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"White Top" Headlands Sourdough Bagels

action-adventure thriller buchman
Miranda Chase #8
Marine Corps HMX-1’s perfect seventy-four-year safety record ended seven seconds later.
Dead level and flying at two hundred and thirty-seven miles per hour, twenty-six-thousand pounds of helicopter flew into the Frederick, Maryland, Walmart Supercenter’s front entrance.
If the helicopter had flown a single foot lower, it might have averted the disaster that unfolded.
By less than three inches, the Superhawk cleared the three-foot-high concrete bollards lined across the entrance to keep a truck from driving into the entrance as part of a burglary attempt.
The VH-92A Superhawk blew through the glass doors, its fifty-six-foot-diameter, four-blade rotor killing twenty-seven people at the checkout kiosks and another nine at the Subway sandwich deli to the side as the blades shattered.
It plowed through women’s clothing first, then men’s. It missed the toy section, but slammed through the paint section and gardening supplies.

NOTE: This got me thinking about bread. Shortly after moving to the North Shore of Massachusetts, I went out on my favorite headland and created a sourdough starter. Since then, I’ve delved into baking boules, rolls, and bagels. Not very Subway like, but as they were destroyed in this book anyway, I thought I’d offer my own bagels.
NOTE 2: Bread takes a lot of practice. My first five sets of bagels were little thicker than a comic book. Never have so few ingredients been so finicky, but the payoff is great! But there is a price, I’m now disappointed by most bagel shops because mine are better. Perseverance pays.
NOTE 3: I learned to make bread in metric and none of the conversions are clean. Also, measuring flour by the cup is incredibly variable. Do yourself a favor and get a small kitchen scale. It will change how you bake forever.
Sourdough Starter (You should only have to do this once…in your entire baking life!)
Making sourdough starter isn’t a fast process, but it’s actually incredibly easy to make, or you can buy it. And once you have it, it can last a lifetime. I started my own on a local headlands spot overlooking the ocean that I’ve always liked. Endless are the debates about the “best” local flavor for a starter. I expect they’re all mostly the same, but I call mine “Headlands Sourdough.” There’s a lot of information online about starters, but here are the basics.
  1. Go to your favorite place where the air smells amazing.
  2. In a 1 qt. pickling jar (see picture below), mix 100g whole wheat flour and 100g fresh water.
    1. Distilled water is often advised for the first start to avoid unwanted fermentations. James Morton in his wonderful reference Super Sourdough, recommends starting with a light-colored juice (apple, grapefruit, orange, or pineapple) to acidify the mix against the unwanted. For feeding it later, I found that tap water, if tasty and not over chlorinated works great. (Many aficionados are now scoffing at my naivete. To misquote Monty Python, “I’m am sticking out my tongue in your general direction.”)
    2. Some prefer a darker flour, like rye. This will give a more robust loaf with a slightly richer flavor, but it won’t rise as much.
  3. Sit and enjoy the view for an hour with the lid of the jar open. It’s theoretically picking up the flavorful bacteria from the air. It’s also there in the flour.
  4. Set on the counter at home in a warmish spot, and stir daily for 5 days. It will grow and aerate as the bacteria take hold, eat the flour and give off tiny gas bubbles.
  5. When it shrinks back, feed with another 100g of flour and 100g of water (always equal amounts). (Feed means: mix the flour and water together in a bowl to fully wet the flour, then mix in with the starter.)
  6. A day later, you should have your starter.
  7. (Note: if it grows anything green or blue, you should throw it out and try again.)
Maintaining Your Starter
  1. Store in the fridge. Once a week, if you haven’t baked, take it out and let it warm up. Discard all except the bottom inch or so. (There are a lot of recipes on what to do with “spent” starter, like the pancakes I’ve listed below.)
  2. Mix up 200g flour and 200g water, and feed your starter. Let it rest at room temperature overnight and return to the fridge.
