Going Wild with Real Honest Purists’ Bagels

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summary: wild bagels revisited; using zero commercial yeast; recipe for Real Purists’ Wild Bagels; choosing between poppy seeds or sesame seeds; Jane Mason’s starter just keeps getting better; snow again?!


The bagel, in its peripatetic history, has moved from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to the delis of the United States […] [H]owever, most people’s idea of a bagel seems to be of a vaguely squishy unsweetened doughnut, possibly with some sort of godawful flavoring mixed into it (with the “blueberry bagel” being perhaps the most offensive), generally purchased in lots of six in some supermarket… possibly even frozen. These are not those bagels.
    These bagels are the genuine article. These are the bagels that have sustained generations of Eastern European Jewish peasants, the bagels that babies can teethe upon (folk wisdom has it that the hard, chewy crust encourages strong teeth), the bagels about which writer and humorist Alice Kahn has so aptly written that bagels are “Jewish courage.”
-Carolina Rodriguez, Real Honest Jewish Purist’s Bagels

For the past few months, I’ve been obsessed with thinking about how bread used to be made.

In “Oxford Encylopedia of Food and Drink in America”, Andrew F. Smith wrote: Commercially produced yeast first appeared in the United States in the 1860s [and by] the early twentieth century factory-produced live cake yeast was widely available. And it wasn’t until after WWII that dry yeast appeared on store shelves.

This means that it seems very likely that those people from the Eastern European Shtetls captured their own yeast. I can’t imagine that they had supermarkets stocked with packages of yeast in their villages….

I am neither Jewish, nor did I grow up eating bagels. But I am definitely a purist where bagels are concerned. I can’t stand the commercially produced soft buns with holes in them. I’m not even that crazy about the so-called Montreal-style bagels that are sold by the fancy coffee shop down the street.

In fact, aside from the bagels I ate in NYC, unless we’ve made them ourselves, I have rarely have tasted a decent bagel here.

I see from my notes that I’ve supposedly made wild bagels before in 2008. But looking at the recipe I used, they were not really wild. Because I added yeast!!!

I was tempted to use only wild yeast as a rising agent but then at the last minute, I caved and decided to add just a tiny bit of commercial yeast.
-me, blog from OUR kitchen | wild bagels

So, this time round, armed with Jane Mason starter begun last July 2017, I made Real Purist’s wild bagels. After all, what purist bagel maker in her right mind would use commercial yeast?

The only other real decision I had to make was whether to use poppy or sesame seeds. Leaning towards poppy seeds, I decided to consult with the resident taster:

me: Do you want poppy seed or sesame bagels?
he: Poppy seed!
me: [private sigh of relief] Okey dokey! Poppy seed it is!

And after all that, we didn’t have nearly enough poppy seeds. I felt like Old Mother Hubbard.

So. Back to Plan B. Sesame seeds it was!

But, whether they have poppy or sesame seeds, it doesn’t seem to matter. Now, those are Bagels!


Here is what I did to make these wonderful wild bagels:

Real Purists’ Wild Bagels
based on “Jo Goldenberg’s bagels” in New Complete Book of Breads by Bernard Clayton and Peter Reinhart’s “Classic Water Bagels”, using Jane Mason’s wild yeast starter recipe described in her book, All You Knead is Bread


  • 10gm spoonful bubbling wheat starter from fridge
  • 95gm water
  • 95gm 100% whole wheat flour


  • 3gm malted barley, finely ground
  • 230gm water, at body temperature
  • 190gm leavener
  • bread flour (we can’t get bread flour easily, so used the following instead):
        » 470gm unbleached all-purpose flour
        » 4gm wheat germ
        » 10gm vital wheat gluten
  • 13.5gm salt (next time I’ll use just 13gm)
  • 20gm additional water


