Monday, August 22, 2011

BBA #3: Bagels

Regularly, I tell my students that books and the internet are tremendous resources for gaining new knowledge. We take on nonfiction research projects we've always wanted to explore, and we read and read and read to learn all we can. We identify main ideas, we make sense of unfamiliar words, and we piece information together from different sources until we have cohesive ideas about our topics.

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!


  1. They look beautiful, Katie! I love this bagel recipe, and you're right, the first 108 pages of the BBA are a gold-mine of bread-baking information. Enjoy!!

  2. I love the windowpane test and all the great bread info here, what I like the most are those amazing bagels and the lox.

  3. yum those look sooo tasty! I love that part of the BBA and I read it again and again (when i forget things). Reinhart is such a great teacher

  4. Katie your bagels look AMAZING! I made the bagels from SK's website as well even though I have the book! I think I have some late summer reading to do...

  5. Don't you love his breads. I am struggling thru' his sourdough and looking forward to the next section.

    bagels look just great.

  6. It's exciting to know exactly what bread is coming next! I'm up to brioche (with cinnamon rolls coming soon after!), so I'm at a pretty good place in the book right now. Good luck getting through the rest of that sourdough!

  7. We were supposed to read those 108 pages??? Just kidding, of course I read them. Your bagels look so good! And Matt would love are not skimpy with the toppings (he always says I don't put on enough "stuff" when I make them). Great job on these...the loaded ones at the end look absolutely sinful and delightful!

  8. I can't skimp on the toppings. I look at the bagels I barely put any toppings on, and I just feel slightly disappointed when I eat them. We really enjoyed these, but after having friends over to eat bagels, they're all gone! :(

  9. Your bagels are BEAUTIFUL. I've been wanting to get into breadmaking this summer, but I've been so busy/exhausted. Hopefully I can get around to trying something from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday this weekend.

    I’ve tagged you in the Seven Links blogger game here:

  10. Your bagels are beautiful! I've been making bread for years and still learned from this book. Like you, I never knew there was a difference between ADY and IY. Learned what a windowpane was; and learned how to make my own sourdough starter! There is a correction for the sourdough starter and you can find it here:

    Have fun!

  11. A correction to the sourdough starter? Fantastic! I've only ATTEMPTED one once, but it definitely didn't turn out the way I had dreamed. Thanks for the suggestion!

  12. What a fantastic job you did on your bagels. They look so perfect!