Bagels, Litibaker Style

[Scroll down to get to the recipe]

If you’ve been following my baking adventures on The Great Canadian Baking Show, you will have seen Episode 2’s… unfortunate… (to put it generously) bagel-gate.

The social media image shared by the show sums it up best:

Bagel meme

Oops.

So here’s the thing: I actually make really good bagels. Ask anyone who has tried them. They’re chewy, sweet and flavourful. If you want to know more about what led to Bagelgate on GCBS, check out my post about Episode 2 on Facebook.

This post isn’t about bagelgate, it’s about how to make my actually good bagels (for real!)

I sometimes call these ‘Winnipeg-Style Bagels’, because I developed the recipe in Winnipeg. I’ve written about these before in my post about “Baked Soda”, but this is the first time I’ve posted the recipe.

They’re based on the Montreal-style of bagel, in that they’re chewy and dense, not fluffy and cakey like the New York dreck. But instead of using eggs and no salt, like St. Viateur’s bagels, these use a high percentage of sourdough starter and a slightly higher than average amount of salt.

They’re then poached in a water bath with dark honey and baking soda, to give them a sweetness, a chew and a nice brown colour. Finally, they’re baked on bagel boards, which gives a slight woody scent to them, and gives them just the right consistency.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, this is not a simple or quick recipe. These bagels will take you at least two days, and they’re fairly fussy. But the results will make you wonder what you’ve been buying from the store all these years (unless you’ve been buying St. Viateur, in which case, keep on!).

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The Recipe

A couple of notes about ingredients:

  • My sourdough is 75% hydration. If yours is 100%, you’re going to have to do some math to compensate. I will eventually update this to include a conversion.
  • I feed my sourdough whole wheat flour, and the flour I use in the main dough is Frederik high-gluten flour from K2 Milling, a local family-run mill an hour north of Toronto. The K2 flour is technically a white unbleached flour, but it’s only been lightly sifted. Feel free to use any unbleached strong, high-gluten bread flour, but reduce the water by about 25g, as a true white flour won’t need as much.
  • Also on the topic of flour, “strong, high gluten bread flour” is not the same as the bread flour you buy at the supermarket, which are usually around 12% protein. For bagels, we want 14%-15%. If you can’t find high-gluten bread flour (try bulk food stores and organic grocery stores), you can buy Vital Wheat Gluten (sometimes labelled as “gluten flour”) and add about 1 tbsp of it to the dough to compensate.
  • You definitely want to use sea salt for this, and preferably grey sea salt. Grey sea salt is untreated, and is just wonderful.
  • You can add other flavours and add-ins to this dough, up to around 20% of the total flour weight. I did lemon zest and herbs de provence once. It’d also be nice with shredded aged cheddar, or a seed blend.
  • For the poaching liquid, the type of honey you use will have a real impact on your flavour. If you just want something basic, use a regular white/gold honey. If you want something a bit sharper and more distinctive, I really like using buckwheat honey.
  • Diastatic malt powder is sometimes sold at bulk food stores. King Arthur Flour sells a nice sized container for exactly this purpose. If all else fails, your local home-brewing supply store will have some. You can also replace it with an equal amount of malt syrup, if available.

EQUIPMENT NOTE

  • For this recipe, you will need bagel boards. I got mine at the link, but they are also fairly straightforward to make yourself.
  • You will also need one or more baking stones. I use these, so that I can cover my whole oven rack. There are lots of options on Amazon and elsewhere, get what works for you. They work great for making pizza too!
  • You are going to have your hand in the oven for a bit of time during the baking process. It makes a big difference to have high quality oven gloves, particularly ones with five fingers. I use these.

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Makes a bakers’ dozen. 1 hour active time. 2 days total.

Bagels

356g sourdough starter (fresh)
360g water (35c/95f)
709g high gluten, strong bread flour
23g sea salt
2 ½ tsp diastatic malt powder
(Optional: 2 tsp yeast).

