I bake a lot of bagels. I freeze a lot of bagels. It took me a while to get the freezing routine right, to avoid 1) freezer burn; 2) undue time spent wrapping and thawing; and 3) throwing away a lot of plastic wrap. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Make sure the bagels are completely cool before preparing for freezing. Freezing while warm guarantees ice crystals. Letting them sit for a few hours even after they are cool makes them slice more cleanly.
Place each bagel in a zip-top sandwich bag. Try to squeeze air out as you close the bag, but don’t be fanatical about it. These bags can be reused for the next batch, and the next …
Place the bagged bagels in a larger zip-top plastic bag. This does not have to be a heavy “freezer bag,” since you have the additional protection of the small bags. Of course, these bags can also be used multiple times.
Our bagels are usually eaten within a week, but they will keep in the freezer for several months.
It is not necessary to thaw the bagel before popping it in the toaster or toaster oven; just toast for a little longer.
Don’t forget to save and reuse your plastic bags!
In case you have a lot of plastic bags sitting around with nothing to do, may I suggest:
Before shaping a boule or batard loaf, dough is often preshaped into a boule (ball). This preshaping allows the final shape to achieve a tighter surface tension, which helps the loaf maintain its shape through proofing and baking, and helps cuts to open nicely during baking.
This video demonstrates my method for preshaping a boule.
Call me shallow, but I do judge books by their covers, and breads by their crusts. For most of the hearth loaves I bake, I’m looking for a gorgeously brown, thin, crisp crust that “sings” when it comes out of the oven and shatters under the knife on the cutting board. I don’t always get it, but here are some things that help:
Steam the oven, but not too much. Steam promotes a rich, lustrous crust color and good volume, but too much makes the crust chewy rather than crisp, and makes your loaves look like they’ve been dipped in shellac. Some ovens hold steam better than others, so experiment with steaming methods, how much water you need to use, and when to open the oven door to vent the steam, to determine what’s best for you.
Don’t underbake. The baking times in recipes are guidelines. If your crust is too pale after the recommended baking time, bake it longer, to the darkness you like. It’s hard to overbake bread.
The three B’s (baguettes, batards, and boules) are classic, but maybe you want to mix up your loaf shapes now and then. Pinwheel loaves are an easy and fun change of pace. They are also good for people with fear of scoring, as no blade is required. They are not good for keeping birds away from your vegetable garden, however.
The loaves here are Norwich Sourdough, but you can use this technique with any medium-hydration dough. The shape is essentially two fendu loaves twisted in their centers and placed at right angles to each other.
A blowout might be a good thing if you’re the birthday girl or the winning team, but when it comes to bread, usually not. In the scheme of things, a bread blowout may be a minor annoyance compared to, say, blowing out your front left tire on the freeway, but even so, I’d prefer not to have anything resembling the Goodyear Blimp on my dinner table.
My friend and baker extraordinaire Natashya (Living in the Kitchen With Puppies) asked me for help understanding why her loaves (of which the above is not one; I take full credit for that one) had exploded open like Aliens. I get asked this question fairly frequently, so here’s what I know (or I think I know) about it.
In general, a blowout happens when the crust sets before the inside has finished expanding. This can happen on the top, bottom, or side of the loaf. One or a combination of factors can be the culprit: