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Sourdough Bagels

This recipe is the one we used at the Colorado High Attitude Bakery. A simple, plain, but delightful, sourdough bagel I can't count how often expatriate New Yorkers would stop me on the street with tears in their eyes, telling me that mine were the best bagels they'd had since they left "The City," and that they were better than most in "The City" these days. The reasons are simple. I didn't cut corners and used good ingredients. I don't know why so many bakeries cut corners on making bagels these days, it's really NOT that hard!

There are two main types of bagels in the United States, the New York Style and the California style. The New York style is dense, chewy, has a crisp crust and has a rich flavor that comes from overnight fermentation. The California bagel is light, well risen, has no real crust, and is relatively bland. People who like New York style bagels call California style bagels "donuts". People who like California style bagels call the New York Style bagels "bricks".

We will focus on making genuine New York style bagels. You can get donuts anywhere. New York style bagels are rare, even in New York. When the New York Bagel Makers Union was busted in the 1960's, quality control and tradition went out the window. A company that sells what it claims are the best bagels in New York makes a bagel that is horribly sweet. There are few places to get the real thing. After you go through this recipe, you will be one of the rare sources of the elusive, almost forgotten, New York style bagel.

It is interesting that this recipe gets such varied responses. A few people at TheFreshLoaf have said this recipe makes the best bagels they have other had. That's truly flattering, since they reference recipes from famous bakers and say mine is better. A few other people have wondered what all the shouting is about. Some of the difference is a matter of taste. If you haven't had a New York style bagel you may not like them and prefer a lighter bagel. But, there is more. One baker commented on the recipe, saying she was unimpressed. I asked her how she had made the bagels. She said, "Oh, there was technique? I just mixed and raised the dough." Yeah, there IS technique involved. The overnight retard is essential for full flavor development, and the boil is essential for a good shiny crust. Even if you want to just mix and go, PLEASE read and follow the instructions.

In any case, this recipe will make 4 bagels of about 4 ounces each. I picked this recipe size because it can be easily made by hand in class. This recipe is a simplified version of the recipe I include in my "Back To Bagels" cookbook, available at Mike's Bread Shoppe.

300 grams High Protein Bread Flour (use as a high a protein level as possible!)
7 grams salt
10 grams malt powder (available at health food stores and brewing supply houses)
150 grams water
5 grams Light Olive oil
30 grams active Sourdough Starter
All the measurements are given in grams because the bagel dough is very dense and using cups would be significantly less accurate. Bagel dough has to be thin enough to handle, but dense enough that it can stand up to the steps we'll talk about below.

I cannot overstate the notion that bagel dough is different from almost any other dough you will encounter. The goal is not a light, fluffy well-risen loaf. It is a dense, chewy product. As a result, most of what you have, perhaps painfully, learned about doughs doesn't apply. I'll be mentioning how bagels are different from most doughs again from time to time. Try hard to not let what you have learned about most doughs get in your way and keep you from learning about bagels.

Mix the ingredients above. In a mixer, I like to mix for 5 minutes, let the dough rest for 5 minutes, and then knead for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and well developed. The time can vary, depending on the efficiency of the mixer in dealing with doughs as thick and dense as bagels.

If you are making the dough by hand, knead, or stretch and fold, until the dough passes the windowpane test. It cannot be overstated that the dough must be smooth and well developed. It is not easy to develop a dough as thick as bagel dough. Allow the dough to rise for about 2 hours. The dough is so dense that it probably won't visibly rise. You may procede when the dough will not spring back when gently pressed.

Unlike most doughs, I find that it is easier to judge the process by the results and adjust the process for the next batch based on the results, rather than going by the feel of the dough. We'll talk about how to adjust the process in later pargraphs.

The flour you use is CRITICAL to the sucess of the bagels. We use GM's All-Trumps, a flour only available to the trade at this time. It has about 14.2% protein. When we used another flour in the 11.8% protein range, the bagels did not come out as well. If the flour bag does not specify the percent of protein, divide the grams of protein per serving by the number of grams of flour per serving and multiply by 100. (A quick example. If a flour bag says the serving size is 1/4 cup, or 30 grams, with 4 grams of protein, the percent of protein would be (4/30)*100, or 13.33% protein.)

