After my initial trials with sourdough last year, in which I mixed up an easy starter and made a couple loaves of not-at-all sourdoughy bread, I gave up for a while. I ignored the starter I’d made until it eventually dried up and I had to throw it away. When I visited my parents last winter, I tried making bread with my mom’s sourdough starter, which is much older than mine was, to see if it would taste sour. It did, at least a little, so my mom sent me home with some of her starter.
Which I, again, basically ignored, for six months, until I had a friend visit who is experienced in the ways of sourdough. She gave me some tips on how to bring my old neglected starter back to life, and, more importantly, helped me realize that sourdough starter can be used in all sorts of breads, not just rustic loaves that I want to taste sour.
This was important because I don’t make rustic breads all that often, certainly not enough to keep my sourdough starter healthy. But there are some breads that I do make every week or so – pizza and bagels. The transition to sourdough was especially easy for bagels.
I’ve been making bagels for years, usually using a slight adaptation of Peter Reinhart’s recipe. His recipe utilizes a sponge, a mixture of flour, yeast, and water that has to sit for a few hours before the recipe can be completed. I simply replaced that sponge with sourdough starter, so I saved myself a step and could more quickly move on to mixing and kneading the dough.
The only problem with this method is that I don’t always keep enough starter around to make even half of Reinhart’s recipe. I was only able to make six small bagels. So I tried again, this time using half the amount of starter and mixing it with more flour and water. Once that was frothy, I continued with the recipe.
Both batches of bagels were very good. Neither had a strong sourdough flavor, although it was slightly more intense in the first batch, where the starter completely replaced the sponge. In the future, I’ll make whichever recipe I have the right amount of starter for. Because the version that completely replaces the sponge with starter is quicker, plus sourdough starter is so easy to make, I’ll probably just make some extra starter the day before I want to make bagels. Altogether, it’s a great way to use my starter often enough to keep it active.
One year ago: Mixed Berry Cobbler
Sourdough Bagels (adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)
12 small bagels or 8 large bagels
My sourdough starter is half flour and half water, by weight.
16 ounces sourdough starter
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¾ cup (8 ounces) bread flour (approximately)
1½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1. Place the sourdough starter in the bowl of a standing mixer and leave it at room temperature until it loses its chill and becomes frothy, 1-2 hours, depending on how active your starter is.
2. Add the additional yeast to the starter and stir. Then add most of the remaining flour and all of the salt and malt. Mix on low speed with the dough hook until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining flour to stiffen the dough.
3. Knead at low speed for 6 minutes. The dough should be firm and stiff, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all the ingredients should be hydrated. If the dough seems too dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.
4. Immediately divide the dough into 8-12 equal pieces. Form the pieces into smooth balls.
5. Cover the balls with plastic wrap and allow them to rest for 20 minutes. Dust a baking sheet with the cornmeal.
6. Form each dough ball into a rope 9 inches long by rolling it under your outstretched palms. Do not taper the ends of the rope. Overlap the ends of the rope about 1 inch and pinch the entire overlapped area firmly together. If the ends of the rope do not want to stick together, you can dampen them slightly. Place the loop of dough around the base of your fingers and, with the overlap under your palm, roll the rope several times, applying firm pressure to seal the seam. The bagel should be roughly the same thickness all the way around.
7. Place each of the shaped pieces about an inch apart on the prepared pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pan sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the ‘float test.” Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.
9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), adjust the rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better). Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). Stir and submerge bagels with Chinese skimmer or slotted spoon until very slightly puffed, 30 to 35 seconds. Remove rings from water; transfer to wire rack, bottom side down, to drain.
11. Transfer boiled rings, rough side down, to parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until deep golden brown and crisp, about 12 minutes.
12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes before serving.