  • sesame and/or poppy seeds
  • plenty of water, brought to a smiling boil
  • small spoonful unpasteurized honey
  • dash baking soda
  1. Leavener and refreshing the starter: Late in the evening of the day before you will be baking the bagels, use a wooden spoon to mix the leavener ingredients together in a smallish bowl. Remove 10gm and stir it back into the Mason Jar in the fridge (to feed it). Cover the bowl with a plate and leave it in a non-drafty area of the kitchen (or in the oven with only the light turned on) to allow it to ferment until it floats in cool water. (Our unscientific experiments say this takes from 6-8 hours.)
  2. Check the Leavener In the morning of the day you will be baking the bagels, put a small spoonful of the happily bubbling leavener into a glass of cool water. It should float. If it does not, stir in a little more whole wheat flour and water – equal amounts by weight – cover with a plate and leave for about 30 minutes more. Chances are that it will now float.)
  3. Dough Once the leavener is floating, put the flours, wheat germ, water, and 190gm of the leavener into a large mixing bowl. Use a wooden spoon or dough whisk to stir the floury mess into a rough dough. Cover the bowl with a plate (or lid if you are using a large pyrex casserole dish as a mixing bowl) and allow to rest for about 40 minutes. In his book “Tartine Bread”, Chad Robertson says Do not skip the resting period. Working with the nature of the dough, the resting period allows the protein and starch in the flour to absorb the water, swell, and then relax into a cohesive mass.
  4. Adding the salt: Stir the salt and 20gm water into a small jug. Pour this over-top of the mass of dough.
    • Use one of your hands to squoosh the salt and water into the dough; use the other hand to steady the bowl – this way you always have a clean hand. At first the dough might be alarmingly messy. But persevere. Suddenly, it will seem more like dough than a horrible separated glop. Keep folding it over onto itself until it is relatively smooth. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
  5. Folding and Turning:
    • About 40 minutes after adding the salt, run your dough-working hand under water. Reach down along the side of the bowl and lift and stretch the dough straight up and almost out of the bowl. Fold it over itself to the other side of the bowl. Turn the bowl and repeat until it’s a little difficult to stretch the dough up any more. You’ll notice that the dough feels significantly smoother. If the dough seems dry, add a splash of water. Resist any urge to add more flour. (Glezer warns that this dough “is a tremendously wet and sticky dough […] do not add more flour, for it will ruin the texture of the bread”.) Cover with a plate and leave on the counter (or if the kitchen is cool like ours in winter, in the oven with only the light turned on) for about 30 minutes.
    • Repeat the above step 2 or 3 more times. In his book, Robertson says these folds should be done 4 times in all. He writes [N]otice how the dough starts to get billowy, soft, and aerated with gas. At this later stage, you should turn the dough more gently to avoid pressing gas out of the dough. […] A well-developed dough is more cohesive and releases from the sides of the bowl when you do the turns. The ridges left by the turn will hold their shape for a few minutes. You will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. More air bubbles will form along the sides of the container. These are all signs that the dough is ready to be […] shaped.
  6. Pre-shaping: After about 30 minutes has passed, very lightly sprinkle the work surface with all-purpose flour. Carefully turn the dough out. Divide it evenly into 12 pieces. Form each piece into a sphere. Cover with an overturned mixing bowl and allow to rest for about 30 minutes.
  7. shaping: Pick up each ball and poke a hole in the center with your thumb. Stretch the hole by turning the ring around first a couple of fingers than your hands. The hole should be quite large. Place the finished rings on two parchment lined baking sheets. Cover with a damp (clean) tea towel, followed by large plastic grocery bags. Leave on the counter to rise until the rings are almost doubled. (about an hour or so)
  8. Half an hour before baking, turn the oven to 425F. Pour a good shot of water into a large pot and place it on low heat to bring it to a smiling boil.
  9. parboiling and adding the toppings: Just before baking the bagels, stir honey and baking soda into the boiling water. Pour some poppy and/or sesame seeds onto a saucer and set aside for a moment.
  10. Carefully lift a risen ring from the baking tray and drop it gently into the boiling water. After 30 seconds or so, it should rise to the surface. (If it floats the whole time, use a slotted spoon to turn the bagel over and allow it to boil for about another half minute.) Remove the puffy ring from the water and lay it on the seed-covered saucer. Turn it over and then place on the parchment paper. Repeat with all the other rings. (Please see photo essay of shaping and parboiling bagels.)
  11. baking: Put the bagels on the top shelf (to prevent burning on the bottoms) of the 425F oven and immediately turn the oven down to 400F. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the pan after 15 minutes to allow for uneven oven heat.
  12. Allow to cool on a rack before eating.****
  13. Cooling: When the bagels are done, remove to cool on a footed rack before slicing/breaking apart and eating; the bagels are still baking internally when first removed from the oven!
    If you wish to serve warm bagels (of course you do), reheat it after it has cooled completely: To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven, directly on the rack, for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.

