the bagel habit

I made bagel dough this morning before work. 

This week (this month, really) I'm struggling with finding balance with my workload at home.  Last year's kitchen remodel caused some garden neglect, and we really thought that this year would be all about maintenance and refinement in the backyard.  But the reality is that the kitchen project has spilled over into this year--not in nearly as much of an intensive way as last spring--but in little ways that get in the way and make you put off weeding that perennial bed (again).

I've wondered here before how many DIY habits a person can fit into their routine.  Bagel dough takes all of 15 minutes, but how many quarter hours does a person have?  Enough apparently to check on twitter (a lot) and watch junk-food TV shows (once in a while).  Like everyone I juggle work and home and family and dog, and some weeks it works better than others. 

And I keep making bagels, because while I may whimper a little when I remember at 6:30 am that I made the sponge last night and I need to make dough, when I form those little rounds and smell the tang when I drop them into a water bath...they give me joy.  Every damn time.

Sourdough Bagels:  
Adapted from The Baking Notes of Scratch Baking Co

Sourdough sponge:

6 ounces of well-fed, liquid-style levain, I do a build of 2 ounces starter, water, and wheat flour, 8-12 hours before making the dough.


6 ounces sourdough sponge
24 ounces flour (I generally use 12 ounces of  Lonesome Stone wheat bread flour, and 12 ounces all purpose)
14 ounces water, room temperature (this works perfect for my 50/50 wheat mix, but you might need to adjust slightly if using different flours that absorb more or less water)
1 tablespoon salt

1/3 cup of baking soda for boiling
Misc. toppings (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc).

Scrape the developed starter into your mixer bowl and pour the water on top.  Measure out your flour and salt, and add all at once.  Mix on low speed until the water is absorbed and continue on medium until a stiff dough forms, 4 or 5 minutes.  Let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes, then knead again on medium speed for 4-5 more minutes.  Turn out onto your counter and knead a few more times, the dough should form a firm, elastic ball.  Place in a bowl, cover, and put in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours (I've left it as long as a couple of days).

The next day, pull the dough out of the refrigerator--it may not look like it has risen much, but that's fine. Divide into 12 equal pieces, usually about 3 1/2 to 4 ounces each.  Form each into a tight round ball, and let rest, covered.   After 30 minutes, turn on your oven to 450 degrees, and form each round into a bagel shape--I poke a hole through the center with my thumb, and gently pull outward on all sides.  Let rest on a lightly floured work-space and cover: set your timer for another 30 minutes.  Fill up a large pot about halfway with water (~ 2 quarts), and bring to a boil.  I find it works out if I start mine up about 10-15 minutes before the bagel rest is over, but on my old stove it took closer to 25.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

When the oven is hot and the bagels have rested and the water is boiling, gradually add the baking soda to the pot--it will foam up at first. Adjust to a simmer. 3 or 4 at a time, depending on your pot's size, slide the bagels gently into the water bath, top side down, nudging gently to make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan as they sink (a chopstick works well for this).  In 15-30 seconds or so they should rise to the surface, (don't worry if it takes a little longer, as long as they are not sticking to the bottom). Once they float, set a timer for 30 seconds, then flip over, and simmer another 30. Fish out of the water with a slotted spoon, and transfer to the sheet pan.  While the next batch simmers, sprinkle your desired toppings on the damp bagels.

Bake for 20-30 minutes--I reduce the temp slightly to 425 and use my convection for these, which also works well. You are looking for a firm, dark golden crust. I often check the interior hole to make sure that they have fully cooked--sometimes that area takes longer to finish baking.

Cool on a rack and store--I find these keep well for 4-5 days at room temperature, but I usually freeze half of our batch and pull them out mid-week.

Additional notes:

Stand mixer:  Note this is a stiff dough, and can be hard on a smaller Kitchenaid mixer. I can get away with a double batch in my Electrolux mixer, but I wouldn't try it in my aging Artisan. Just go slow, and it's fine to take a break and let the dough and your mixer rest a few times if you're getting that overheating smell.

Mixing by hand:  I tried this last week to see if it's do-able, and it was not much trouble at all.  I added the flour a bit more gradually, but with patience it all comes together fine.  It is a firm, stiff dough, so I would knead for a few minutes, let the dough rest, and then knead some more, 3 or 4 sessions in all.  The rest, or autolyse, really helps the gluten develop, you'll be surprised how soft and elastic the dough feels when you start kneading again.

Timing: I've tried different options, but a long rising time and dividing the cold dough straight out of the refrigerator works the best for me. If I let it warm up more (or it's a hot summer day), the bagels can become softer and harder to work with (but will still turn out fine).  If I let the dough go an extra day before baking, they can also sometimes get a little soft, but they also have a nice additional tanginess.  Having a good, stiff dough at the beginning makes the bagels easiest to work with.

If I do a double batch, I will stick half the dough back in the fridge for the first 30 minute stage so that I can stagger the baking schedule.

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  1. This is great, Sara. With trout coming regularly to house & smoker now, they need a fitting platform. Bagels on the docket this weekend.

    1. Ooh perfect trout delivery system!


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