I’ve tried not to bore you with too many updates about my bagel project. Be glad for self restraint because I’ve been intensely tweaking the formula every day for the past two weeks and have learned much with those experiments. I’m glad to say I found a way to hit all the targets for my personal definition of a good bagel. Most of it lies in dough technique, and the rest happens with oven technique.
I started out by using formulas from Peter Reinhart’s Crust & Crumb, Rose Levy Berenbaum’s The Bread Bible, and Beth Hensperger’s nearly identically titled book, The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes. Each yielded very different styles of bagel, which I’ll talk about when I review the books. Reinhart came closest to my target, and I modified his formula to get exactly what I wanted. What does that mean?
The dark color of the crust comes from high oven heat, which yields a toasty, caramelized flavor, and a chewy, bulletproof crust as thick as a credit card.
See those blisters? The glassine skin on thousands of those tiny bubbles shatter under the tooth, adding a crisp component to the chewy crust. Those blisters develop from two kinds of preferment (a loose poolish and pate fermentee, for you bread bakers out there), and a slow overnight rise in the fridge.
Tearing one of these things in half takes some effort, like ripping a small phone book in half with your bare hands. I kid you, but only a little. This is a desired feature for old school bagels (in my opinion). Bagels were brought to this country by hardboiled Eastern European immigrants who escaped a harsher life than we can imagine. Think they made bagels like poofy rolls with holes in the old country?
The interior is dense, thanks to high gluten flour kneaded by hand to yield a dough so stiff that anything short of a commercial spiral mixer would probably choke on it and burn out. Though the dough starts out dry, the short bake time at high heat keeps the interior moist.
Now that I’ve found one path to acheive my goal, it’s time to expand my understanding of this technically demanding bread. I’m a journeyman baker, and have just begun learning this craft. I wonder how many master bakers would be willing to share their knowledge with us through interviews on this blog? Stay tuned readers, it’s part of the year long bagel project!