  3. If you have baked, you still want to discard enough to give it a “big feed.” Feeding it small amounts like 50g or 100g won’t keep the bacteria happy.
  4. If you’ve left it too long (like gone traveling), it may form a blackish liquid on the surface that smells of alcohol (because it is). Stir that in (again some suggest pouring it off), discard excess starter, and go through 2-3 feeding cycles to restore it to full health.
Headland Sourdough Bagels
Active time: 2 hours / Baking: 25-30 minutes / Total: 18 hours (The first 12 has no activity other than remembering to take the starter out of the fridge the night before and feeding it. The next 6 hours are sporadic. The first few times this will feel impossible, huge, overwhelming, and otherwise ridiculous. Now, I throw down a batch of bagels on any day I’m in the mood and I know I’ll be around the house. There are so many steps because I included all of the little things I learned by making numerous batches of jaw-breaking hockey pucks.)
Makes 14 – 120 g. bagels
The Wet Ingredients (mix together)
  • 350 g. starter
  • 2 Tbsp. Barley Malt, room temperature
  • 3-500 ml. water, tepid (warm to the touch)
The Dry Ingredients
  • 900 g. all-purpose flour
  • 20 g. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. baking soda (in boil)
The Night Before
  1. Take the starter out of the fridge, discard all except 1-2” of the starter, and feed with 200 g. water mixed with 200 g. flour. Cover and let sit.
The Mixing
  1. In a bowl (preferably of a KitchenAid mixer), mix together the starter, Barley Malt and 300 ml. of the water.
  2. With the mixer on low, or kneading in the bowl, slowly add water until you get a tacky but not wet dough. (The #1 trick to all bread is the wetness of the dough and bagel dough tends to be a little on the dry side.)
  3. Mix 1 more minute to doublecheck wetness.
  4. Cover the bowl with cling film, a kitchen towel, or I toss a lightweight lid on top. (Put the salt in your way so that you won’t forget to add it when you come back.)
  5. Rest 20 minutes to hydrate flour. (Never add flour after this step, it just doesn’t work.)
  6. Add the salt.
  7. Mix on low speed for 6 minutes then on Speed 2 for 4 more minutes. (Hand knead for 10-15 minutes until smooth. You basically can’t over knead by hand.)
  8. If you want a flavoring, see below, add it at the last minute of kneading. (If using a mixer, you’ll want to finish doing stretch-and-folds by hand to mix it in well.)
The First Rise
  1. Cover and allow to rise for 3-4 hours.
    1. During the rise, you will do the following 3 times at: 30, 60, and 90 minutes after you finish the kneading.
    2. Wet your fingers. Gently grab one side of the dough, pull it up, and then fold it over the center of the dough. Repeat this doing a quarter turn each time so that you’re grabbing successive sides and folding them over. At some point (4 – 8 stretch-and-folds), the dough will resist.
    3. Cover and wait for 30 minutes.
    4. (NerdGuy tip: If the dough feels just right, a little tacky, shake off your fingers after dampening them. If the dough feels a little dry, not really tacky at all, leave your fingers wet and that little bit of water will change how the dough behaves.)
The Shaping and The Second Rise
  1. After 3-4 hours, dampen a knuckle and dent the bread. If the dent remains, you’re ready to move on.
  2. Prepare a couple of cookie sheets with a silicone Silpat mat or a piece of parchment paper with a light dusting of flour. (I don’t have bagel boards or pizza stones or any of that fancy stuff, but this workaround gives great results.)
  3. Flop dough onto a dry counter. Gently roll out into a thick log. Don’t worry if the dough is a little loose.
  4. With a bench scrapper, cut the dough into 120 g. pieces. (See, that kitchen scale is awesome, isn’t it?) You can snip off bits of dough and add them to other pieces to get as accurate as you want. (But always handle the dough as lightly as possible. It’s full of good air bubbles and we aren’t trying to punch them down or drive them out.)
  5. Cup your hand over a cut-off piece of dough. Roll vigorously in small circles on the counter using your hand as a cage.
