There are few things in the kitchen that bring me a greater sense of satisfaction than baking with yeast. Whether it’s bread, rolls, English muffins, pastries or bagels, I just adore it. I made my first batch of homemade bagels almost three years ago and still can’t get enough of them. I began with the plain variety and have tried a few variations since – Cinnamon Raisin (my favorite!), Asiago, and Egg. I got the urge for homemade bagels a few weeks ago and was thinking about a new flavor to try. One of my favorites has always been blueberry – lightly toasted and slathered in cream cheese. Delicious! So off I went on my blueberry bagel quest…
All of the bagels that I have made so far are variations off that first plain version, which is from Peter Reinhart’s book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. All of his recipes are excellent, and he has always been so very helpful and generous with his time, responding to my emails when I ask how I would go about adapting the bagel recipe for things like Asiago bagels and egg bagels. This time was no exception, and Peter gave me some tips on creating the perfect blueberry bagel.
He recommended using dried blueberries since fresh blueberries will bleed into the dough and break down when you attempt to knead them into such a stiff dough. He said to use about the same amount of dried blueberries as raisins that is in the cinnamon raisin version (I actually reduced it by ½ a cup since the blueberries were larger than raisins), and again like the cinnamon raisin bagels, to increase the yeast in the final dough from ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon to compensate for the dead weight of the dried fruit. Since the dried blueberries are pretty sweet, he didn’t feel that any additional sugar needed to be added to the dough.
The result was everything I had hoped my blueberry bagels to be: chewy on the outside, soft on the inside and packed with an enormous amount of blueberry flavor. Perfect lightly toasted with cream cheese. Mission accomplished!
For the Sponge:
1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups (18 ounces) high-gluten or bread flour
2½ cups water, at room temperature
For the Dough:
1 teaspoon instant yeast
3¾ cups (17 ounces) high-gluten or bread flour
2¾ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons malt powder or 1 tablespoon dark or light malt syrup, honey or brown sugar
1½ cups dried blueberries, rinsed
1 tablespoon baking soda
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting
1. To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart 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. 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 tot he counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6 minutes by machine). Add the dried blueberries during the final 2 minutes of kneading. The dough should be firm, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour - all the ingredients should be hydrated. If the dough seems too dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.
4. Immediately divide the dough into 12 pieces. Form the pieces into rolls.
5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.
6. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper and mist lightly with spray oil. To shape the bagels, poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough and gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2½ inches in diameter. The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots).
7. Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pans. Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 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. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot 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 for another minute. If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. (If you decide to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface.)
11. When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450F and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown. You may bake them darker if you prefer.
12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.