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X and O Bagels for Valentine’s Day

If you’ve never made bagels from scratch before, you should give them a go – although they’re made with a yeast dough, they’re easier to make than many loaves. For Valentine’s Day, shape some as Xs and you’ll have a pile of crunchy, chewy, golden Xs and Os – or any other letters you like! Spell out I love you in freshly baked bagels. Since bagels are boiled before they’re baked (giving them their characteristic chew), lower shapes into boiling water on a slotted spoon, and they should keep their shape.

Bagels start with a simple yeast dough – knead it until it’s smooth and elastic. A stand mixer fitted with a dough hook is great for this. Set it aside until it’s puffy, then cut into pieces. You can make your bagels big or little – it’s up to you. Keep in mind they’ll swell in the pot of water and then a bit more in the oven.

You could of course shape the dough into other letters as well – perfect for personalized lunch boxes!

Boiling bagels first gives them that dense, chewy quality that separates a bagel from a bun. Use a slotted spoon to lower them in and remove them from the water and set on a parchment lined sheet. Sprinkle them with sesame seeds or other toppings while they’re still wet, so that the seeds will stick.

Bake until golden. If at all possible, eat while they’re still warm.

Homemade Bagels

1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4-5 cups all-purpose flour, or half all-purpose and half whole wheat
2 tsp. salt
Sesame, poppy or caraway seed to sprinkle on top (optional)

In a large bowl, stir yeast and brown sugar into 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water until it dissolves; let it stand for 5 minutes until it gets foamy. If it doesn’t, the yeast is probably expired toss it and get some fresh yeast!

Stir the oil and a cup of flour into the yeast mixture, then add the salt and enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough I usually use about 2 1/2 cups. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, gently incorporating more flour, until the dough is smooth and elastic. It should take about 10 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces. (A pastry scraper is great for this.) Shape each piece into an X or O (an easy way to make bagel shapes is to gently shape the dough into a ball, then poke your finger through the middle and stretch to make a doughnut shape) and place on a floured surface. Let them rise for about 20 minutes while you boil a big pot of salted water and preheat the oven to 400 F.

When the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and gently place a few bagels at a time into the water. Simmer for 1 minute, then flip them over and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place on a wire rack to drain. Once they have all been boiled, place them on a parchment lined sheet and sprinkle with sesame seeds or whatever toppings you like. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden.

Makes about a dozen bagels.

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