The bagels and I decided to have a re-match. The bagels were confident but I fought through to triumph. Or, at least, a draw. After the Great Bagel Disaster I felt it was important to get back on the horse right away. Even though my plan was to make the Brioche for the BBA Challenge I figured I could fit in some bagel making as well since there’s so much wait time involved.
I had a plan of attack: I believed in our first bout the bagels had thrown me with high-gluten flour and insufficient hydration. I was ready this time. I decided not to use any high-gluten flour (that’ll teach it) and to make sure that my sponge was nice and batter-like as described in the The Bread Baker’s Apprentice recipe.
I made an interesting discovery in the process of making the sponge. Last time I had weighted the flour but used the volume measurement for the water. Since water weight is the gold standard for volume measurement (i.e., 1 cup of water is supposed to weight 8 ounces hence the ideas of 8 ounces to a cup) I figured using cup measure would be easiest. The recipe called for 2 1/2 cups of water or 20 ounces. Last time when I added the water to the flour (a mixture of 1/2 high-gluten and 1/2 bread flours) it just kind of clumped up. Literally clumps of flour balls in a sort of molten mass. So this time I decided I’d try weighing the water to ensure accurate results. That was an eye-opener! I measured out 2 1/2 cups by volume and then set the bowl with the flour and yeast on the scale, hit the tare button to zero the scale and started pouring. Turned out my 2 1/2 cups by volume was only 13-14 ounces by weight! No wonder I didn’t have enough water. Sure enough the flour and water were clumpy but this time I didn’t take it lying down. I drew on my resources and, yes, got some more water. I brought the water weight up to 20 ounces (by weight) and now the sponge became nice and fluid. Thick but runny. Dare I say it? It was like pancake batter – just as described in the recipe.
I left it to it’s bubbling for the requisite 2 hours while I went on to Brioche preparation. After the 2 hours the sponge looked quite active. The volume had increased a lot and it was very bubbly. When I tapped it on the counter (as specified in the recipe) it quite nicely collapsed in the center. I figured I had it on the ropes now.
Now came the decisive moment. Would it mix up into a stiff but satiny dough? Was I just being lured in by it’s innocent appearance? Would it ensnare me in it’s wiley ways again? I added the additional yeast, salt, malt and flour. Using the dough hook on my mixer I began the battle…er, mixing. And then it happened! It came together into a lovely dough ball. Kind of shaggy but definitely dough like.
After a few minutes with the dough hook, I turned it out onto the board and kneaded it by hand for 5 minutes or so until it was smooth and pliable. It was still kind of spongy but nothing like the previous session. It had a much more doughy (as opposed to rubbery) texture. I quickly divvied it up into 4 1/2 ounce’ish pieces (I actually weighed them this time so the pieces would be more consistently sized) and let them rest. I contemplated that giving them time to rest might allow them to concoct some sneaky counterattack but I took my changes.
They were actually quite a pleasure to work with. The dough’s texture was excellent and they formed nice little balls easily. After letting them rest (nicely covered with a damp cloth – no bedtime story though) they were ready for shaping. This too proved MUCH easier this time. Instead of the tough, rubbery resistance I met last time, these little guys were easily manipulated by poking a hold through the slightly-resistant middle and stretching to form the bagel shapes. Once they were all formed, they had to rest again. These guys get tuckered out pretty easily.
After their little nap it was time to see if they were ready for the long, overnight retarded fermentation. They looked pretty bouncy to me. I prepared a bowl of room temperature water, dropped the test bagel (or, as we have come to think of it, the sacrificial bagel) into the water and it happily remained floating on the surface of the water. Not even a dip toward the bottom of the bowl. I removed it, blotted it and returned it to it’s brethren on the baking sheet. (You know, as I describe this, it sounds more and more like taking care of a bunch of colicky infants.) Into the frig they went for their overnight adventure.
Next morning, having a successful Brioche under my belt (more on this in another post), it was time for the boiling. Bagels are a LOT of steps! They looked pretty good coming out of the hibernation chamber (refrigerator) although I thought they could be a little more risen. But, following directions, I prepared the boiling water with baking soda. Keeping my handy timer next to me, I boiled them 3 at a time. I thought I heard some choruses of shrieking and moaning on the trays behind me but I ignored it. I gave them one minute per side and returned them to the now oiled and semolina floured parchment paper. Added some sesame seed and a bit of kosher salt. Once they were all prepped and the oven pre-heated to a blazing 500 degrees, I popped them into the oven with cautious optimism. This could actually work! They were looking pretty good.
I rotated the trays after 5 minutes and got a look at them. I believe I said, “Hmmmm.” They were not exactly picture perfect looking bagels. No appreciable additional rise had occured (although I didn’t really expect any after killing the yeast with the boilling but it’s hard to let go of optimistic expectations). And the time it took to rotate them really dropped the temperature in the oven which probably wasn’t a good thing either.
I gave them another 5 minutes and checked their temperature. See? Just like infants. According to the thermometer they were done but they didn’t look very brown or golden or, well, done. But the bottoms were definitely browned so out they came and onto rackes to cool. They looked a lot more bagel’ish than the first batch. And they didn’t collapse horribly into Elephant Man disfigurement.
As you can see, they’re not exactly poster child bagels. I tore off a piece from one. Again, a much better experience than last time as I could actually tear it off without resorting to scissors and gnawing. The inner texture was pretty good. The crumb was dense but bagels are supposed to be chewy. The taste was really good (the sesame seeds and salt certainly didn’t hurt). And they were definitely chewy. For dinner I tried toasting a couple for me and my husband. They just didn’t seem to want to brown. I don’t know what that’s about.
I would say, overall, that they turned out fairly well. They were definitely bagel-texture-like. The crust could have been more crackly (or crackly at all for that matter). But the taste was really good. So, that’s it, I’m declaring myself the victor in the rematch. Take that you bagels you.