simplest sourdough bagels

I’ve had a good bagel recipe for years, but I rarely made them because the recipe called for some less-common ingredients, like wheat gluten, barley malt syrup, and milk powder, which made the bagels feel like a hurdle. However, a few weeks ago I experimented making the bagels without the weird stuff and — guess what — I didn’t miss ‘em!

Now the recipe is pared down to the most basic, straightforward list imaginable. It takes 10 minutes to mix up the dough, which means it’s faster and less involved than regular sourdough bread. Even though it’s still a two-day process (I want to test a one-day method soon), and there’s a little bit of awkward juggling what with the overnight proof and the added step of boiling, once you go to the trouble of figuring out a system, they feel so, sooooo easy.

Seriously! Here, I’ll walk you through the steps. This is how last week’s bagel-making played out in my kitchen….

First thing in the morning, I pulled my starter from the fridge and fed it.

When I fed it again around lunch time, it was still sluggish, but I’d been using it weekly so I knew it was just bluffing — it’d wake up all the way during the shaping and proofing.

Late that afternoon, about a half hour before I was set to walk out the door for Ultimate, I measured all the ingredients into my mixer bowl and let it knead for a few minutes.

Once the machine got tired, I turned the dough out on the counter and briefly kneaded it by hand.

I left the dough on the counter to rest while I pulled my hair into a ponytail and put my sneakers on, and then, once I was ready to go play, I popped back in to the kitchen to shape the bagels.

Once they were shaped — one recipe makes about 15 bagels — I slipped the trays into garbage bags and put them into the fridge for an overnight proof.

Late in the afternoon the following day, I pulled the bagels out of the fridge and let them rest at room temp while the oven preheated. I put some water and a couple tablespoons of brown sugar into a big kettle and set it to boil. (The brown sugar is for flavor; other options include barley malt syrup, lye, and baking soda, which I might try next time.)

When the oven was hot and the water boiling, I boiled 3 or 4 bagels at a time, and then transferred them to the hot stone. When the stone was full, I popped them into the oven for about 18 minutes, and then I repeated the steps with the second half of the bagels.

And that’s it! Thirty minutes of dough prep one day, and an hour of oven work the second day. (And during that hour of boiling and baking, I also washed down the cheese cave, prepped for supper, brought in the laundry, etc.)

And as for the bagels? They are unlike anything you can get in the store, including at our beloved local bagel shop. I’ve found that bought bagels are often cakey and sweet — just bread with a hole in the middle — but these are altogether something else: chewy and dense, flavorful, utterly addictive. Fresh from the oven, we eat them plain (that’s how my husband likes them) or with butter; days two and three, we toast them. One of my favorite breakfasts is a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese and ham. It takes us about three days to burn through a batch.

The other day my younger son scolded me for letting him eat as many as he wanted because then they wouldn’t last as long, he said, and that right there is the ultimate mark of a good food: you don’t want to eat it because then you won’t have it anymore.

However! Running out of bagels bothers me not one bit since that just means I have an excuse to bake up another batch of freshies.

Simplest Sourdough Bagels
Adapted from my own recipe.

If making plain bagels, use 4 teaspoons salt. If making everything bagels, cut it back to 3 ½ teaspoons since there’s salt in the seasoning mix.

Day One: The Dough
13½ ounces sourdough starter
12 ounces cool water
2 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons yeast
3½ – 4 teaspoons salt
¼ cup sugar
2 pounds bread flour

Measure all the ingredients into the mixing bowl in the order they’re listed: liquids followed by dries. Mix on low speed for 4-8 minutes. If your machine starts to whine after a few minutes, turn the dough out onto an unfloured surface and knead for several minutes. Cover with a towel and let rest for about 10 minutes. 

Divide the dough into 4-ounce blobs. To shape, roll a ball of dough into a small rope, shape into a circle with the ends overlapping, and then squeeze and roll the ends until they adhere to each other.

Place the bagels on parchment-lined baking sheets. Pop each sheet into a garbage bag (or cover with plastic) and move to the refrigerator to proof for 12-24 hours.

Day Two: Boiling and Baking
Remove the bagels from the fridge and let sit at room temperature for 20-60 minutes. Preheat the oven (and your baking stone) to 450 degrees. Fill a wide cooking pot with a couple inches of water and a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and bring to a boil. Cut the parchment paper that the bagels are on so that there are two-three bagels on each sheet of paper.

Once the oven is hot and the water is boiling, pull the baking stone from the oven and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Gently lower a section of parchment paper with bagels into the pot of water, flipping it so the bagels go into the water face-first. Tug off the paper and discard it. Boil the bagels for 20 seconds, flip, and boil for another 20 seconds. Keeping the bagels face up and using a slotted spoon, transfer the bagels one at a time to the baking stone. When the stone is full, bake the bagels for 16-18 minutes. 

Repeat the process with the remaining bagels. Bag and freeze any leftover bagels.

For Everything Bagels: sprinkle the stone with the everything seasoning in addition to the cornmeal and, as soon as the boiled bagels have been transferred to the stone, sprinkle their tops with the seasoning.

For Cinnamon Raisin Bagels: add 2-4 teaspoons cinnamon to the dough and knead in a few big handfuls of raisins.

This same time, years previous: show and tell, the quotidian (10.12.20), English muffins, a weekend away, soiree!, the quotidian (10.13.14), roasted red pepper soup, the dogwood wild runner, why it ain’t happening.

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