Category Archives: yeast bread

Garlic Naan: Smoke Yourself Out of Your Kitchen, Deliciously

hey, January is a great time for your annual smoke detector test, right?

Naan Without a Tandoor

As I’ve written about before, the closest I’ve gotten to recreating the kind of bubbly, poufy flatbread you get at Indian restaurants is by cooking it on cast iron preheated on the stovetop as hot as it will possibly go. That gives you the charred surface and pale, pillowy edges. Oven baking turns the same dough into pita—too done all over, but not blackened anywhere.

The downside is that if you get your cast iron hot enough to cook naan and then brush it with ghee or oil, which you must do to prevent the dough from sticking, you’re going to generate a lot of smoke. So unless you have a miraculous kitchen fan or really like eating in smoky rooms, you might want to save this for a potluck or dinner party that someone else is hosting.

It’s pretty quick once you get cooking, especially if you have a griddle or two pots so you can cook two pieces at a time. The thirty seconds each piece takes to cook on one side is just long enough to roll out the next piece. In less than ten minutes, you can have the whole batch done and be out the door. And hopefully by the time you get home, the smoke will have cleared.

Pouf!

Recipe: Garlic Naan (adapted from All Recipes and my sourdough naan recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 1 package (.25 ounce, about 2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry or instant yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (follow temperature directions on the yeast package)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk or yogurt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (I would double or triple this next time—the garlic flavor was pretty subtle)
  • 1/4 cup oil or melted butter
  • 1 t. kalonji/nigella/black onion seeds (optional)

Method:

1. Dissolve the yeast and 1 Tablespoon of the sugar in the water and let stand until frothy (5-10 minutes). If it doesn’t get frothy, the yeast is dead or your water was too hot and you should start over with new yeast.

just after dissolving the sugar and yeast in water after 10 minutes

2. Whisk together 3 cups of the flour with the salt and baking soda. Add that mixture and the rest of the sugar, the milk or yogurt, egg, garlic, and nigella seeds to the proofed yeast and stir until combined. Add as much flour as necessary to make a smooth dough that you can knead without it sticking to you too much.

3. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes—as with pizza, you need a lot of gluten to make the dough stretchy enough to roll out thinly without tearing.

4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire surface in oil, and let rise at least an hour or until doubled in size (you can leave it for much longer if you want—probably up to 24 hours—or refrigerate it for up to a week at this stage; just let it come to room temperature before baking).

just after kneading about 3 hours later--it probably looked like this an hour later too, but I had 3 hours of other stuff to do before I got back to it.

5. Preheat something cast-iron or stone with at flat surface at least 10” in diameter on your stovetop (a skillet, pot, baking stone, etc.) on the hottest setting. Meanwhile, pinch off portions of dough about the size of an egg and roll into smooth rounds (you should have between 12 and 16).

okay, maybe a little bigger than a chicken egg. think duck egg. they'll shrink up a bit after rolling them up, and they'll be delicious whether they look like perfect circles or the state of west virginia

6. One at a time, roll each ball into a circle approximately 1/4” thick, brush the cast iron surface with oil or melted butter/lard/ghee, and place the circle of dough on the grill. Let it cook until deeply browned (anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes depending on how hot your cooking surface is). Brush the raw side with more melted butter or oil, flip it over, and cook for another 30 seconds to 3 minutes, or until it’s cooked through.

Sourdough Starter-Risen No-Knead Bread

I can never decide which look I like better... Pizza stone version on the left, Covered pot version on the right

Bread That Takes Time, but Not Your Time

A recent e-mail reminded me that I promised ages ago to share my sourdough version of the Sullivan St. “no knead” bread popularized by Mark Bittman in the NYTimes. Part of the reason I didn’t get around to it sooner is because it’s basically the same as the recipe I posted for crusty, shaped loaves—although that one uses just enough flour to make the dough kneadable. But the no-knead method probably deserves its own post.

Over time, I’ve developed three basic formulas to work with my sourdough starter: slow, medium, and fast. All three, even the “fast” version, work by letting time do the work that kneading normally does. A longer-than-normal rise enables long chains of gluten to form, and gluten is what forms stretchy membranes that trap the gas produced by the yeast, which is what causes bread to rise. The lack of kneading also means the dough can be wetter, because you don’t have to worry about it sticking to you. When that wet dough is baked it in a covered pot, it creates a steamy environment not unlike a professional steam-blasting oven, and that’s what produces the thick, crispy crust people associate with European-style or artisanal bakery bread. However, I’ve also had pretty good success with a baking stone and a splash of water thrown in a preheated dish on the oven floor (which often gets on the oven floor too, but that’s fine—more water in contact with more hot surface at one time = more steam).

The loaves above show the differences between the two methods—the covered pot method rises a little more and has a slightly nicer crust. Using a pizza stone enables you to make different shapes and slash the top in decorative ways. They were baked at the same time like so:

I put a loaf in the pot first, and then slid the rack back into the oven and just slid the second loaf onto the stone on a sheet of parchmentI removed the lid 25 minutes into the baking time, and the internal temp of the pizza stone was 195 F and the dutch oven loaf was 185F. I left the pizza stone loaf in for another 5 minutes, and the dutch oven loaf in for 10, after which they were both around 197-199F.    I couldn’t fit the pizza stone & pot side by side on the rack,
so I used the lid of the small dish to level the pot

The “fast” version takes a minimum of 6 hrs for the first rise. The “slow” version, which is the most similar to the original “no knead” recipe, takes at least 18 hrs for the first rise. However, those are 6-18 (or more) hours during which you don’t have to do a thing. Much like the no-knead pizza dough, this recipe virtually effortless. Five minutes to measure out the ingredients and stir them together, another minute or so to shape it, 30 seconds to throw it in the oven and another 30 seconds to add a splash of water at the beginning or remove the lid of the pot mid-way through baking. Even if it takes another few minutes to refresh the starter, the whole process probably takes less active time than making a trip to a bakery where you could buy something comparable.

And, of course, as with anything you make yourself, you can customize it however you want. Here are a few versions:

This probably had about 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, but no other additions. As you can see, that produces a much taller loaf. The Classic

About 1/4 cup each dried cranberries, dried apricots, and walnut pieces + 4 T. honey. Really nice with sweetened cream cheese. Cranberry, Apricot & Walnut

2 T. tomato paste, 2 t. garlic powder, 2 t. each dried oregano and parsley, and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese. I didn't use the stone or water with these because I didn't want them to be so crustyGarlic, Tomato, & Herb Knots

I go through phases with slashing patterns--I've been on a seashell kick, but a simple X in the middle or # pattern works too. Multigrain, Flax, & Honey

Choosing Slow, Medium, or Fast

The long rise means it takes a little advance planning—if your starter takes at least 8 hrs to “refresh” (which most do) that means you have to start the process at least 16 hours in advance. So, for example, if you want fresh bread for dinner, you’ll probably want to refresh the starter before going to bed the previous night and make the “fast” version sometime before noon the next day. It’ll be ready to shape and bake that evening. If you want the bread to be done by 7, the dough should be made by 9am. If you want the bread to be fresh and warm for breakfast or a weekend brunch, just shift that all back a little: refresh the starter anytime in the morning or afternoon of the previous day, make the dough in the evening, and it will be ready to shape & bake when you wake up.

You can always let it rise longer than the “minimum”—in fact, the longer you let it rise, the better. So if you have to be out the door by 8am and don’t get home until after 6, you can bake it anytime that night or even the next morning, and it’ll still be great. If I don’t manage to bake it within 24 hours, I usually refrigerate it in a zip-top bag and then let it come to room temperature for 1-2 hrs before shaping and baking it.

Aside from time considerations, which version I use also depends on how much bread I want to make and how much starter I want to use. I usually try to use 2 cups of starter per week—that’s just what works with my starter feeding routine—so if I want one loaf, I make the “fast” version. If I want two loaves, I use the “medium” recipe and double it. If I want a lot of bread or only want to use a little bit of starter (say, if I’m making something else at the same time that already uses a cup or more of starter), then I make the “slow” version.

You can also use cornmeal, wheat bran, or oats to prevent the dough from sticking to the towelThe cracks form because the bread continues rising after the crust begins to harden

Can It Be Moar Sour?

Yes.

The “slow” version produces the most sourdough flavor, despite starting with the least sourdough starter. I assume that’s mostly because the yeast have more time to do their thing, but I’ve never done a “slow” and “medium” loaf side by side to see if they’d be different even if they were allowed to rise for the same amount of time. In general, I get a lot of tang if I let any of the versions rise for 18-24 hours. In warmer weather, as little as 12 hours can be enough to produce a pretty sour loaf.

Probably the best way to maximize the sourness is to let the dough rise for 18-24 hrs and then refrigerate it for 3-4 days. The yeast will keep doing their thing—digesting the starches in the flour and producing acid and alcohol, and the bread will get more and more sour. Eventually, they’ll either run out of food or produce an environment too acidic for them to live in. However, I haven’t run into any problems as long as I bake the dough within a week of making it.

Can It Be More Whatever?

Yes. Just add whatever. Prefer whole wheat? Fine. To make it 100% whole wheat, you’ll need a starter made with whole wheat flour. If you don’t care about the percentage, you can use whole wheat flour with a starter made with white flour. It will be denser than the white wheat version, but will still rise and be tasty. Prefer not to use sugar? Fine. The original doesn’t, but I find that a little sugar improves the oven spring a lot, probably by speeding up yeast activity. Two teaspoons isn’t enough to make it taste sweet—most of it probably gets eaten by the yeast and transformed into gas, acid, & alcohol—so if you want a sweet-tasting bread, add more sugar (or maple syrup or honey or malt syrup or brown rice syrup, you get the idea).

interior shot of the fruit & nut bread, which also had a high proportion of whole wheat, thus the denser crumbI almost never make the “basic” recipe. I usually use at least 1/4-1/2 cup whole wheat flour and add some oats and sunflower seeds. Other possible additions include olive oil or melted butter, honey, grated hard cheeses, diced cooked or cured meats, herbs, tomato paste, chopped sundried tomatoes, dried fruits, nuts, flax meal, fried shallots, garlic powder or paste, wheat germ, and oat bran. Probably not all at once. Diced pepperoni, olive oil, tomato paste, shredded sharp cheddar or aged gouda, fried shallots, and oregano is a killer combination—like pizza in bread form. Fresh rosemary, swiss cheese and pine nuts are pretty great together, too. It works best if you whisk semi-liquid ingredients like honey, olive oil, or tomato paste into the starter (and water, if using) before adding the dry ingredients so they get evenly distributed.

See the recipe below for suggested amounts of additions, or just improvise. I also included the recipe below for the version pictured at the top, which I made this week. Instead of white bread flour, I used a multigrain flour made by Westwind Milling Co. that contains hard winter wheat, oats, rye, spelt, and corn (available at By the Pound if you’re in the Ann Arbor area). I whisked some gluten into the flour before adding it to the starter because many of those grains have a lower gluten content than wheat. I also threw in some whole rolled oats, flax meal, sunflower seeds, and honey. I used the “medium” version of the recipe, doubled for two loaves, and let it rise for 24 hrs. The result was sour and nutty and chewy and complex and just slightly sweet. It’s denser than the classic white flour loaf, but something about cold weather makes me crave that kind of heartiness. I’ve been loving it slathered with butter and topped with sprinkle of coarse salt or dipped in runny egg yolks.

