Saturday, June 5, 2010

Chewy Bagel

Japanese people love chewy foods (have you ever had mochi, the super gooey Japanese rice cakes?) and I'm not an exception.  Lately I've been going through a bagel baking phase, and I find myself wanting to make chewy bagels.  I realize this sounds funny because bagels are already chewy, but I wanted to make them chewier.

First, I need the ingredients that make things chewy.  I knew that starch makes thing sticky and gooey.  I remember my mom was using smashed cooked rice as a glue when fixing Shoji.  So I decided to add more starch to my dough.  I mixed a bit of tapioca flour with bread flour.  The bagels came out softer than ones without tapioca flour, but they didn't possess the extra chewiness.  Plus, they were good only when freshly baked.  They were too dry the next day.  I was missing something...

So I searched "starch" on Wikipedia, and it says, "Starch becomes soluble in water when heated... During cooking, the starch becomes a paste and increases further in viscosity" ... and here I had my Alton Brown moment (but please keep in mind that all the contents here is merely my interpretation of a Wikipedia article. I'm not a scientist so I could be way off.)  Basically I need this process, called starch gelatinization, to increase the viscosity.  I guess that's what happening when we boil the bagel.  The bagel become chewy because the starch in the outermost layer of the dough is "cooked" and thus gelatinized.  But I need it not only on the outside but on the inside too.  So I decided to "cook" the starch first then mix into the dough.  I heated up the tapioca flour and water mixture stirring vigorously over the stove top.  The mixture was becoming thicker and sticker (see the picture below.)  When I bake bagels, I do all the kneading with my hands so it's much easier to knead half of the dough at a time.  This was even more necessary for this dough since it is stickier than regular dough and much more difficult to knead.

Well, the result was much better than my first attempt.  They were chewer and slightly sweeter than regular bagels and were still good the next day.  My husband prefers regular bagels, and I could go either way, but it was definitely an interesting experiment.

The starch gel

  Chewy Bagel Print Recipe

60gtapioca flour

2 1/4 tspinstant yeast (1package)
2 Tbspsugar
1 tspsalt
1 Tbspoil
490g bread flour

1 Tbsphoney

  1. Prepare the tapioca mixture: In a pot, combine the water and the tapioca flour.  Over medium heat, cook the mixture for a few minutes, stirring constantly to incorporate and cook the tapioca flour until the mixture becomes sticky and semi-transparent (see the picture below.)  Transfer the tapioca gel to a plate or a shallow bowl and cool until lukewarm.
  2. Knead the dough: In a large bowl, combine the instant yeast, sugar, salt, oil, and the tapioca gel and stir (do not omit the oil.  The oil helps to mix the gel and other ingredients. The ingredients do not need to be completely mixed in with the gel.  The yeast may be a little lumpy.) Add the all but the 1/3 cup of flour to the bowl and mix with a spoon or a spatula first in order to avoid the dough sticking to your hand.  When the mixture starts to come together, start using your hand, and transfer the dough to a clean surface.  Incorporate the remaining flour as you knead.  Knead the dough until smooth, about 15 minutes (the dough may be a little sticky.)  
  3. Let the dough rest: Divide the dough into even 12 pieces.  Form each piece of dough into a ball.  Cover the balls with a damp towel to avoid dehydration. Rest the dough for 10 minutes.
  4. Shape the dough*: Lightly dust the rolling pin with flour.  One at a time, place a ball on to a clean surface, the bottom side up, and roll into an oval shape.  Roll the dough and pinch the edges to seal.  Roll the dough on the surface and make it into a 7~8-inch rope.  Overlap and join the ends (If you like harder, tighter dough, twist the rope when you join the ends). Squish and roll to fuse the ends. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.  Cover with a dry towel, let it rise about 20 minutes. 
  5. Preheat the Oven: Preheat the oven to 420 degrees.
  6. Boil the dough: In a pot, boil 1.5~2L of water, add honey and stir.  Lower the bagels into the water, 2~3 bagels at a time, boil them for 30 seconds per side.  Place the bagels onto a prepared baking sheet.
  7. Bake the bagel: Transfer the baking sheet into the oven, bake for 8 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake for another 8~9 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven, and let them cool on a wire rack.  

Yields 12 small bagels  

*If you are not sure how to shape the bagels, please see the picture here.