple of weeks. We shopped ’til we dropped (well, until the cart was full and we had to start thinking about where we were going to put everything in the car). When we spun through the bakery section, the two of us snatched up some jalapeño cheese bread/rolls, which looked particularly inviting, with melted, crusted cheese covering the top. No sooner had we gotten into the car with our token fountain drinks, we decided we were starving and needed to eat that bread, immediately. (We never really grow up, do we?) It was delicious – cheesy, wowza-level spicy, and the perfect afternoon snack. Ever since, I’ve had jalapeño cheddar bagels on the brain, but for one reason or another have never gotten around to making them. Until now. And now, I think I might have to keep my freezer stocked with them, because they are bagel perfection.

I have been playing off of my favorite plain bagel recipe (from the wonderful Peter Reinhart) for nearly five years now. The recipe creates such amazing bagels that I’ve never been tempted to stray from it; I merely keep adapting it to suit whatever flavor combination I’m feeling at the time. I’ve used it to make Asiago Bagels, Blueberry Bagels, Cinnamon Raisin Bagels, Egg Bagels, and Everything Bagels, and it has yet to let me down, this time being no exception.

I loaded these with tons of sharp Cheddar cheese and jalapeños. Feel free to adjust the amount of peppers you use based on your personal preferences. We like things pretty spicy, so I used a full two cups of minced jalapenos, and for us it was just right. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say that these register about a 7 on the spicy scale, so you can use that as a guide for modifying the spice level. I think they are the perfect balance of cheesy and spicy. They are great plain, and even better with a slathering of cream cheese. My Chief Culinary Consultant, who previously had a very strong allegiance to the Cinnamon Raisin Bagels, declared these as the best bagels I have ever made. So there you have it!

What’s your favorite type of bagel? Favorite way to eat Cheddar and jalapeños together?

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Jalapeño Cheddar Bagels

Ingredients:

Sponge:

1 teaspoon instant yeast

4 cups (18 ounces) high-gluten or bread flour

2½ cups water, at room temperature


Dough:

½ teaspoon instant yeast

3¾ cups (17 ounces) high-gluten or bread flour

2½ teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons malt powder or 1 Tablespoon dark or light malt syrup, honey or brown sugar

8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

2 cups minced jalapeño peppers, seeds and membranes removed (about 12 to 14 peppers, depending on size)


To Finish:

1 Tablespoon baking soda

Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting

8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded


Directions:

1. To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.


2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt powder. Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining ¾ cup flour to stiffen the dough.


3. Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6 minutes by machine). Add the Cheddar cheese and jalapeños during the last two minutes or so of kneading, and knead until evenly distributed. The dough should be firm, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all the ingredients should be hydrated. If you have an instant-read digital thermometer, the dough should register 77 to 81 degrees F. If the dough seems dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems sticky or tacky, add more flour to achiever the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.


4. Immediately divide the dough into equal pieces (each piece should weigh approximately 4½ ounces). Form the pieces into rolls.


5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for 20 minutes.


6. Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Proceed with shaping the bagels: Push a hole through the center of the roll with your thumb and stretch out the hole to 2½ inches in diameter, making sure that the resulting ring has a fairly even thickness all the way around.


7. Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pan. Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.


8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the “float test”. Fill a small bowl with cool or room temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.


9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the better), and add the baking soda. Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.


10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). After 1 minute flip them over and boil another minute. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. Sprinkle the bagels with the shredded Cheddar cheese as soon as they come out of the water.


11. When all the bagels have been boiled and topped, place the pans on the two middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 8 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are only baking one pan at a time, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees F and continue baking for about 8 minutes, or until the bagels turn golden brown.


12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.


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(Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart)


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