Recipe: Sourdough-risen No Knead Bread
see this post for advice about making a sourdough starter

FAST (min. rise 6 hrs)

  • after risen, the dough will be airy and have a vast network of bubbles2 c. refreshed starter (1:1 flour:water)
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 2 1/4 c. bread flour
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. sugar (optional—improves oven spring)

MEDIUM (min. rise 12 hrs)

  • 1 c. refreshed starter
  • 1 c. water
  • 3 c. bread flour
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. sugar 

SLOW (min. rise 18 hrs)

  • 1/3 c. refreshed starter
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 3 1/2 c. bread flour
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. sugar

for lack of a towel, I've used old pillowcases before. not recommended if you have any doubts about the colorfastness of the fabric dyeequipment: a kitchen towel (not terrycloth) and baking stone or covered pot
extras: more flour, cornmeal, wheat bran, or oats for dusting the flour
substitutions: any flour can be used in place of the bread flour—add 2 T. vital wheat gluten per cup of lower-gluten flour; you can use whey or water used to soak dried tomatoes or fruit in place of the water; you can use any kind of sweetener in place of the sugar or leave it out
additions (per loaf): 1/2 cup rolled oats, grated cheese, or dried fruit; 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, nuts, diced cured meat like pepperoni, sundried tomatoes; 2 T. olive oil or any other oil or melted solid fat, tomato paste, honey or maple syrup, fried shallots or garlic, flax seeds or flax meal, wheat germ, oat bran, or fresh herbs; 2 t. dried herbs, garlic powder, or other spices.

1. Whisk liquids & semi-liquids together (starter, water, honey or tomato paste, etc.). If adding gluten, whisk that into the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

2. Combine all the ingredients and stir just until the flour is moistened—usually about a minute. The dough should be sticky and shaggy. If you can knead it without it sticking to you, add more water 2 T. at a time until it’s too sticky to knead. If it’s so wet it’s more like batter than dough, add flour until it can be shaped into a ball that won’t immediately flatten into a pancake. Getting the consistency right may involve some trial & error, but even too-dry or too-wet doughs will probably produce tasty bread.

it's hard to communicate texture in visual form--you can see how it sticks to the spatula. And yet it's stiff enough to pull away from the bowl a little.

3. Cover and let rise for 6-24 hrs. The dough is ready when it has more than doubled. There may be fat bubbles on top, and the dough should be full of air—see the honeycomb texture in the picture next to the ingredient list. The less fiber in the flour and the more sugar in the dough, the more it will rise.

4. Optional step I usually skip: Flour a work surface and scrape the dough out onto it. Fold it over itself once or twice. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest 15 min. I assume that’s meant to make it easier to shape. I usually just shape it in the bowl:

5. Flour your hands enough to keep the dough from sticking to you, scrape the dough out of the bowl and form it into a ball. Dust a cotton towel with flour (or cornmeal or wheat bran or rolled oats) and put the ball seam-side up in the towel. Dust with more flour, gather the ends of the towel, twist and pile on top of the loaf. Let rise for 1-2 hrs—longer is better, but 1 hr is sufficient. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like it has risen much, it will rise more in the oven.

it's so wet there's not really a "seam," but there will probably be one side that's not as smooth; that side goes up in the towel becasue it will be inverted into the pot or onto the baking tile.

twisted up and ready for the second rise 6. 30 min before baking, preheat the oven at 450F with a covered oven-safe pot inside (like a Dutch oven or Le Creuset) including the lid OR a baking stone and a baking dish on the oven floor. I think this makes it look kind of like a sand-dollar; Brian thinks it looks kind of like a marijuana leaf. Kind of like a Rorschach test.When ready to bake, carefully turn the dough into the pot and cover OR turn onto a piece of parchment paper, slash with a sharp knife if desired, and slide onto the stone. If using the baking stone, pour 1/2 cup water ino the preheated dish on the oven floor. 

7. Bake 25-30 minutes, and then remove the lid or turn the loaf for even browning. Bake another 5-25 minutes until the crust is browned on top and the internal temperature of the loaf is between 190-200F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can check for doneness by tapping the bottom of the loaf. When it’s done, it will sound hollow.

Recipe: Multigrain Bread with Sunflower Seeds, Flax Meal, and Honey
(2 loaves)

  • 2 cups refreshed starter (1:1 flour:water)
  • 2 cups water
  • 5 3/4 cups multigrain flour (like the Westwind Milling Multigrain Bread Flour, which contains hard winter wheat, oats, rye, spelt, and corn)
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1/4 c. flax meal
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 T. kosher salt

Follow the same method outlined above. Divide in half and rise in two separate bowls if your mixing bowl isn’t large enough to hold the dough once it’s more than doubled.

Before rising8 hrs probably would have been enough; I let it go 24.

Sourdough-risen No-knead Pizza Dough

with a spicy tomato sauce, bacon, cherry tomatoes, sauteed onions, and fontina cheese

Homemade Bread When There’s No Time to Make Bread

One of the perks of being in graduate school is that I basically work from home most days, so if I want to take a break in the middle of the afternoon to knead bagel dough until there’s enough gluten to make a baker’s windowpane, I usually can. But I know that’s a luxury not everyone has, and sometimes even I can’t seem to fit all that kneading in. As much as I might like to live by some sort of mantra like, “If I’m too busy to knead bread for 15 minutes, I’m too busy,” sometimes, like it or not, busy just happens.  

