Peppercorn-Potato Sourdough Bagels

Here on the West Coast we have a chain of bagel restaurants whose namesake is an ark-builder that rhymes with a feathered neckpiece worn by Mae West (you got that?). While I have always found their bagels a little too puffy and bready for my taste, there is one that makes my heart skip a beat.

I admit it, I’m a sucker for that ark-builder’s peppercorn-potato bagels. But, while I will not be so immodest as to say my sourdough version is better, it is chewier, and makes a damn good tuna sandwich. If you like a bagel that bites back when you bite into it, this could be your creature. Try them one by one or two by two, and decide for yourself.

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Bagels 100% Sourdough. Opinions 100% Mine.

These bagels are 100% sourdough-leavened. Some people will tell you that makes them superior to the ones I have posted in the past, which use a small amount of yeast in addition to sourdough. This is wrong. They’re not better, just different. More sour. Very good.

Then there are those who think any bread in the shape of a bagel makes it a bagel. This is also wrong. The only good bagel is a chewy bagel, and there are a few keys to chewiness:

  • Use high-gluten flour, or your regular flour with about 3% of it replaced by gluten flour (a.k.a. vital wheat gluten)
  • Don’t make the dough too wet. The hydration of this dough is about 55%.
  • Mix the dough until it is strong strong strong. I mean strong!

I have always thought that my bagel dough, after coming off the mixer and taking a few turns by hand, had the feel of a brand new tire. I have been ridiculed for this analogy by more than one person I’ve mentioned it to, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Come on people, don’t you know what I mean? Haven’t you ever run your fingers across a display tire in the tire store and felt its dry, silky smoothness, firm but with just a tiny bit of give? That’s what the surface of your bagel dough should feel like.

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Olive Oil Challah With Prefermented Dough


Allow me to reintroduce my old and faithful — but neglected-of-late — friend, prefermented dough.

Prefermented dough (or “pâte fermentée” if you’re a Francophile, or “old dough” if  you like short words) is the decorous workhorse of the preferment family. Sourdough starter and poolish and most other preferments dawdle along at room temperature until they’re about to lose it and then childishly demand, “Use me! Right now! Or I’m going to get sloshed and start killing off the yeast! I mean it!” Prefermented dough, on the other hand, after a reasonably short heyday on the counter, retires quietly to the refrigerator and stands patiently by until called upon to do its job, which is to add strength to your dough and flavor to your bread.

Prefermented dough contains the four essential ingredients — flour, water, yeast, salt — in the proportions typical of a basic French bread dough. If you’re baking such a bread, you can save a piece of the dough and use it as the preferment in another bread. Or, as I’ve done for this challah, you can make up the prefermented dough just for that purpose. Simply mix the ingredients (no gluten development required), let the dough ferment at room temperature for one to two hours, and throw it in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to two days. You can let it warm up for an hour or so before using it, or you can use it straight out of the fridge. In the latter case, make sure your final dough water is warmer.


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Golden Corn Rolls

Corn has a bad reputation lately. As a major component of America’s industrial food system, corn represents cropland abuse, genetic modification, cattle sickened on a grain diet, children sickened on a corn-fed-beef-burger and high-fructose-corn-syrup diet, a wacky government subsidy system. All too true.

But of course the blame for these ills lies with the humans that produce and consume big-business corn (and that would be most of us, by the way; if you ever eat prepared food, chances are there’s corn in there somewhere). Blaming corn is like blaming water for acid rain.

As a grain and a vegetable in and of itself, unrefined, unengineered, and responsibly grown, corn is pretty upstanding. Sure, you’d be in trouble if it were all you ate. But it’s a decent source of fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin C. Native American cultures were and are sustained by it. My childhood summers would not have been the same without it. Neither would chili and guacamole.

So, in defense and celebration of this innocent, nutritious, and tasty food that is the theme of this month’s BreadBakingDay (hosted by Heather and Zorra), I wanted to bake something that not only comprised corn but announced loudly, I’m corn. You got a problem with that? Bite me!

Would you put a basket of golden corn ears on your breakfast table, warm and ready for a drizzle of honey? (Many thanks to my friend Elra for this jar of wonderful local wildflower honey.)

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Multigrain Nigella Seed Sourdough

After taking an inventory of my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and finding no fewer than 19 flours, 13 other grain products, 8 seeds, and 7 nuts, I decided I had better start using some of this stuff up.

I made a variation on my seeded multigrain sourdough, using up my remaining pumpkin seeds, some of my flax seeds and rolled rye flakes,  and what I thought was just a few of a little black seed called nigella. The package was opened, so I must have used them before, but I’ll be damned if I know what for. I certainly didn’t remember what a punch they packed. Although these tiny black seeds are in the minority weight-wise (and although the other ingredients do add flavor complexity), their peppery taste is front and center in this bread.

Despite their assertiveness, if I weren’t so prone to shooting first and asking questions later, I might have used even more of these seeds in my bread, because they have been reported to heal every disease except death. That’s a confident statement if I ever heard one. But now that I think about it, I’m feeling pretty chipper right about now.

Serving suggestion: Roast beef sandwich; skip the horseradish.

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Spiced Rye Sourdough

I love the sweet and spicy bouquet of holiday baking, but after a while, all the butter and sugar that typically go along with it can be hard to take. I made this spiced rye sourdough bread hoping to perfume my kitchen with those heady and nostalgic aromas while producing a gift-worthy bread that is also easy on the calorie count. I think it worked.

It’s sour, yes, but the spiciness of the rye itself compliments the other spices nicely. It could go with either a sweet accompaniment like lingonberry jam (now I don’t know why I thought of that; I haven’t had lingonberry jam in years, but it just seems like it would go well), as well as with meat or cheese. And although, like most ryes, it keeps very well, its life can be extended even further by making some of it into crostini.

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