I finally gathered enough information and tips to try my luck in making bagels and pretzels the proper way at home. I made some sourdough pretzels sometime ago but it didn't involve any poaching at all. Discovering this video for soft pretzels by Alton Brown was such a big help in understanding the process. AB sure made it easy for the home baker to see the correct consistency of the dough and for me, who has always been intimidated with the boiling water process, I have to say his video was the best way to learn the techniques. I was so pleased with the results!
As long as the dough has a firm consistency which makes it very easy to handle, dipping the shaped dough in boiling water and baking soda solution wasn't difficult at all as shown above.
I cut back on the baking soda and used less than half a cup instead of 2/3 cups as suggested in the recipe. I also adjusted the flour to make the dough firmer and easier to shape.
|the bagels turned out well sprinkled with sesame seeds|
As I was finishing taking pictures, my husband walked in to find these fresh from the oven goodies on the counter and immediately started dipping a pretzel in mustard :-) I could tell it was a success based on his reactions. I was glad to finally try making them and find out that there's nothing to be afraid of as long as there are good recipes and helpful videos out there. I may also use a combination of whole wheat and all purpose flour next time. There's another recipe I found on Martha Stewart's website which also looks good but we're just enjoying these for now.