100% Naturally Leavened New York Bagels with Sourdough
I'm having a reverse culture shock, and it has to do with sourdough. The word is appearing on every menu in town but sadly more as a buzzword than a description. Much to my disappointment, sourdough is more often than not used as a flavor enhancer, and not for its leavening power which takes time and effort to cultivate. Don't get me wrong, I am still a long long way from being a bread master, but it makes me sad when an art so sophisticated is overshadowed by its marketing value.
While I'm on a rant, but why is it so hard to find a decent bagel in the city? When I do find a place, why is it not a deli around the corner?? When it comes to New York nostalgia, nothing beats a chewy bagel topped with that totally excessive schmear of cream cheese. To console myself, I developed my own recipe, based on Richard Reinhart's famous bagels, which I converted to be 100% naturally leavened by sourdough.
Why is it sourdough good for you?
Sourdough bread without the addition of commercial yeast is fermented using lactobacillus cultures. One of the process' byproduct, lactic acid, increases the digestibility of nutrients and promotes healthy gut bacteria. A long fermentation also helps to predigest the flour and break down gluten, which produces a final product that has lower sugar content and is gentler to the gut.
What defines a bagel?
According to Science Direct, bagels differ from other rolls in its flour quality and processing. Traditionally, bagels in America are made with very high protein, spring wheat flour, 13-16% protein content. This along with an intensive mix allows the flour to fully develop strength, which translates to their characteristic tight crumb and chewy texture.
Bagels also develop much of their sweet, yeasty flavor from a long and cold fermentation called retardation. At a lower temperature, yeast is allowed to leaven at a slow and steady pace, providing more time for a more complex flavor compounds to develop.
Retarding the bagels after final shaping contributes to its toothsome crust, as it allows time for the air cells on the surface to collapse and develop a skin. Lastly, Boiling the bagels help develop the thick, shiny crust we all love to break into.
Tips for success:
- The recommended hydration in most bread recipes is 55%. In humid places like Hong Kong, start from 50% and work up from there.
- Most recipes I found use non-diastatic malt powder and milk powder for a richer flavour. I used maple syrup instead, which is what most people have at home. If you do have them, use 16g malt powder and 22g milk powder.
- I personally find an egg wash unnecessary because most toppings stick well to the bagels after boiling them with sugary water.
100% Naturally Leavened New York Bagels with Sourdough
These bagels may sound time-consuming, but they can easily fit into a work schedule. To better illustrate that, I formatted the recipe with an itinerary based on a Friday timetable, so you will have fresh bagels for brunch on the weekend. Of course, you can freely adjust and shift the times according to your routine. The desired dough temperature is 80°F/27°C; adjust water temperature accordingly.
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon brown sugar
sesame seeds, poppy seeds, everything mix, etc
For the dough:
300g active 100% sourdough starter
350g (70%) bread flour
100-125g (50-55%) cold water
16g (3%) maple syrup
10g (2%) salt
1. Mix - 7:00 pm
Mix together the sourdough starter, flour, maple syrup and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add 85g of the water and mix with your hands to combine. Add more water, bit by bit, until the flour is fully hydrated. You don't want the dough to be too wet.
Mix on medium-low speed with a dough hook, until the dough is smooth and rubbery (Susan from Wild Yeast Blog compares it to a tire, which I cannot agree more), almost too strong for the machine to handle, 20-25 minutes.
2. Bench Rest - 7:20 pm
When the dough passes the window pane test, turn it out onto an unfloured counter and knead a few times. Form into a smooth and taut ball. Cover with an inverted bowl and bench rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.
3. Divide & Preshape - 7:40 pm
Divide the dough into 8 pieces of 95g each or 10 pieces of 76g each. Form each piece into a loose ball, cover, and allow the gluten to relax for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and sprinkle generously with semolina.
4. Shaping - 7:50 pm
Flatten one of the dough balls and starting from the edge furthest away from you, fold over a third of the way towards your body. Press the seam gently with your fingers and fold over again until you get a log. Roll with both your hands, starting from the center and moving towards the two ends, until it forms a tapered log about 8 – 10 inches long.
Wrap the log around your three middle fingers, with the ends overlapping by about two inches. Roll your palm against the counter to join the ends together.
5. Fermentation, Float Test & Retardation - 8:05 pm
Place the bagels on the prepared sheet pan, and cover with plastic wrap. Proof for about 2 hours at room temperature, until the bagels are puffy.
To determine if fermentation is done, perform a float test. Pick one of the bagels as a "sacrificial dough" and place it in a bowl of cold water. If it floats, it has enough gas to move on to refrigeration. Remove from the water and dry it off and return the bagel to the sheet pan. Cover and retard in the refrigerator for 14 hours. (some recipes say 12-36 hours, but I find the optimum crumb at 14 hours. A chewy crumb but no
6. Boil & Add Toppings - 9:15 am next day
The next day, preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C. Prepare a flat plate or tray with your choice of topping(s), and put a large pot of water on the boil.
When the water is at a rolling boil, remove the bagels from the refrigerator. Add the baking soda and sugar to the water, brush the semolina off the bottoms of the bagels and immediately drop them in. Boil bagels for 20 seconds on each side.
Remove the bagels with a slotted spoon, drain off most of the water, and slide them onto the toppings, top side down. Place them back on the semolina-dusted parchment, topping side up.
8. Bake - 9:30 am
Place the tray in the center rack of the oven, and immediately turn the temperature down to 400°F/205°C. Bake until the bagel tops are golden brown, 18-22 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.