Ezekiel, just after being refreshed with 1 c. bread flour and 1 c. water, already bubblingHowever, I also have this yeast creature named Ezekiel, and if I don’t bake with him at least once every  two weeks (and preferably every week—keeps him more active), he will eventually suffocate in his own excrement. That may be one of the biggest deterrents for people who might otherwise be interested in creating and maintaining their own starters—even if you’re an avid baker, a sourdough starter represents a kind of commitment. Whether or not you’re type to get emotionally invested in your fermenting flour paste, the whole endeavor is likely to seem like a waste of time and food if you’re just going to end up killing the stupid thing in a month or two anyhow.

However, thanks to the no-knead method popularized by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Bakery and Mark Bittman of the NYTimes, the inevitability of weeks when you will be too busy to knead a loaf of bread shouldn’t stop anyone from having a starter. Honestly, no-knead bread is probably the only reason Ezekiel is still alive. There are some culinary justifications for the no-knead method too—if you don’t have to knead a dough, it can be stickier and that increased moisture content is one way of producing a crackling “artisan bread” crust. Also, the long, slow rise produces the big pockets of air and uneven crumb people have come to expect and desire from “rustic” breads like ciabatta. But the best part by far is being able to make homemade bread with about as much time and effort as it takes to boil an egg.*

I’ll post my sourdough-risen adaptation of the classic crusty Dutch Oven-baked boule everyone loves eventually. But I think the best testament to the versatility and ease of the no-knead method is no-knead pizza.

The Four Keys to Great Pizza Crust

1) Gluten 

Pizza is even more reliant on gluten than most yeast breads. Without a lot of gluten, the crust will tear before you can stretch it thin enough to be a crust instead of something more like focaccia. can be rolled thinner for a true thin crust, but then it won't get those big fat bubbles, which I loveLots of gluten is also what makes pizza crusts chewier than normal bread—usually, you want something closer in texture to a bagel than sandwich bread. Normally, you produce gluten by kneading the dough for a long time, but the no-knead method uses a very long rise instead, which facilitates gluten production without any effort on your part. Time basically does the kneading for you.

However, you do need to use a high-protein flour to give time the raw material to work with. If you substitute all-purpose flour, the crust will probably tear when you try to shape it. If you don’t want to buy bread flour because you’re afraid you’ll never 5 lbs of it, but you do have access to a “natural foods” store, you can use vital wheat gluten to increase the protein content of regular or low-gluten flour—whisk 1 T. vital wheat gluten per cup of all-purpose flour or 2 T. per cup of whole wheat or cake flour into the dry ingredients before combining them with the wet ingredients.

2) Olive Oil

The traditional no-knead dough recipe contains no fat at all, like a baguette dough, but pizza dough usually contains at least a little fat both for suppleness and for flavor. So instead of using Jim Lahey’s recipe for no-knead pizza dough, I use the “Olive Oil Dough Master Version” from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, adapted to work with my 100% hydration sourdough starter (a 1:1 combination of flour and water by volume). Any kind of oil will work, but I think my favorite thing about this dough is that you can smell and taste the olive oil in the final product. 

3) Refrigeration

can be used just like the refrigerated dough you can buy at the storeMost pizzerias refrigerate their crusts for a minimum of 24 hours. The cold slows the yeast activity  down and enables even more gluten development and a lot of flavor development, which is largely due to the yeast byproducts. You can bake the crust without refrigerating it, and it will turn out okay; however, it will be way better after at least one and up to ten days in the refrigerator. While that might be a bummer for instant gratification-seekers, it actually makes this a super convenient meal. You can throw the dough together one day and then after the long rise, divide it into individual pizza-sized amounts and store them in separate ziptop bags in the refrigerator for use basically anytime in the next two weeks.

Then, whenever you want pizza, all you have to do is roll it out, top it, and bake it. Even if you grate the cheese by hand and the toppings you want to use take some prep work—like cooking bacon and sautéing some sliced onion in the rendered fat or chopping up a pear or bell pepper—you can do that in the time it takes the oven to preheat. Baking only takes 15 minutes, and if you’re of the mind that pizza alone isn’t a complete and balanced meal, you can use that to throw together a salad or cut up and steam a head of broccoli. If you use already-prepped toppings like shredded cheese, canned artichokes, and pre-sliced olives or chopped up leftovers, the whole process takes less than 20 minutes of active time. Either way, your pizza will be done in less time than it takes to get delivery.

4) Hot Oven & Stone

While the exact temperature may vary by oven, which you’ll only figure out by experimenting, you can narrow your search to 400F+. A super-hot oven is what makes the yeast go crazy, producing those great big bubbles and crisping the top of the crust. For a crisp bottom crust, you need a preheated surface—ideally a baking tile or pizza stone, but a preheated baking sheet is better than nothing.

For my oven, 15 minutes at 500F is perfect—I get a soggy crust at both 450 or 550. You’d think it would just get crisper as the oven gets hotter (or at least I did), but when I tried it at 550F, after 12 or so minutes the top was starting to burn and the bottom wasn’t totally crisp, and got softer and limper as it cooled. At 450, the bottom would begin to burn by the time the cheese on top melted and despite that, never got totally crisp.

As I’ve mentioned before, you don’t have to drop $40 on something specifically marketed as a baking tile or pizza stone at Williams-Sonoma, you can use any unglazed quarry tile that will fit in your oven, which should be available at most home improvement stores for a couple of dollars (Alton Brown claims they cost $0.99 in the 2007 Good Eats episode “Flat is Beautiful” and katie k at the Fresh Loaf recommends asking for “saltillo tiles” which ran about $1.50 in Southern California in 2006).

