Sourdough Bagels.

I was having kind of an off baking day today. It really began yesterday, when I figured I should reduce my starters to one. Did you know that since I've been obsessed with Peter Reinhart, I have been maintaining two strains of my starter? One remains on the counter at 100% hydration, eating a daily breakfast of half it's weight of water and flour. The other became "firm" starter: a refrigerated firm-feeling refreshed dough ball that eats about every 3 days 1 c. of flour and 1/3 c. water. I was starting to feel silly having two starters, but at the same time, couldn't bear just throwing that darling little dough ball from the fridge into the garbage. What better solution that to just use it all up?

With so much success and adoration for the multigrain bread, and the excuse to share a loaf with a friend that had a layover here in Milwaukee this afternoon, I knew that 8 oz. of the firm starter could be used up in it. If I were to go on making nothing but Reinhart loaves, many of which call for starters that are either "firm" or "mild" (which really just means at different hydrations than the starter I keep on my countertop), I would perpetuate only the dough ball in the fridge. It's kind of nice to only worry about feeding once every few days... Since I had just a little bit of firm starter left, I figured I may as well whip up a batch of sourdough bagels when I was at it. A half batch took exactly the amount I had left, 4 oz.

This was my first experience with natural leaven bagels. I'd have to say, this dough was much nicer to work with than the super dry and elastic commercial yeast version I've made. While the yeasted version was very tasty, it couldn't hold a candle to the naturally leavened version, and really the workload is about the same.

There are really two ways to shape bagels. Reinhard recommends pinching a hole through the middle and gently expanding until the bagels look like bagels. I prefer the "snake" method, probably because it's just more fun to roll out snakes. This dough was sticky enough to hold together too.

Now, you may remember that I said I was having an off baking day. The multigrain bread that went through it's first fermentation when I was out of the house visiting my in-laws down the street, decided that it was going to work extra quickly. When I got back, I could tell it was close to the over-ferment mark; I chalked it up to the weather and tucked it into the fridge for the overnight rest. Then, I hoped for the best. This morning when I removed it an hour prior to baking, the dough was crested over the top of the brotform, a clear sign of over-proofing...

Oh well, I fired up the oven containing my cast iron pot and baked it off anyway. It isn't the prettiest loaf, but I think it should still be tasty. I sent it along with E., who should have it in Minneapolis by now. I'm kind of curious about it, the way I'm curious if my human child is behaving for others when I'm not around.

Towards the end of the bake time, I brought a large pot of water to a boil and boiled the bagels which also looked a bit suspicious:

Clearly, they had risen prior to their overnight proof, but they didn't seem to have the plump bellies they should have had, post proofing. After boiling them one minute per side, I had some hope that they would be okay once baked - but you can see how they were lumpy and uneven.

It was probably the best surprise ever that these were hands down the best tasting bagels I have ever eaten. And, I'm not just saying that as a proud parent. They were chewy-crusted, holey wonders, and slathered with cream cheese were the perfect early lunch. The Boy-O ate one after school with peanut butter and asked me why I made them. I said that I just felt like it and he said "well, thank you for making them, because I love them". There is all the encouragement I need to go on and make more!

Meanwhile, while obsessed with the genius of Peter Reinhart, I recall that long ago I pledged to make all of the breads in the My Bread book by Jim Lahey. I don't want to take back my vow of Lahey love, but I am considering altering the remaining loaves to use natural leaven. Wild yeasted Lahey bread may be just the push I need to go on and complete my personal challenge, while still remaining true to the ideals set down in My Bread.

When thinking back on my bread journeys, I really am glad I started off with Lahey bread. It was a perfect start for high-hydration doughs whether I knew it at the time or not. And, if even now I'm feeling a little lazy, mixing up his ratio of 300 g. water (50 g. of it starter) with 400 g. flour yields a perfect loaf every time. I certainly am indebted to him, and certainly still have all of the drive to try out the loaves I've yet to make.

As for the sourdough bagel: I am smitten. I am no New Yorker and have limited expertise on the mysterious bagel, I have no vat of lye that I dip into, I have no hard and fast ideal that I expect when I bite into a fat dough ball with a hole in it's middle (save that it should, preferably, first be cloaked in cream cheese). But in my opinion to date, this is the bagel that I will compare all bagels to from now on. The only thing that will make it better is homemade cream cheese - and as soon as I can order some mesophilic culture, the perfect bagel and companion cheese both will be mine for the eating.