If you’re in the mood for bagel-making this week or weekend, there are a couple of things I should mention about the recipe below. First, you don’t strictly need malt powder, nondiastatic malt, or malt syrup to make great bagels. But then they don’t hurt either. Any of them are useful for bagel-making. Malt powder and nondiastatic malt add more flavor that sweetness. Malt syrup adds more sweetness than flavor. Of the three, the syrup is the easiest to get. It should be available at any health food store (Whole Foods, if there’s one in your area, usually carries it).
The other issue is the flour. You want the highest protein (gluten) flour you can find. Typically that means bread flour. It doesn’t have to be King Arthur of course, though that frankly is about the best flour you can buy (better than most bakeries). Just make sure whatever you buy is unbleached, since the bleaching and bromating process affects protein strength. If you’re lucky, you might be able to turn up a bag of flour specifically marked “for bread machines”. That stuff, regardless of the brand, usually has the highest protein content of any commercially available flour.
If you’re feeling gutsy, you can go for the gold and hit up a local bakery or pizza place for some real high-gluten flour. High-gluten flour isn’t available in stores, since it’s only useful for bakery breads, bagels and pizza crusts. But it’s the thing to have when you’re trying to replicate bit of the Bronx in your kitchen.
Why all the concern over gluten? Let’s just say it means the difference between a good honest bagel and a dinner roll with a hole in the middle. Much more on the chemistry of gluten as the week progresses.