1 pizza serves 2-3; we usually eat 2/3 for dinner and leave the last two pieces out for a snack later that night. on rare occasions, they survive and become breakfast the bubbles inevitably collapse a little once you cut the pie

Recipe: Sourdough-risen No-Knead Pizza Dough (makes 2 12”-14” pizzas)

(adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day; for the instant yeast version, see Steamy Kitchen)

  • 2 c. refreshed starter
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. sugar
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour (may substitute some or all whole wheat flour, but add 2 T. vital wheat gluten per cup)
  • parchment paper or cornmeal and additional flour for dusting baking sheet

1. Whisk the olive oil into the refreshed starter, and then add the rest of the ingredients (aside from the parchment paper and cornmeal) and stir just until combined—about 1 min.

2. Cover and let rise 8-20 hours or until the dough is more than doubled in size and there are fat bubbles on the surface.

ingredients just combined into a dough--it will be sticky about 12 hours later. also an illustration of why if i cooked more during the day, my photos would be so much nicer

3. Divide the dough into two balls. Stretch the surface of each one and pinch the edges together and then roll it around on a smooth surface to form round balls with taut surfaces. Pour some olive oil into two zip-top bags (I usually use the 1 qt. size) and spread it around a little or spray a little cooking spray into them and tuck one ball into each bag. You could also just store the whole thing in one gallon-sized bag and pull off a grapefruit-sized hunk when you want to bake, but I find the one ball, one bag method to be a little more convenient.

how dirty does "smooth, taut balls" sound? oiled bags

4. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 10 days. Alternatively, shape and bake now.

5. Remove dough from cold storage 30 min-1 hr before rolling it out to let it warm up a little. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 500F with a baking tile placed on a middle rack or a baking sheet on the lowest rack possible—or even on the floor of the oven. you can also stretch it with your hands and toss it in the air. I am not that cool.

6. Roll the dough to approximately 1/4” thickness for a chewy, bubbly crust. For a true thin crust, roll it as thin as you can make it—until you can almost begin to see light through it. The best way to create a mostly even circle is to flatten the dough into a round and then roll from the center to the top edge and then turn the circle 90 degrees and repeat—roll, turn, roll, turn, roll turn, etc. always rolling in the same direction, straight from the middle of the circle towards 12 o’clock. 

7. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a lightly floured towel (I usually cut open the ziptop bag and use that as the oil will keep it from sticking). Let rise for 20-30 minutes while the oven finishes preheating and you finish prepping any ingredients.

8. Top as desired. Alton Brown insists that less is more. I think it’s your damn pizza and you should do whatever you want with it. Some combinations I especially like:

With no sauce, just brushed with olive oil:

  • sautéed shallots and shitake mushrooms with fontina
  • firm pears and blue cheese (with or without bacon and/or arugula)
  • lots of fresh herbs, garlic and a hard cheese like asiago

With tomato sauce:

  • eggs (either scrambled or just broken, whole, onto the pizza so they cook over easy in the oven) with peas and ham or bacon (fake bacon works just about as well) with pressed mozarella or monterey jack
  • artichoke hearts, sliced olives, and asiago
  • salad shrimp, diced green onions, blanched asparagus tips, and a hard, sharp cheese like parmeggiano-regiano grated coarsely or peeled in strips with a vegetable peeler
  • fresh tomato and garlic with slices of fresh mozzarella (basil optional)
  • leftover meatloaf with onion and sharp cheddar

With an herb or arugula pesto:

  • sautéed bell peppers and onions with pepperjack cheese
  • fresh tomato and mozzarella (a repeat, but it’s a classic)

and bacon, sauteed onions, cherry tomatoes, and fontina wasn't half bad either 

9. Bake for 10-15 min. or until cheese is melted and crust is golden-brown.

*Why this is the standard metric of simplicity, I don’t know. I mean, I had to look up how to boil an egg not that long ago. And anytime you have to drain something and then shock it in ice water, that’s probably at a level of complexity belied by the way “boiling an egg” is invoked. I mean, have you seen The Worst Cooks in America? How many of them would know how to boil an egg? I mean, I’m sure they could put an egg in boiling water—but how many of them would know when to pull it out and how to prevent that unappetizing grey outer layer of yolk from developing? Clearly a cliché from another era.

Sourdough-Risen Whole Wheat Bagels and the Sweetness of the Old World

Happy day after St. Pat's! Can I offer you some carbohydrates? Perhaps slathered in some fat?  

“Authentic” Bagels: Boil, Bake, and Bluster

There are three things that distinguish bagels from other breads:

The first, perhaps obviously, is the shape. There are at least four different theories about the origin of the word “bagel,” and all of them refer to the shape (etymology notes below the recipe for fellow word geeks). However, you can’t just make a standard bread dough into rings, throw it in a hot oven, and expect it to develop the glossy crust and dense, chewy interior that most people associate with bagels.

The second difference is an issue of method: bagels are traditionally boiled before they’re baked, which causes the surface starch to gelatinize, producing their characteristic smooth, shiny crust. The same is Or maybe the bagel married in, likely to the tacit (if not explicit) alarm of some of the older members of the Christian family.true of pretzels, which originated in the same region and, according to Maria Balinska, who wrote a 2008 book about the history of the bagel, are probably related. She specifically calls them “cousins,” whatever that means in terms of food history. She also notes that the Polish obwarzanek—another boiled, ring-shaped bread often sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds—is an “older and Christian relative,” so perhaps that’s the spinster aunt who devoted herself to Jesus. Google translates the Polish entry on “Obwarzanek” to “Bagel,” and this travel guide refers to them as “pretzel rings.” I’m sure different people have different ways of distinguishing between the three, but the boil-then-bake method they share probably makes them more alike than different. So, for example, some people might think pretzels have to be shaped like folded arms whereas other people accept rods or rings as “pretzels,” but either way they’re formed from ropes of dough that maximize the surface area exposed to the boiling water, just like their relatives.

