Is there a lot of work involved that we needed two days to make them? Nope, not at all! Most of those two days is waiting around letting the dough and yeast do their magic. To get the ball rolling, protein-rich bread flour, salt, yeast, barley malt syrup (honey would be a good replacement if you don't want to buy a jar just for this) and water are tossed around and kneaded together until you have a somewhat stiff, but still supple mound of dough that is just tacky to the touch. As with most bread doughs, you may need to play around with additional flour or water as needed to reach that consistency.
At this point, the dough will need to rest for at least an hour in the refrigerator - if you can, give it more time, allowing the flavor to develop a bit more. We ended up leaving it be for about 5 hours before pulling the dough back out. After dividing the mound of dough into 8 portions, we rolled each into a loose ball to start the shaping process. There seem to be couple thoughts on shaping - you can either roll the dough into a long log, like when you make pretzels, then connect the ends to make a circle and squeeze it together to get your bagel shape. However, I use another method that we like and find a little easier - we plunge one of our fingers through the center of the dough (dust your finger in flour if you find it a little sticky) and then gently stretch and twirl the dough around until the hole made is about 2" wide. Try both and see what works for you - just do you best to ensure the dough is as even as possible around the circle.
Once you have your sheet full of bagels, they need to be covered, placed back into the refrigerator and left alone overnight for a long, slow rise. Take them out about an hour and a half or so before you will be ready to bake them. To see if they are ready, as gently as you can, lift one up from the baking sheet and place it into a bowl of cold water. If the bagel sinks, they need more time to rise - if it floats, you are good to go! You don't need to test the entire batch either - when one passes the test, you can stop there. To get an excellent chew to the bagels, they are slid into a pot of boiling salted water that has been spiked with baking soda. As soon as they come out from their bath, this is the best time to sprinkle on your toppings - as the title implies, we opted for sesame seeds... but don't let that limit you. Try poppy seeds, salt or dehydrated bits of onion. If you have a sweet tooth, you can do a cinnamon sugar topping, but save that until after the bagels have been baked - brush the hot plain bagels with melted butter and douse the top with the fragrant cinnamon mixture.
While I know it is tough with any kind of fresh bread, try and let them cool for at least 30 minutes before sliding your knife through the bagels. The texture will be better after it has had a chance to relax and firm up. A little dense and quite chewy with a light crust, we were pretty pleased with our first attempt at bagel making! I enjoyed mine lightly toasted with a hefty slathering of peanut butter, while Jeff went with a light smear of cream cheese. However you prefer yours, please do us a favor - let any yeasty fears go out the window, get into then kitchen and try your hand at making a fresh, homemade bagel and see for yourself just how easy and gratifying it can be!