La Brea Sourdough Bagels

I can’t help but think of these as dinosaur bagels. This second batch is from the baking book, Nancy Silverton’s Breads from La Brea Bakery, and before Silverton made it famous for her bread, La Brea was known by every Los Angeleno for its tar pits. During the years I grew up there, it was popular as a field trip and a place to take visitors. I remember being loaded up into the school bus or family car, and driven to a particular part of Los Angeles just to see them. The tar pits were located in a park, and we’d try to avoid stepping in the globs of tar oozing through the grass on the walk over from the parking lot. At the time, the pit was surrounded by a spindly wrought iron fence, which we would lean over as far as we could. We would balance precariously, our bellies pressed into the top rail, to see if we could spot any dinosaur bones stuck in the still bubbling mass of tar down below. We never lingered for very long, though, inevitably driven away by the tar’s dark, stinging smell. Returning to the parking lot, the asphalt would have become softened by the day’s heat, and we would scurry across, now fearful of becoming entrapped. Really, this has nothing to do with bagels but I think of these as dinosaur bagels all the same.

Baking notes:

    • The recipe for Sourdough Bagels, adapted from Nancy Silverton’s Breads from La Brea Bakery, can be found at Wild Yeast — many thanks for including this in their weekly round-up, YeastSpotting!
    • Sourdough starter — I didn’t have any and replaced it with some biga, or pre-ferment, left over from baking ciabatta, and fed it twice a day for over a week before using.
    • High-gluten flour — This called for all high-gluten flour, while the whole wheat ones called for a mix with bread flour. The high-gluten flour contributes to a chewier texture, but was challenging for my mixer to work with.
    • Milk powder — Used to strengthen dough structure and stabilize fermentation; milk solids contribute to browning; also retains moisture.
    • I omitted using semolina or cornmeal; the parchment paper alone keeps the bagels from sticking both during proofing and baking. As before, I let them proof overnight refrigerated in large, shallow plastic bins with covers.
    • Baking soda — Traditionally, bakeries add lye to the boiling water bath; baking soda has the same effect by rendering the bath basic (as opposed to acidic). I’ve still to try this out, and used a tablespoon of malt syrup instead.
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12 Responses to La Brea Sourdough Bagels

  1. LauraBeek says:

    I just found your blog via Daphne’s Dandelions. I love it! Thanks for sharing all the great photos.

  2. Very impressed with you making bagels!

  3. tomatothymes says:

    As always I am impressed. So which bagesls do you prefer? These or the whole wheat you made in January?


    • leduesorelle says:

      My first impression was that I preferred the whole wheat ones, and the experience of making these sourdough ones gave me an appreciation for just how well written Ciril Hitz’s recipe is. He has tons of experience as a teacher and his recipe is more approachable. I also don’t keep a starter, so I usually rule out anything that requires it. In its favor, like most sourdough breads, we’ve noticed this batch of bagels continuing to develop nicely in texture and flavor. So far, though, I’d make Ciril’s version over Silverton’s.

  4. Liz says:

    Maybe one day I’ll bake bread regularly, but we have a lovely bakery just down the road and I’m lazy, well actually I think having pre-schoolers precludes many activities, and and and. But if there is one thing that could tempt me into breadmaking its bagels – and these look superb.

    • leduesorelle says:

      Thanks, Liz, you’re kind to notice. As they say, practice makes perfect, and my shaping is improving. We’re fortunate to have a couple of fine artisan bakeries nearby and, though one of them makes bialys, none of them make bagels. The bialy baker tells me that they don’t have the capacity to set up for the boiling step.

  5. Norma Chang says:

    You bagels look so uniform, I love bagel but never attempted to make them. One of these days.

    • leduesorelle says:

      The extra step of boiling them makes them seem more intimidating to make than they really are. From what I’ve experienced so far, bagels are in a lot of ways easier to make than bread, and the forming of them is satisfyingly fun!

  6. stefaneener says:

    Although I grew up there, it took until I was a visiting adult for me to make it to the pits. Those bagels are lovely. I like to make bagels, but they get gobbled up so fast it’s discouraging. I must try them again soon.

  7. Kallie says:

    Thanks for this idea! I am going to attempt to make these. I like to conduct experiments when no one is home..LOL!

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