Because the dough is so thick, there is little reason to try to punch the dough down. Just use it. Cut the dough into 4 pieces that are more or less the same size.

This time, roll two of the pieces into strands about 10 inches long, and roll the other two into balls. Then cover the dough and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

There are two main ways to shape bagels. The easy way is to roll the dough into a ball, poke a hole in the center of the ball and then stretch the ball into the doughnut shape we all know and love. So that the pictures below would be clearer, we formed these bagels with a cinnamon-rasin bagel dough.

start by finding the center of the bagel ball poke your fingers through the ball then use a finger and thumb, twirl, and stretch the dough

The purist disdains the poker's method, believing the ONLY way to make a real bagel is to roll the balls into strands about 10" long, form the strands into bagel shapes, press the ends together with some overlap, and then roll the seam to seal it.

Start with a cigar of dough Roll it over and press the ends together then roll the union tight with your fingers in the bagel

Both methods work. Poking is easier, but it's also easy to stretch the bagel dough too far. The cigar roll can make a bagel with more a more consistent size, but it's also easy to not seal the seam well enough and have the bagel fall apart. Now that you've tried both methods, you can decide which you prefer. A hint - if you don't spread the bagels far enough, they'll be too tall to fit in a toaster.

Once the bagels are formed, put them on a baking sheet that has been covered with bakers parchment, spray them with some oil, and cover them with clingwrap. Leave them at room temperature for about an hour. This is called "floor time" in the trade, time when the dough is waiting for the next step in the process, or is perhaps minimally rising. Then put them in a refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, place a large pot of water on to boil and set your oven to 500F. If you want to seed the bagels, put some poppy or sesame seeds onto a plate as the water is heating. Add a tablespoon or two of malt extract , either liquid or powdered, to the water once it is boiling. Note, this is in addition to the malt extract that was included in the dough, or, there is malt extract in BOTH the dough and the boiling water.

Once the water is at a rolling boil, put the bagels into the boiling water, flat side down. Don't crowd the bagels in the pot as they need room to move around.

The bagels should sink to the bottom of the water. If they float at once, they were allowed to rise too long. After a few seconds, typically less than five, they should float to the top. If they don't, nudge them with a spatula, sometimes they will stick to the bottom of the pan. After a minute, whether they floated or not, flip them over. Give them another minute.

For your next batch: if the bagels never floated, or took more than a minute to float, let them rise a bit longer, give them a bit more floor time or use a warmer refrigerator next time. If they floated too quickly, let them rise a bit less, give them a bit less floor time or use a cooler refrigerator next time. If you are making a larger batch and your bagels never floated, let them rise a bit more at room temperature before you boil the rest of the batch.

If you want to make seeded bagels, dip the rounder side - the top - in the seeds you prepared earlier as soon as the bagels are pulled out of the water.

Now it's time to bake the bagels in a 500F oven. Many bakers flip the bagels half way through the baking to insure both the top and bottom of the bagels are nicely crispy. I haven't found that to be necessary, but if you can certainly try. Steam helps give a crisp crust - toss a half cup of water into a heated cast iron skillet on the oven. I give the bagels about a 15 minute bake, with some steam in the oven. Don't be afraid to leave the bagels in the oven a few more minutes - you want the crust to have a nice deep tan/brown color.

Once baked, cool on a wire rack. Once cooled, you can slice them and toast them. I often joke that bagels are the only food we boil, bake and then toast... just to make sure they're really, really dead.

A little bit extra - Habanero Schmear

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm a bit of a pepper belly. I LOVE hot and spicy food. So, this devilish cream cheese schmear is right up my alley. All cream cheese schmears are variations on this theme, so if this isn't to your liking, go ahead and change it around. Use other flavors, play with the amounts. You'll never buy flavored cream cheese again!

8 oz cream cheese (I prefer the real stuff, no low fat/no fat cream cheese please!)
2 habanero peppers, stems removed and finely diced (yes, that include the seeds and everything)

Putting 8 ounces of cream cheese in a mixer and beat the cream cheese until it soft and fluffy. Add the finely diced habanero peppers and seeds. Mix in well. You can use the schmear now, but you'll be happier of you put in a sealable container and refrigerate for 4 hours or so to give the flavors a chance to mingle. I have no idea how long this, or any other home made schmear, will last. They are eaten around here before they have a chance to go bad!