Dough

  1. Put your sourdough starter in the bowl of your stand mixer (or your mixing bowl), add the warm water, and mix to break up the starter (if your starter came out of the fridge, your water can be a bit warmer). If you’re using commercial yeast, add it now.
  2. Add the flour, malt powder, and salt.
  3. Mix with the dough hook until everything is combined, and flour is fully hydrated (about 3 minutes).
  4. Let the dough rest for five minutes.
  5. Continue mixing with the dough hook until the dough is satiny, smooth and not-quite-tacky. The dough will be quite stiff. It will take another 3 minutes or so. (You can do this second kneading by hand, but I don’t recommend it. It’s a very stiff dough).
  6. The dough is done when it feels stiff and satiny. You can do the ‘windowpane test’ but you’re developing a lot more gluten than what is necessary to just pass that test.
  7. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly, and leave in a warm place to rise until it’s grown by about 50%. If you’re using commercial yeast, this will take about an hour, otherwise, it will about four hours (but will depend on how active your sourdough is).

Shaping

  1. Scale the bagels into loose 113g balls. Cover the balls with a towel as you work.
  2. Prepare a large baking sheet with parchment. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. (seriously, don’t skip this.)
  3. Don’t flour your work surface, as you’ll need some friction here. In fact, I usually keep a spray bottle of water handy, to lightly mist the counter so I can get more traction.
  4. With the heel of one hand, press down on the ball, and rock back and forth to flatten and begin rolling into a rope. When the rope is long enough, add your second hand, and pressing down and out, roll the rope to about 9″.
  5. Wrap the rope around your hand, with the ends overlapping by about 1″ on your palm. Press and roll the overlap against the counter to seal.
  6. Put the shaped bagels on the prepared parchment covered baking sheet. Lightly spray the tops of the bagels with nonstick cooking spray, and put in the fridge overnight.

Baking Day

Poaching Liquid

12 cups water
75g honey
1 tbsp baked soda (see below) (or 2 tbsp baking soda)
1 tbsp kosher salt

  1. Take the bagels out of the fridge 90 minutes before baking.
  2. Preheat the oven to 500F, and line the middle rack with baking stones.
  3. Before doing anything else, cover clean plates with your desired toppings (poppy seeds, sesame seeds, everything bagel seasoning, sea salt) and leave the plates close to the stove.
  4. Prepare the poaching pot.
  5. Once the bagels pass the ‘float test’ they are ready to be poached. To do the float test, fill a small bowl with cold water. Gently drop one bagel into the bowl. If it floats within a couple seconds, it’s ready to go.
  6. Soak your bagel boards.
  7. Bring the water to a boil (you can adjust the ratios as needed for whatever size pot you’re using). Once boiling, add all of the other ingredients, and mix to dissolve.
  8. Using a slotted spoon (I use this), gently place the bagels into the water, maintaining the water at a constant boil. After 1 minute, flip them over. Poach for another 30 seconds on the other side, and then remove with the slotted spoon. Be very gentle when you’re handling the raw bagels. It doesn’t take much to deflate or deform them.
  9. Lay with top (domed) side down into prepared plates of toppings, move back and forth gently, and then place topping-side down on a bagel board.
  10. Continue until you have three bagels per board.
  11. Put the bagel boards in the oven, and bake for 4 minutes.
  12. Flip the bagels off the bagel boards, so that the bagels are now facing topping-side up.
  13. Bake for 15-18 minutes.
  14. Allow to cool on a rack. These are best eaten after they’ve had a chance to fully cool, at least 2 or 3 hours.

To see how I flip my bagels, head over to my instagram for a short video.

Optional: Baked Soda

From the NYT

  1. Spread a layer of baking soda over a tinfoil covered baking sheet.
  2. Bake at 250f for one hour.
  3. Allow to cool, and then use immediately, or keep in an airtight container.
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