The reason this step is important is because of alpha and beta amalayse, two very interesting enzymes. You see, flour is made up of a lot of things (I'm not going to list them all), but starch is one of the most important in regards to taste. The problem is that starch in the form of flour is almost tasteless to us humans under the best of circumstances, and flat/foul tasting under worse circumstances. What happens during the fermentation of bread however is these starches are broken down into smaller sugars that we can taste, and some of them are consumed by the yeast to make the bread rise.
Breaking down starch into flavor sugars occurs naturally the moment you add water to flour. However, if you add water *and* yeast to flour you suddenly have a two horse race, in that the enzymes in the flour are modifying the flavor as well as the yeast consuming the sugars are modifying the flavor of the dough. If you let the yeast go on too long then you end up with bread that tastes waay too yeasty, or bread that flops over due to over proofing, or bread that tastes just kinda off. However, if you put the dough in the fridge, it allows you to retard the growth of the yeast while still letting alpha and beta amalayse do their work converting starch into simpler sugars.
There is another way though.
Ask any brewer how to make beer and they will go into a lengthy description of arcane steps and rituals, but the primary gist of what they describe is the conversion of starch into ferment-able sugar in an efficient and predictable way. The main technique used is what is called a 'mash', that is a slurry of cracked grain and water, held at a certain temperature to encourage the breakdown of starch in the most efficient manner. This blog is much too short to talk about all the subtleties of brewing, but the general idea is that temperature acts as a catalyst for these enzymes, which can speed up the process of turning flavorless starch into flavorful sugar hundreds of times faster when done at the correct temperature. This accomplishes the same goal, with a different but equally as good (imo) flavor profile as a slow fermentation in the fridge.
So, with that preface, the recipe:
- 1 kg high protein flour (King Arthur, Bobs Red Mill), or regular bread flour if you can't find those
- 560 grams water
- 20 grams kosher salt
- 10 grams instant yeast
- Add 480 grams of flour to a mixing bowel and set aside
- Bring 540 grams of water to 165F. Once it is at temperature, add it to the flour in the mixing bowel and quickly mix it all together in an electric mixer with a dough hook. Try and mix for less than 30 seconds, you do not want the heat to escape.
- Place plastic wrap on the mixing bowl, and place the bowel in either a warm space or over some warm water. The goal is to keep the flour paste at 140F for at least an hour.
- After an hour has past, taste the flour paste. It should smell like cream of wheat and taste quite sweet. This is the conversion of starch into sugar, and the reason why this recipe doesn't take an over night fermentation or any adjuncts such as malt, honey, or sugar.
- Add the instant yeast to 20 grams of cool water and set aside for five minutes
- After five minutes, add 520 grams of flour, the salt, and the yeast. Knead until all the flour is incorporated, then knead for another four or five minutes.
- Let the dough rise for 1 hour 30 minutes
- For smaller bagels like the ones picture here, divide into 12 balls that are 130 grams each. For larger bagels, divide into eight balls 200 grams each.
- After they are divided let the gluten rest for ten minutes. Then to shape them into bagels, push a finger or two through the middle of the dough making the hole, then gently pull and stretch them into shape. Once shaped, let these proof for an hour.
- When the bagels have about ten minutes left to go on their proofing schedule, bring a large pot of water to boil and add half a teaspoon of baking soda. Also preheat your oven to 500F, preferably with a baking stone as well.
- Working in batches so they never touch, boil each bagel for 1 minute per side, place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment/wax paper sprinkled with corn meal, and dress them with seeds or salt as you see fit. The toppings stay on best if you add them while they are still hot and wet from the boil.
- Slide the bagels on to your hot stone and bake for 18 minutes if they are the smaller size, and 20-22 minutes if they are a bit bigger.
I've made this recipe quite a few times now, and I've yet to have a better bagel in my opinion in Eugene than these. I was however wrong on one historical note, I thought that original bagels wouldn't have actually used malt powder--in fact they did. Even with that misconception I think the sweetness derived from the flour is delish, though I may in the future add malt to the boiling water.
Additionally, I really do think the smaller the bagel the better. The 130ish gram bagels are maybe a touch too small, but 200 grams is just too big, even though that seems to be the standard size nowadays.