We did it! Success at last! After several more attempts trying to perfect that perfect chewiness and flavor of “real” bagels, we finally accomplished what we set out to do. Keep in mind, by no means did we bake every single day, we just don’t have that kind of time available. In the process of developing a recipe, we always only make a small fraction of the recipe for each trial, because seriously, how many bagels can anyone eat? There is also only so much room in our financial budget for the inevitable failures. Since we committed ourselves to achieving a perfect result that everyone would be thrilled with, we tried everything, including baking them without the water bath – that was a complete failure. In that version, we set out to boil them, but the dough completely dissolved and turned into porridge in the boiling water. As you can imagine, that was not a pleasant experience. Hence, our thoughts turned to baking the rest of the batch, without boiling them. The idea behind this was sound, but the results were less than enviable. Instead of puffing up, they just flattened out too much. Not to the capacity of a cracker, but not at all recognizable as anything one would look for in a bagel. Some time ago, someone recommended making a yeasted sponge and letting it sit overnight. Well, nice try, but it doesn’t work for gluten free baking. The dough rose beautifully, but completely collapsed, lacking any stability to withstand a water bath and baking. For this attempt, we used a combination of sorghum, tapioca and a little bit of whole brown rice flour with the addition of some guar gum and honey and molasses to activate the yeast. It also included the addition of an egg.
Studying the failures of this version, for our final attempt, we prepared a simple sourdough sponge, by blending sorghum and whole brown rice flour with water (a total of 1-1/2 cups of flour) and letting it sit overnight in a warm place in the kitchen, covered with a kitchen towel. That sponge became really active (lots of bubbles) during the last few hours, since it was sitting on the warm stove top, while we were busy making, what turned out to be a failed version of this recipe.
For our successful recipe, we basically had to change everything. In the end, the only factors that still remained true to the original Baking with Julia recommendations, were the 25 minute baking time, and the boiling method (which is fairly standard for all bagels). Those of you that are familiar with our own flour preferences know, that we rarely, if ever, use starch in any of our recipes, but felt it might be a necessary addition for this recipe. As it turns out, true gluten free bagels are nearly impossible to create without the use of some starch. In this case, we chose to add potato starch. In order to make sure, that these bagels did in fact rise, we chose to prepare the remaining flour combination using a blend of tapioca, brown rice, sweet rice and potato starch, along with rice bran and only 1-1/8 tsp. of yeast. The Red Star yeast has consistently delivered the best results. Again, we included an egg, which is essential to bind all the ingredients successfully. This time we used honey and sucanat to develop the yeast and added a very small amount of apple cider vinegar to the dough, to help condition it. Since we experimented in the past with adding shredded cheese to a bread dough to help achieve cohesiveness, we added some finely shredded raw cheddar cheese to this recipe. In the final product, you cannot even taste the cheese, but it does lend a wonderful light chewiness to the bagels.
The dough was very sticky at first, and so could only loosely be shaped into a ball. We let it rise, covered with cling wrap and a cloth, for about 2 hours on the warm stove top. It took it that long to double in size. This still very sticky dough required the addition of a little more sweet rice flour, in order for us to shape into little balls. While the water, with the addition of a little sucanat and baking soda, came to a boil, we shaped the dough into little balls and placed them on cookie sheets. Just prior to boiling we pierced a hole into the center of each bagel, continuously working on containing the shape of the dough, as it wanted to spread outwards. Note, it is very helpful to have helpers when making this recipe! The difference between gluten dough and gluten free is like night and day. Containment in gluten free is everything. We were amazed as to just how perfectly this dough rose. Containing the outward spreading tendency was the only challenge. But unlike the previous attempts, this one also rose high. Each bagel withstood the boiling process beautifully, while still remaining light and airy. After boiling, the bagels were placed on a silicone mat covered baking sheet, which is especially helpful in gluten free baking, preventing the bottom crust from hardening excessively, achieving a perfect result. We brushed the bagels with a mixture of a whole egg and a little coconut milk and topped them with sesame seeds.
We now know, that our “Part 1 Version” truly suffered because of the steam and the excessive temperatures recommended in the book. As a result, we baked them for 25 minutes at only 375°F, without any addition of water, or steam to the oven. We did leave the bagels in the oven for an additional 5 minutes, with the oven turned off and the door ajar. The full batch made 11 good sized bagels. One half of it was baked in our regular gas oven, the other in our counter top convection oven, which explains the slightly darker color in some of the bagels. Everything browns just a little more using our convection oven, even with a reduced temperature.
The bagels were allowed to cool for a little while on a wire rack before putting them to the final taste test. And we have to say, the end result was well worth the effort. They not only look like true bagels, but taste like them too. The perfect flavor and chewiness one would expect. Perfect, for slicing and serving with your favorite toppings – perhaps, with butter and jam, cream cheese and/or lox. We will definitely be making this again in the future.