The third difference is an ingredient—bagels are the only bread I know of whose recipes frequently call for malt extract. Pretzel recipes occasionally include it, but not nearly as often as bagel recipes, many of which claim that the malt extract is the key to making “authentic” bagels or achieving a truly “bagel-y” flavor.

The idealized referent of bagel authenticity is usually the “New York bagel,” rather than their Polish-Jewish ancestors. However, when I lived in New York City, I ate plenty of bagels—even at delis on the Lower East Side—that were indistinguishable from the ones available at chains like Brugger’s and Einstein’s nationwide. Perhaps that’s just further evidence of the declining standard described here (accompanying a recipe that demands malt powder):

I can’t count how often expatriate New Yorkers would stop me on the street with tears in their eyes, telling me that mine were the best bagels they’d had since they left "The City," and that they were better than most in "The City" these days. The reasons are simple. I didn’t cut corners and used good ingredients. I don’t know why so many bakeries cut corners on making bagels these days, it’s really NOT that hard!

But I think it’s more likely that the idea of the superior New York bagel is primarily the product of nostalgic fantasies and social decline narratives—it’s something that never was and tells you more about contemporary anxieties and desires than anything real in the past. The tears in those expatriates’ eyes say more about contemporary feelings of depthlessness and transience, the desire for connections to the past and a sense of community, and the myriad dissatisfactions that make people want to think everything was better in the “good old days” than what makes a bagel delicious or “authentic” to anything.

Malt Extract: the Ancient Sweetener in your Bud Light

Given how the same bakers describe malted barley extract on their ingredients page, its presence is probably one of the so-infuriatingly-cut corners they’re talking about:

We wouldn’t dream of making bagels or kaiser rolls without barley malt extract, and neither should you! Barley malt extract improves the taste and texture of the breads it is used in. It goes by a number of names. barley malt extract and malt extract among them. If a malt extract doesn’t specify what grain it is made from, chances are pretty good it was made from barley. Barley is a grain used mostly in brewing beer and making Scotch Whisky. IBarley makt [sic] extract adds a nice taste to breads where it is used. For our recipes, you can either liquid or dry, diastatic or non-diastatic malt extract and not worry about changing the recipe, any combination of these will work just fine. The important things to avoid are hopped malt extract which is really only useful for making beer and the malted milk powder sold in many grocery stores as a milk flavor enhancer which has too little malt in it and too much sugar.

From an 1896 Harper's Magazine @ http://danshuihistory.blogspot.com/2009/11/li-hung-chang.htmlMalt extract is basically just sugar made from grain, usually starting with barley. According to Harold McGee, it’s “among the most ancient and versatile of sweetening agents, and was the predecessor of modern-day high-tech corn syrups.” Just like corn syrup and agave nectar, malt extract is produced by breaking starches into their constituent sugars. Rather than adding enzymes or acids, malting works by simply germinating or sprouting the grain. As a grain germinates, it produces enzymes that digest the grain’s starch to fuel its growth. Those enzymes can be dried and mixed with cooked grains (usually rice, wheat, and barley), which they can also digest, producing a sweet slurry containing lots of glucose, maltose (glucose+glucose), maltotriose (glucose+glucose+glucose), and some longer glucose chains.

It’s not as sweet as sugar, but before sugar colonialism, it was one of the primary sweeteners available in Europe and Asia (the other two were honey and molasses made from sorghum). According to McGee, it was the primary sweetener in China until around 1000 CE, and is still used in China and Korea for confections and the sweet, caramelized gloss on dishes like Peking Duck. Malt extract is also still frequently used in beer brewing—a friend who does home brewing told me recently that American brewers are especially likely to use it to adjust the alcohol content of their beers midway through the brewing process. Apparently the laws regarding how closely the alcohol percentage matches what’s on the label are fairly strict and as the sugars in malt extract are highly available to yeast, it’s a good way to increase the yeast activity quickly and reliably.

cocktails to anyone who knows the mug's year

Possibly-Heretical Baking Substitutions

I'm not 100% sure what the label means. Is it malted wheat? Malted barley that was fed with cooked wheat? Malted wheat fed with cooked wheat? McGee claims that malt extract is “frequently used in baking to provide maltose and glucose for yeast growth and moisture retention,” and that might be true for commercial bakers, but it’s not available at most grocery stores, where home bakers get their supplies (it can be found anywhere that carries home brewing supplies and many “natural foods” retailers, including some Whole Foods). However, before sugar was readily available and cheap, it seems likely that malt extract was used the way other sugars often are today—to speed up yeast activity, enhancing rise and oven spring—in many kinds of bread, not just bagels. 

Some bagel recipes call for other sugars in place of the malt extract in bagel dough—the first recipe I tried called for maple syrup, perhaps because of it’s phonological similarity to “malt syrup,” the liquid form of malt extract or because they’re both liquids, though malt syrup is much thicker—closer to unfiltered honey. Recipes that call for “malt powder” but also recommend a sugar substitution generally call for brown sugar. And I found at least one that suggests malt powder, malt syrup, honey, and maple syrup are all interchangeable. Of course, they all have slightly different flavors, but most recipes only call for 1520 g for ~8 bagels so any affect the sweetener’s flavor has on the final product is bound to be minimal.