  6. Flatten into a palm-sized rectangle. Lay on the counter and fold the long sides inward like a letter.
  7. Using your palms, roll each piece into an 8” log about an inch thick.
  8. Make a loop, overlapping the ends by about an inch.
  9. Hold the bagel loop vertically with the join on the counter. Put two or three fingers through the hole and, pressing down, roll the join back and forth until well bonded and smooth.
  10. Place on the flour-dusted Silpat, leaving an inch or so between bagels.
  11. Dust top ever so lightly with flour and cover loosely with cling film or a linen towel.
  12. Let rise 1-2 hours until a knuckle denting through the cling film leaves a dent behind. (You’ll eventually want to anticipate this so that you can start the oven to be up to heat. The boiling process will take only 10 – 15 minutes.)
The Boil
  1. Preheat the oven to 480° F.
  2. In a wide, deep pan (a wok or a deep skillet work fine), bring about 3” of water to a boil.
  3. Sprinkle in the 2 Tbsp. baking soda.
  4. When it’s boiling, gently drop three bagels into the boiling water, not overlapping, 5 seconds apart. They’ll probably sink to the bottom, but if properly risen, they should float up in fairly quickly. If they stick to the bottom, a gentle nudge with a spatula should set them free to float.
  5. Boil on each side about 15 seconds, so it works like this:
    1. Drop in bagel #1.
    2. 5 seconds later add another.
    3. 5 seconds later add the third.
    4. 5 seconds later, very gently (I use a wide spatula and a fork for guiding) turn over #1.
    5. 5 seconds later, turn over #2 and then #3.
    6. Take out #1, let drain for 5 seconds, and turn over as you place it back on the cookie sheet.
    7. Then #2 and #3 at five seconds intervals. (By doing them in batches of three, you’re always counting five seconds at every step and it all works out.)
  6. If you like a topping, maybe poppy or sesame seed, you can sprinkle it on the top of the wet bagel and pat very, very gently to adhere them.
Baking the Bagels
  1. Place in the hot oven.
  2. Lower temperature to 425° F.
  3. Bake 15-20 minutes until turning lightly golden. (Do not open the oven as we want to keep the moisture in there for now.)
  4. Quickly flip the bagels and cook another 3-5 minutes until fully golden.
  5. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes, but they’re so good warm, you’ll want to eat one right away as a cook’s treat.
At the last minute of the mixing stage, here are a few ideas. We like putting the toppings inside. It isn’t quite as aesthetic as the bagel shops putting them on top, but the flavor is throughout the bagel this way.
For Cinnamon / Raisin:
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. raisins (hydrate first in warm water for ten minutes or it changes the wetness of the bagel dough)
With an “everything” mix:
  •  4 tsp. of mix (for light flavor)
  • 2 Tbsp. for strong flavor
  • 1 tsp. poppy seed
  • 1 tsp. toasted sesame seed
  • 3/4 tsp. garlic flakes
  • 3/4 tsp. onion flakes
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt

Making Headlands sourdough starter
Stretching cinnamon-raisin dough …and fold
Rolling the two ends together These have spoiled us for even deli bagels

What to do with spent sourdough starter? Make:
Sourdough Pancakes or Waffles
The Wet Stuff
  • 120 g. spent starter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c. oil
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 4 – 6 oz. milk (start with 4 oz. then thin final batter as needed to make pourable but not too loose)
The Dry Stuff (pre-mix and stir into the wet)
  • 120 g. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • Pinch salt
Making The Pancakes (or toss them into a waffle iron)
  1. Heat pan on medium to med-high.
  2. Pour a full ladle (1/2-1 c.) of batter into the dry pan near one side. Watch how to spreads. Then add as many more ladlefuls as will fit without the pancake batter running together. If it just touches, you can cut it apart with the spatula after it cooks a bit. (Three pancakes in a 10” pan is about right.)
  3. Cook until when bubbles surface through the dough, they pop but the hole doesn’t close.
  4. Flip and cook another thirty seconds or so until it is nicely browned.

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