The first 100 pages of Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread are my summer nonfiction research project. Tucked in those pages are terms I've never heard, ideas I've never encountered, and enough information to keep me learning about bread for the rest of my life.
When you open The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, it's easy to imagine skipping to page 108 where the formulas for different breads actually begin. Do not. If you do, your bread will not turn out as well.
Case in point: I've made Peter Reinhart's bagel recipe several times over the past year from a post on Smitten Kitchen. Deb broke down the bagel recipe and really explained each step. But my dough never rose quite the way I wanted. I never got the bubbly, doubled rise I desired from my starter. My finished bagels were always tasty, but I knew they could be better.
Little did I know that there is a MAJOR difference between instant yeast and active dry yeast. You only need 33 percent instant yeast in a recipe, whereas you need 50 percent active dry yeast to achieve the same rise. That little difference in yeast yielded the foamy and bubbly sponge I had previously failed to recreate.
I didn't know what a windowpane test was. Yes, I'm sure I could have googled it, but I just never got around to it. Reinhart explains the windowpane test clearly (part of Stage Two of his TWELVE stages of Bread). It's when you hold a small piece of dough up to the window and stretch it to make a paper-thin membrane. If it falls apart or tears before the membrane is formed, not enough gluten has developed in the dough, and it requires more kneading. If you can see through it like a windowpane, it's ready.
Reinhart even broke down how to shape the bagels into individual rolls for proofing. Before, I had a hard time forming even rolls, and my finished bagels had some inconsistencies in appearance. Reinhart suggested putting a ball of dough on the counter, cupping it inside your hand, and rotating the dough in a circular motion until it popped up into a perfect ball in your hand. He says it can be done with both hands at once, but I will save that for later recipes.
The end result were bagels so tasty they didn't need to be toasted. They had shiny, thick, caramelized crusts (from the water bath in alkalized water), and they were dense inside. They had just the right amount of chew. I gave the bagels a quick dip in an egg wash (Deb's idea) after they came out of the water bath. This helped the toppings to stay firmly on the bagels. I had sesame seeds, poppy seeds, salt and minced onions on hand to top the bagels.
These bagels were delicious with lox and cream cheese for a dinner party just a few hours after they came out of the oven. However, the apartment was hot, hot, hot from the 500 degree oven!
As part of the BBA Challenge, we're not posting recipes from the book. If you enjoy the recipes from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, buy the book and bake along with us!