People who collect wild yeast for their own sourdough starter eventually learn that some baked goods are better suited to their local wild yeast than others. Here on the Colorado Front Range the wild yeast produces light bread and biscuits, but back in eastern Kansas this was not true. The bread there was on the dense side–still wonderful and tasty but not the light loaf. However, subtler wild yeasts are wonderful for making things like bagels.
You can make bagels using any kind of wild yeast, but bagels are a pretty forgiving way to start learning about your wild yeast and its unique character.
If you haven’t done so already, check out our ‘Spin “Collecting and Maintaining Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter,” to learn more about wild yeast sourdough.
(Note: This recipe comes from the book, “World Sourdoughs from Antiquity,” by Ed Wood)
- 2 cups culture from the first proof (see below)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups bread flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
ACTIVATING YOUR STARTER
If you do not use your starter often, or it’s been sitting in your refrigerator for the past two weeks or so, you’ll need to activate your starter so it’s “awake” enough for the first proof (below). To do this, remove your jar of starter from your refrigerator the morning before you bake your bread. Add a cup of flour and a cup of warm (85F) water, stir briefly, and let the jar sit out for the day. You’ll see the activity in the jar start to increase as the yeasts warm up and start to feed on the new flour. After about 3 to 6 hours your starter will be ready for the first proof (you’ll see the starter form bubbles, increase in size in your jar, and perhaps even foam a bit). The total time needed depends upon how warm it is in your kitchen and the nature of your wild yeast, but between 3 and 6 hours is normal.
If your starter is used regularly (once or twice a week) you can skip the formal activation process. All you need to do is take the jar out of the refrigerator, let it sit to warm up a bit, then move on to the first proof.
THE FIRST PROOF
The first proof is where you really get your yeast active, and at this point it’s called the sponge. Take your activated starter and dump it all into a bowl large enough where it has the chance to double in bulk (it may not expand that much, which is fine). Add a few cups of flour and an equal amount of warm water (about 85F), then stir briefly. How many cups of flour you add depends upon how much starter you have. You want about 3 cups total from the first proof: 2 cups for the bagels and 1 cup to go back into the fridge for your next baking (don’t put it back yet). For this reason it’s very important to not add anything to your first proof besides flour and water.
Cover your bowl with a dry towel (a wet towel will cool your sponge) and place it in a warm spot (about 85F) to sit overnight. In the summer I just leave my bowl on the kitchen counter. In the winter when it’s cooler, I turn my oven on and leave it warm for a minute or two, turn it off, then pop the bowl in the oven for the night. You can also put it in a cool oven with the oven light on all night.
The next morning, it’s time to make bagels.
MAKING THE BAGELS
Preheat your oven to 375F.
Measure your 2 cups of culture into a mixing bowl and return the rest of the starter to a clean container to go back in the refrigerator. To your mixing bowl add the eggs, oil, milk, 2 tablespoons sugar, and salt. Mix well with a spoon.
Add the flour, one cup at a time, stirring until you can no longer stir with a spoon. Then pour the sticky dough onto a floured surface and add the remaining flour (and more if necessary) until the dough is satiny and somewhat springy (about 10 minutes).
Divide your dough into 15 equal balls and roll each into about a 6-inch-long rope. Pinch the ends together to make a bagel shape, and set aside. Cover your bagels with a kitchen towel and let them rise in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour. Your bagels may not rise very much, so don’t be alarmed by this. It’s a bagel.
Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Drop the bagels (one or two at a time) into the boiling water; they will first drop to the bottom, then rise to float in the water. When they rise to the surface, remove them from the water and place them on paper towels to drain.
Place the drained bagels on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until lightly browned on top. Remove from the oven and let cool before eating, if you can wait that long. These are tasty, and are especially good plain with butter, or served with cream cheese and smoked salmon!