(tl;dr No recipe today, but tips on how to use ‘Baked Soda’ to make every bread more delicious, and teaser for a special bagel-related announcement soon)
If you’re reading this, you probably know that I’m a lawyer by training. I have zero professional baking experience or training.
So I’m generally not one to brag about my baking. They’re good, but they’re also far from perfect, and I have a lot of learning to do.
But my bagels. Oh man, my bagels.
I was no stranger to bagels growing up in Toronto, and lots of places like to claim that they know how to make bagels, or that they sell ‘Montreal-style bagels’.
Here’s a tip – they don’t.
Unless you’ve eaten a bagel still warm out of the oven at St. Viateur Bagel in Montreal (don’t talk to me about Fairmont!), you don’t know good bagels.
That said, most cities have at least passable bagels. None of that grocery store nonsense which are more sugar and chemicals than actual bagel, but Kiva’s and St. Urbain Bagel in Toronto both do more than decent bagels.
But Winnipeg is a bagel wasteland. Gunn’s, which has an almost religious following here, makes a doughy, almost challah-like egg bagel, and the other independent bakeries stick to the New York/Supermarket cakey bagel.
And so, here at the Litibaker, I’ve created a “Winnipeg-Style Bagel”. 100% wild yeast, 25% whole wheat, with a bit more than a touch of honey.
Don’t be fooled by the caramel exterior – these rings of deliciousness are soft and chewy on the inside. The colour comes from a new technique I tried today for first time – “Baked Soda”. Essentially, you bake baking powder at 250F for an hour, and it makes it significantly more basic (closer to the lye used for pretzels).
My official taste tester described these as tasting “rustic”. When I asked him what that meant, he explained that it meant that they tasted “authentic”. (I might need a new taste tester, one who describes tastes as actual tastes. Oh well.)
Discovered, or at least popularized, by the New York Times, I use baked soda whenever I make bagels now.
In addition to the colour and texture, the baked soda, which gets added to the poaching liquid, also acts to neutralize the acidic flavour which naturally comes from the sourdough. The result is a slightly sweet bagel with the Montreal texture, but with a much more pronounced flavour than the salt-less Montreal bagels give you.
The Baked Soda trick works with other things too. General rule of thumb based on my experiments to replace the lye in a recipe is to substitute 50g of Baked Soda per 4 cups of water, and use water which is just off-boiling rather than cold. For tougher doughs, like pretzels or bagels, you’ll want the water to actually be boiling.
The best use for Baked Soda, aside from bagels, is to ‘pretzel-fy’ pretty much any bread you make. Best example of how versatile this trick is comes from one of my favourite blogs, Food52, which has a recipe for a “Pretzel Challah” which sounds unbelievably delicious.