It’s been a while since I made the maple syrup batch, but I honestly didn’t notice any major flavor difference in the batch pictured above, which used malt extract. Perhaps part of the problem was that I used a “wheat” malt, which may not have as malty a flavor as barley malt. But, again according to McGee, even when it starts with malted barley, “malt syrup has a relatively mild malt aroma because the malted barley is a small fraction of the grain mixture.” In short, despite what some recipes say, you shouldn’t let your lack of malt extract stop you from making homemade bagels.

Nonetheless, it’s still a mystery why bagel recipes would be more insistent about using malt extract than any of the other breads descended from European varieties developed before sugar colonialism. Why are people so willing to substitute sugar in everything from soft, buttery brioche to pretzels, bagels’ closest cousins, but fanatics about the importance of using this particular Old World sugar to certify the authenticity of the bagel?

A Fetish for the Old World

My theory is that it has to do with the bagel’s iconicity and association with Jewishness. One story about the origin of the bagel that seems plausible (though Balinska lumps it with the story about stirrups—explained in the etymology note at the end—as speculative at best and possibly fictitious) is that it’s another version of the ubiquitous roll-with-a-hole developed by Jewish bakers in Krakow after a decree limiting baking or trade in flour to the bakers’ guild was lifted. Even in Poland, which from its founding was more tolerant to Jews than most countries in Europe, Christian trade and craft guilds in many cities excluded Jewish merchants and artisans, who sometimes formed their own guilds. The travel guide’s description of Obwarzanek claims that King Jan Sobieski lifted the ban in 1496, but he didn’t rule until the 17th C. Other claims that Jan Sobieski lifted the ban in the late 17th C. are problematic because the Yiddish word “beygel” was already in widespread currency in Krakow by 1610. There was a different King Jan in 1496—Jan I Olbracht or John I Albert—whose reign was also notable primarily for wars against the Turks. Perhaps he lifted the ban, and Jan Sobieski’s greater fame and friendliness to Poland’s Jews sort of absorbed the earlier Jan’s bagel-inspiring or enabling acts? 

Regardless of precisely when or why Jewish bakers in Krakow started making their own version of the obwarzanek, it’s probably the strictness of Jewish dietary laws that made it so popular and caused it to spread to different Jewish communities, whereas the obwarzanek has remained basically a Krakow specialty. It’s leavened, so it’s not kosher for Passover, but it doesn’t contain any dairy so it is parve. Additionally, the thick, solid crust keeps the interior soft and moist better than a split or craggy crust would. So while bagels, like most breads, are tastier when enhanced with fatty spreads or toppings, they’re not bad plain. I suspect that’s also why the Jewish bagel is traditionally shaped into a smooth round whereas obwarzanek look like they’re usually twisted and supposedly do stale quickly:

On leaving the oven the baked goods have a sell-by date of about three hours. As such, finding a hot one is essential. Enjoyed by people of all ages, obwarzanki also feed Kraków’s entire pigeon population when in the evenings the city’s 170-180 obwarzanki carts essentially become bird-food vendors.

Of course, soft pretzels also have a smooth crust that protects the soft interior and makes them tasty with or without added fats, but the pretzel was never associated with Jewishness. The popularity of bagels in America and canonization of the “New York bagel” has everything to do with Jewishness. According to We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans by University of Minnesota historian Donna Gabaccia:

It is true that in the 1890s in the United States only Jews from Eastern Europe ate bagels. In thousands of nondescript bakeries—including the one founded in New Haven around 1926 by Harry Lender from Lublin, Poland—Jewish bakers sold bagels to Jewish consumers. The bagel was not a central culinary icon for Jewish immigrants; even before Polish and Russian Jews left their ethnic enclaves or ghettoes, their memories exalted gefilte fish and chicken soup prepared by their mothers, but not the humble, hard rolls purchased from the immigrant baker. As eaters, Jewish immigrants were initially far more concerned with the purity of their kosher meat, their challah, and their matzos, and with the satisfactions of their sabbath and holiday meals, than with their morning hard roll….

They became firmly identified as “Jewish” only as Jewish bakers began selling them to their multi-ethnic urban neighbors. When bagels emerged from ghetto stores as a Jewish novelty, bagels with cream cheese [which, as she elsewhere notes, was initially developed by English Quakers in the Delaware Valley and Philadelphia in the eighteenth century] quickly became a staple of the multi-ethnic mix that in this century became known as “New York deli,” and was marketed and mass-produced throughout the country under this new regional identity.

As she also notes, in Israel bagels are considered “American” not Jewish. However, their widespread association with Jewishness in the U.S.—both as a marketing tool and as the basis of legit cultural practice and memory—puts greater demands on bagels and bagel bakers to legitimate their authenticity and historicity. Whether it was a continuation of the pre-18th C. practice of using malt extract in many breads to speed up yeast action or a a re-introduction of the ingredient from some centuries-old bagel recipes, using malt extract has become one way for people to differentiate their bagels and lay claim to greater “authenticity.” 

Making Your Own

Authentic or not, this recipe is delicious and fairly easy. Like most yeast breads, it takes time, but not a lot of active time. You can use any combination of flours you want, but if you want a really chewy crust and crumb, you will need a high proportion of protein. Some recipes suggest “high-gluten” bread flour, which has an even higher percentage of protein than bread flour. King Arthur claims their “Sir Lancelot” flour is the highest-protein flour currently available for retail sale at 14.2% protein. I just used regular bread flour (10-12% protein), whole wheat bread flour (up to 14% protein, although the additional fiber seems to limit gluten action which is also why I didn’t make them with 100% whole wheat flour), and added approximately 1 T. vital wheat gluten per cup of flour (including the flour in the starter). Even if you just used all-purpose flour, they would probably still be good, just less chewy.

