Bake #5: Montreal Bagels

The Challenge:

One dozen Montreal-style bagels. Half poppy-seed, half sesame seed.

What happened?

I love Montreal bagels. Sorry New York, yes yours are ok, but to me the Montreal bagel is the best by far. I remember the first time we managed to make our own – it was in Denmark of all places. I used this recipe from the blog Munchin with Munchkin. I was so deliriously happy to have made them. We made them several times since – usually if we were having people for brunch. I can make them. And they’re good. And people have said so. So there!

So when they announced that the bread week technical was going to be bagels I was very happy. Not quite as happy as Corey Shefman but the two of us were pretty much sure we had this one in the bag. So, hardly glancing at the recipe,  I dove straight in. One of the tricks of making bagel dough is to add the flour a bit at a time to the wet ingredients. You start with a whisk and as the dough gets stiffer with each half cup of flour you switch to a spoon and then your hands until you are kneading. You don’t knead it too much but just until you have a lovely soft, elastic dough. It’s a really nice feeling dough and up to this point I was really happy. I was kneading away with great gusto convinced of my inevitable crushing of the opposition under my perfect bagels. My only slight worry was Corey who I could hear merrily explaining to camera how to make the finest bagels in all of Canada.

We bakers had been sitting around before bread week discussing what the technical bread challenge might be. I was pretty convinced it was going to be bagels until several people confidently told me it couldn’t be done in the time. As a result I had started to second guess myself so that when it came to it I was starting to worry a bit about the rising time. I thought I remembered it being fairly short but now I was not convinced. Then I remembered our new discovery from the focaccia challenge – the proving drawer. And so (like several others) I thought I should stick my dough in there to speed it up – and so the trap was sprung! It said “rest” on the recipe – you know the one I wasn’t really reading – not “prove”, “rest”. Rest just means sit there and do nothing on the bench not stick it in a warming drawer for the yeast to have a party.

So within no time I had a ball of over-proved dough. When over-proved like this it becomes sticky and unmanageable. This makes it very difficult to shape. It also started sticking to my hands which meant as I dropped it into the poaching water it was getting pretty deformed. On top of that the water wasn’t really hot enough so they were not really looking all that great.

At that point I also turned my attention to the bagel boards. Now I’ve never used one of these things. It’s basically a cedar plank with some hessian type material. Apparently you pop the poached bagels on them to dry out in the oven and then flip them over on the baking stone. I know that now but at the time I had never seen one and neither had I actually used  a baking stone. I figured the thing to do was to cover the hessian with seeds and then drop the wet bagels onto the board. Probably wrong but it turned out I had bigger problems.

I had all my bagels ready to go into the oven. Specifically into a nice hot oven at 450F. But the oven was not hot. In fact not even warm. Remember that energetic kneading I was doing? Yeah well it turns out I had managed to knock the oven control off. The oven was at about 200F by now and I only had 20 mins left to bake them. I was basically screwed now. I cranked the oven as high as it would go and tried to flip them in but they just stuck to the baking stone. I chiseled the inedible dough rings off the stone and put them on the Gingham Altar with everyone else.


Many of us did not do so well on this bake. There was a fair few fell into the proving drawer trap. Corey, my partner in hubris, did manage to make better bagels than me but since the judges refused to even taste mine that was a pretty low bar to set.


I can make damn fine bagels (see image below!) this was a bit of a kick in the ego. So lesson learned was that I shouldn’t assume I know stuff! Read the bloody recipe idiot! Oh and check the oven temperature! Still, after “inedible” the only way is up.

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