Boiled No-Knead Sourdough Bagelry

In food on 01/18/2009 at 9:34 am

Our resident plumber fixed a leak in the kitchen sink last night, and also brought back in the bag of hardware goodies, an oven thermometer. According to this little gadget, our electric oven is off — cooler by a good 40 degrees or so. No wonder we have problems when we bake! Today’s project is no-knead bagels, done the right way: boiled then baked.

What is no-knead? Last week, Colameco’s Food Show featured Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery, whose store no longer resides in its eponymous street. As a pioneer in bringing back the old European baking techniques, Jim rambled for the 25 minutes about what it means to be an artisan, how he wanted to elevate ‘the baker’ from the realms of ‘the dishwasher’ or ‘the janitor,’ to bring back the craft of bread, and how to respect the yeast. The key to this whole thing is not to disturb (too much) the yeast party.

Science corner: yeast use the sugar in the dough as food to make energy. The waste product is alcohol and carbon dioxide. That’s what makes the water/flour mix rise, gives that distinctive ‘yeasty’ aroma, and the bubbles, tiny bubbles, you see in the final product. We think dough smells good, but in actuality, it’s yeast urine! When we bake bread, we’re murdering our lil’ buddies, after making them do all the work.

In our fridge sits our pet, a sourdough starter we began two years with a packet of ‘real San Francisco sourdough’ freeze-dried since 1887 we purchased in Gilroy, CA, the garlic capital of the world. We’ve used it to make sourdough waffles and enjoyed the explosions of yeasty farts when we open the container to feed it fresh flour.

We decided to incorporate that with Jim Lahey’s starter method, which is a very porous, almost soggy master dough, instead of our liquid mulch. It’s extremely pliant; you don’t have to fight with it when you’re shaping it. You gently nudge it into what you want it to do. It’s the same idea as playing classical music to plants or babies in the womb. Good vibes all-around.

One advantage of Jim’s dough is that it’s ready to go, any time. He adds new yeast to each batch of bread, along with a portion of the master dough, portions: top secret. The true authentic starter is only flour and water that’s been fermenting naturally, picking up whatever bugs are floating in the air. You provide them with a playground to frolic. This could theoretically go on for centuries if you take care of the dough properly.

To these ends, a kitchen scale would be a handy tool, the analog kind is fine. We found ours at Marshalls for $3, sans top for resting items to be weighed. Our resident plumber jerry-rigged a round 5″ cork sandwich, making the final cost $5. Check your local Goodwill or Salvation Army as well for possible rummaging.

All-purpose Sourdough:

up to 1lb master dough

2lb flour

2 pkg yeast

1.5 tsp salt

3 cups water (varies with humidity)

Add old dough to water and blend carefully – I hear an immersion blender works wonders for this task. As soon as mine arrives, I’ll confirm. At this point in my process I didn’t have any master dough but my old starter that was looking forlorn in the fridge. I added to that about 2 cups water since my starter was a liquid starter and then added in the yeast, salt, mixed well, and then the flour. If your dough is not coming together and has a lot of extra flour around, add more water – you want this to be like wet cement – little flow and sticky.

Let this sit for 2-5 hours, a warmish place. But don’t artificially heat it. I tried that with a small portion and the yeasties did not like that at all. The good stuff will get bouncy and if you poke it, the dough will fall down. That’s perfect. At this stage you can either put it in the fridge and let it hang out there until you want to use it (maybe within 2 weeks) or you can use it now. We chilled ours overnight and this morning I wanted fresh bagels.


To make sourdough bagels:

Preheat your oven to 450F. If you have a pizza stone, place it about 1/3 of the way from the top of your oven with enough space so the bagels are close to the top but not touching. Find a cooling rack.

Take your sourdough dough and tear off 3 oz balls. If you want flavored dough, add your ingredients here, i.e. maple syrup, sun-dried tomatoes, cinnamon-raisin, seeds, granola, oats, etc… Try not to disturb dough too much when incorporating. You can also dip the boiled bagel in seeds, salt or other toppings – feel free to experiment!

Let dough rest on a floured surface (like a cutting board) for about 20 min, covered with saran wrap (or until they are no longer chilled! very important). At this point start a large pot of water boiling, about 5 quarts. Add 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tsp baking soda to the water. The best timing would be to have your oven heated and your water boiling at the same time.

Lightly flour the balls and make a hole in the center of the ball and stretch into a big ring. You want this larger than the finished product because the dough will shrink and you don’t want the hole to fill up. For bialys, carmelize some chopped onion and make a deep and wide well on the bottom, no hole. Sprinkle onion on top of each round before baking and dust with flour. You only dust with flour those items which can easily burn – like onions and garlic. Let these rest until they rise again – very important! Baking is not the same as steaming, the rising will be arrested as soon as you put them in the oven.

Put some of your bagels into the pot. I found the easiest way to do this is to place the dough rings on my slotted spoon and then dip the bagels into the water. The dough will sink first and then float to the top. I can make 3 bagels/set – but if you have a larger pot, you may be able to do more. You want the bagels to have room to float without being on top of each other. Let the dough boil for 2 minutes and then flip to the other side and boil for 1 minute. Put the boiled bagels on a cooling rack to drain. Boil your next set, drain and then put your bagels on the stone in the oven. You want your oven to steam, so, put some water in a pan at the bottom – but be careful when you open the oven! You don’t want a face full of steam. If you have more bagels to boil, bake the first sets now before boiling the rest of your bagels. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

Let cool and enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s