You can add more of any kind of sugar or whatever else you might want in them—dried fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, chopped spinach, grated cheeses, etc. And you can top them however you like—I used kosher salt for some, sesame seeds for some, and a combination of bits of fried garlic, fried shallot, black sesame seeds, and kosher salt, kind of like one version of an “everything” bagel. I think they’re best fresh out of the oven, slathered with butter, but true to form, they’re also good plain (and easy to stow in a bag for a convenient snack) and on days 2 and 3, they’re great toasted.

 and all the delicious bits that fall off can be pressed into the soft side 

Recipe: Sourdough-Risen Bagels (to substitute instant yeast see this entry)

  • 2 cups refreshed starter (450g)
  • 3 1/4 cups flour with 12-14%-protein (550g) I used:
    • 4 T. vital wheat gluten (50g)
    • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread flour (250g)
    • 1 1/2 cups bread flour (250g)
  • 4 t malt extract (20g)—optional
  • 2 t kosher salt (15g)
  • 3/4 cup water (170g)
  • 3 T oil (35g)
  • 1 T maple syrup (20g)
  • toppings—sesame or poppy seeds, salt, fried garlic or shallots, finely grated hard cheeses, etc.
  • 1 tsp. baking soda (for poaching water, not for dough)

1. Whisk together flours, gluten, and malt extract if using. Add starter, water, salt, oil, and maple syrup.

incredients combined enough of a dough to begin kneading

2. Mix until they begin to form a dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 15 minutes. If you have a mixer or processer with a dough hook, you can use it for this step. Gluten development is pretty important if you want chewy bagels, so it’s worth checking for the baker’s windowpane.

after 12 minutes of kneading, close but not quite after 15 minutes, it's smoother and stretchier

3. Cover and let rise 3-4 hours, or until doubled. You can let it rise longer and nothing bad will happen, although the sour flavor will become more pronounced over time, and positively sourdough-like after 12-15 hours. You can significantly retard the rise by refrigerating the dough.

bagels 035 bagels 036

4. Divide the dough into 8-12 equal pieces. If you want to be especially particular, use a scale. Eight will be ~155g each, ten will be ~125g each (the size I made), twelve will be ~105g each. Shape them either by poking a hole in the middle of a round and stretching it out or rolling the dough into a rope 9-12 inches long, and pinching the ends together. In my experience, the latter makes for a slightly more consistent thickness.

the poking method the rope method two lumpier ones on the top right were shaped by stretching a hole, the others were all made with the rope method

5. Let rise another 3 hours (30-45 min. if using instant yeast) or cover and refrigerate overnight or up to a week, and remove 1 hour before you’re ready to bake to let them come back to room temperature (so if you want fresh bagels in the morning, you need to make the dough by the afternoon before).

6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400F, boil a large pot of water with 1 tsp. baking soda dissolved in it, and put a couple tablespoons of any toppings you want into bowls.

clocwise from the top left: kosher salt, "everything" mix of fried garlic and shallot and black sesame seeds and salt, and plain roasted sesame seeds

7. When the water is boiling, carefully place 2-3 bagels at a time (more if the pot is large enoguh that more can float in the pot without touching) and poach them for 1 minute on each side. Remove them to a colander and then, while they’re still wet, place them in one of the bowls of toppings.

poaching side 1 poaching side 2 collecting toppings

ready to bake 

8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until browned. Rotate pans half-way through if your oven is uneven.

Fun With Etymology

Leo Rosten’s Joys of Yiddish (1968) says the origin is “beugel,” the German word for “a round loaf of bread,” although it’s a little perplexing why that would have been used to describe a bread that, unlike the ubiquitous round loaf, is ring-shaped. And also, Wiktionary is all “beugel? I don’t know no beugel.”

Several sources, including a 1993 New York Times article and a 2006 book titled Bakery Products: Science and Technology, refer to a popular myth that bagels were invented by Jewish bakers in Vienna as a tribute either King John (Jan) III Sobieski or a King Jan (John) Cobleskill of Poland after he saved the city from Turkish invaders in 1683. The King’s favorite hobby was horse riding, so they shaped the rolls like stirrups, the German word for which is “bugel” (the Austrian word is “beugel” which may be the origin of the first faux-etymology). However, a letter to the editor demanded that “that piece of fakelore be laid to rest,” noting that Yiddish word “beygl” appears in the communal rules promulgated by the leaders of the Cracow Jewish community in 1610: “The rules stipulate that bagels are among the gifts which may be given to women in childbirth and to midwives.” Furthermore, the word appears in the rules without any definition or explanation, suggesting that it was already well-established by the early 17th C.

Two that seem more likely: According to FoodReference.com, the Oxford Companion to Food (1999) says the word comes from “bugel,” not the German word for stirrup, but the Middle High German word for “ring or bracelet.” And in Jewish Cooking in America (1994), Joan Nathan claims that the word derives from “biegen,” the verb meaning “to bend.” Both “bugel” and “beigen” are derived from the Old High German “biogan,” meaning to bow, bend, or curve and the related root “boug-,” which in turn is descended from the Proto-Germanic “beugan” (which, incidentally, also gives us the Old English root “beag” or “beah” which also refers to a ring—“usually meant for the arm or neck; but in one case at least used of a finger ring” OED). So that Germanic root for all things bendy and ring-like is likely the origin of the Yiddish word that was in wide use in Poland by 1610.