The sourdough starter adventure continues. My second baking attempt with the starter wasn’t classic baguettes or a pretty fougasse, no, it was bagels. Why bagels? I had heard about the bagels in Nancy Silverton's Bread from the La Brea Bakery book several times, and I just had to know for myself. I’d been thinking about trying to make these bagels for months but needed to make a starter before I could try them. With starter successfully made, there was no stopping the bagel attempt. I don’t know if it was the drawn out anticipation of these bagels, or just shear pride in having finally baked some of my own, but these were positively the best bagels ever. I can imagine bagel baking becoming a regular part of my week. Oh, it’s Tuesday, I need to get the dough prepared and the bagels shaped so I can bake them tomorrow. Yes, I could see that happening.
That sounded almost confident of me, but in truth, this was another lost in the dark experiment. I simply followed the instruction exactly and hoped something good would come from it. Unlike other kinds of baking and cooking, with bread baking and working with sourdough starter, I have no idea what can and cannot be tweaked. Strictly playing by the rules is a very different experience in the kitchen, and maybe someday I’ll learn enough to get more creative.
These bagels required a two day plan. To begin, the dough was formed from water, fresh yeast, starter, unbleached bread flour, sugar, salt, barley malt syrup, and milk powder. There was a note about combining bread flour with vital wheat gluten to make a stronger flour, but I completely ignored that option and just used bread flour. I was instructed to use a mixer with a dough hook, but the dough came together so quickly and easily I think I could stir by hand next time. Branching out, already. Once formed, the dough was to be kneaded on a flour-free surface. Now, this scared me. No flour? It was sure to stick and be a complete nightmare to scrape together, so I had a bench scraper at the ready. I worried for nothing. This dough was incredibly easy to knead with no flour at all. It was very smooth and not at all sticky. It was covered and left to rest before being portioned into bagel-sized lumps.
The instructions state that you should be able to form 18 four ounce pieces. I ended up with 17, and they were all just shy of four full ounces, but I didn’t let that bother me. The pieces were again left to rest before being shaped into bagels. The shaping was a point of real uncertainty. I had no idea how much the dough would expand inward, so I wasn’t sure how large the bagel hole should be. I winged it, and left the bagels to rest in the refrigerator overnight.
Day two of the process included boiling, pressing into a seed mixture and baking. This was fun. The bagels were very easy to work with, and dropping them into the boiling water for just 10 seconds per side and fishing them out was a strange delight. I can’t express enough how great this dough was and how easy it was to handle. I combined poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and coarse sea salt on a plate and pressed each boiled bagel into the mix. Then, they went back onto a parchment-lined, semolina-dusted baking sheet and into a 450 degree oven which was turned down to 400. Twenty minutes later, I had to look at these lovelies and endure the excruciating wait until one was cool enough to handle. I soon discovered slightly burned fingers was a small price to pay for tasting one of these fresh and hot out of the oven. They were just chewy enough, and the flavor was so very good.
About the size of the bagel holes: I made them too small, and the bagels looked over-puffed because of it. I’ll get better at that I hope. I will, without doubt, be making more bagels, so I should figure it out eventually. I haven’t decided yet what the next sourdough adventure will be. Parmesan cheese bread, raisin brioche, and seeded sour are all contenders.