Serve the bagels with butter. And/or cream cheese. Or goat cheese.

And smoked salmon. Or apricot jam.


:: Salt Even if you don’t weigh other ingredients, I urge you to weigh the salt. For more raving about this, please see Salt is salt, right?
:: Starter The starter is a 100% hydration, liquid levain. It takes about 5 days to create. (Please see our take on Jane Mason’s Natural Starter made with 100% Whole Wheat Flour.)
:: Water Tap water is fine to use – just make sure that it has stood for at least 12 hours so that the chlorine has dissipated. However (and I’ll keep saying this until the cows go home), under no circumstances should you use water from the hot water tap. Water from the hot water tap sits festering in your hot water tank, leaching copper, lead, zinc, solder, etc. etc from the tank walls and pipes… the higher temperature causes faster corrosion. Of course, saying that it is unsafe to use water from the hot water tap might be an urban myth, but why tempt fate? Heat the water in a kettle or microwave and add cold water until it is the correct temperature (use the baby bottle test on the inside of your wrist – your fingers have no idea of temperature!)
:: Flour Please note that strong bread flour is best for bagels. While all-purpose flour CAN be used, the results are more like buns with holes in the center, rather than bagels, ie: not Real Purist’s bagels. Here’s how to mimic bread flour. (High-gluten flour – aka vital wheat gluten – is readily available at health food stores.)
I found that replacing the high-gluten flour in my usual sourdough bagel recipe with a mixture of 97% flour (the regular flour I use for bread) and 3% vital wheat gluten gave me a bagel that was virtually indistinguishable from the original.
-Susan, Wild Yeast


With warmer than usual temperatures, by the day after we baked the bagels, all the snow had melted and there was a window of opportunity to ride to our favourite fish store to get beautiful hot-smoked salmon. The store has traditional cold-smoked salmon (lox) too. But we love the texture of hot-smoked fish, so that’s what we got.


Wow. These bagels are great!

There almost so great that I didn’t really notice the unseasonal snowfall last night and the still chilly temperature in the kitchen….

What is going on??

We went to our giant supermarket to look for poppy seeds. Nope. No poppy seeds at all. Are they forbidden now? Is there too much opiate in them??

At the same time, we tried to get more dried thyme leaves. Because fresh thyme isn’t growing in our garden right now. And what did we find on three different supermarket shelves? 1. No thyme; 2. Thyme powder; 3. Organic dried thyme leaves marked up to a ridiculously high price. :stomp: :stomp:

Finally, what is that white stuff out there?! It’s the beginning of March, for Heaven’s sake! This is neither coming in like a lion or a lamb. It’s more like coming in like a snowy owl!
Sure, it’s pretty. But my bicycle is calling to me….


last year's sunflower snow
Last year’s sunflower in the herb garden on the deck
Who knows if the thyme survived? It’s hidden under the snow.

This entry was posted in baking, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, bread recipe, food & drink, posts with recipes, whine, wild yeast (sourdough) on by .

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4 responses to “Going Wild with Real Honest Purists’ Bagels

  1. Barbara M

    They look FABULOUS.

    I love poppy seed bagels. My second fave is just salt.

    But I do admit a yen for the “Cheddar Salsa” bagel from Great Canadian Bagel. Not a real bagel, but a brilliant bun when toasted in their sort-of roller-coaster toaster, where the bread/bun moves along an upper toasting rack and then falls down to the collection area (it’s much more fun for the bread than an ordinary toaster). Unfortunately, GCB has all but disappeared, so I haven’t had a Cheddar Salsa bagel in ages.


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