A little over a year ago, I took a shot of some bagels I had baked that I really liked. The shot was taken in natural light, which isn't something I get to take advantage of a lot when I do food photography, but is usually pretty flattering when taking shots of food.
Tonight, I baked up a batch of bagels for the kids to bring to school tomorrow (they read a book called Jalapeno Bagels in class last week and I ended up being volunteered to bake, somehow.) I decided to see if I could recreate that shot I liked, but using strobes to light the scene instead. I think I managed to get the quality of light pretty darn close (although I did tweak the composition very slightly, and I didn't let the white balance skew quite as blue this time, both intentionally.)
Nikon D7000 w/Nikkor 18-200mm @ 50mm, 1/250s @ ƒ/8, ISO100. One SB-700 at 24mm zoom, 1/2 power, camera left and bounced off the ceiling in my kitchen for the overall diffuse light the shade lended to the original shot, and a second SB-700, 24mm zoom, 1/2 power, also camera left but shooting through a white umbrella directly toward the bagels, to get the diffuse-but-directional light causing the soft shadows in the original. Other than minor cropping and a slight boost to vibrance, this is straight off the camera.
I used to bake a dozen of these almost every weekend before the kids were born, and only 6 or 7 times a year now. After having one for dinner tonight, I think I need to add these back to a more regular rotation. I can tell i’m out of practice, as these weren’t quite as evenly sized, or as smooth-crusted, as I used to be able to get them (although now that I think about it, I was stuck using lower-protein flour than usual, which would impact the crust at least.)
This recipe started life as the bagel recipe in The Best Recipe from the folks at Cooks Illustrated, then modified to suit my tastes a bit (really should get around to that web site someday), and finally converted into the weights you see here, which is essentially a 60% hydration dough (or a 5:3 ratio of flour:liquid).
30 oz. high-protein flour (about 6 c.—I use the Sir Lancelot variety
from King Arthur Baking)
15 oz. water (1 7/8 c.) at about 110°F
3 oz. barley malt syrup (3/8 c.)
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (1 packet)
1 tbl. kosher salt
Combine the dry ingredients in the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Combine the malt syrup and water in a measuring cup and stir to combine.
Mix the dry ingredients on low speed until the yeast is mixed in well, then pour in the liquid. Continue mixing until a dough ball forms, then mix at low-medium speed for 10 minutes in the stand mixer. This is a real workout for my stand mixer, so keep an eye on yours to avoid it walking or overheating. When done, the dough will be smooth, only very slightly tacky, and easily pass the windowpane test. Remove from the mixer, form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
Cut dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into thirds (12 pieces total). Shape each into a bagel by rolling into a smooth ball, then poking your finger down through the middle and stretching out like an elastic band. Arrange the shaped dough on two half-sheet pans dusted with cornmeal, cover lightly with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and place in the refrigerator overnight to proof. They won't appear to rise much in the fridge; that's expected.
In the morning, preheat your oven to 450°F. In a large, deep skillet or a dutch oven, bring 2 quarts of water plus 2 tbl. of sugar or malt syrup to a boil (for darker bagels, as seen here, add a teaspoon or so of baking soda to the boil as well.)
Working with about 3 bagels at a time, gently stretch the bagels out so the hole is at least an inch in diameter, then boil for about 1 minute on each side. The bagels will puff up almost to their final size while being boiled. Return them to the sheet pan (with a little more cornmeal to prevent sticking).
If you want to put some sort of topping on your bagel, now's the time. The outside of the bagel is usually sticky enough for seeds and the like, but a little egg white can be used as glue if you want more insurance.
Put the sheet pans into your preheated oven in the upper-middle and lower-middle positions, and spray the inside of your oven with water to make a good amount of steam (or, leave a heavy skillet on the floor of the oven during your preheat, and pour in a half cup or so of ice water.) Bake 18-20 minutes until nicely browned, rotating the pans halfway through.
Transfer to a cooling rack. These are great still warm from the oven, and, once completely cool, will keep well stored in a plastic bag for 4-5 days, particularly if you're toasting them. They also freeze nicely.