I love Salmon and Cream Cheese on a bagel and for years I merrily bought Bagels from the supermarket and at the time thoroughly enjoyed them, especially when toasted. It is only when you make your own bagels that you realise what a travesty the commercial ones are. Bread rolls with a hole in them is what the husband and I have called them and frankly they should be avoided at all costs. “Chazerei” is the yiddish word for food that is garbage and it applies very well to nearly all the mass produced bagels in the shops.
Bagels should be chewy and dense, not light and bready, and should give your jaw a real workout – and they should never be toasted. Being a bit of a traditionalist I also abhor the trend a few years back to turn the bagel into effectively cake with chocolate and other sweet additions – yeuch. Savoury for me is the way to go – Salmon and Cream Cheese, Pastrami and Gherkins with Cheese – absolutely nothing sweet.
Bagels are quintessentially Jewish. Londoner Maria Balinska has written a history of the bagel which she thinks really started in Poland and then spread to jewish communities throughout Eastern Europe, and then with the 19th century flights from discrimination and pogroms on to London and America. The origin of the name is as ever shrouded in mystery. Some say it comes from the German “Beugel” for “Stirrup” and was made as a baked dedication to King Jan Sobieski for his contribution to the relief of Vienna from the Turks in the 18th century (the croissant has similar origins – bread shaped by viennese bakers as a crescent to celebrate the victory). Others say it comes from a large firm of jewish Krakow bakers called Beigel. The real truth is that they probably have much older origins going back into the Middle Ages and beyond.
In Britain, like America, it is becoming increasingly hard to find a decent bagel despite the proliferation of bagels into all the coffee shops. The only place I know which serves a decent one is in London, The Beigel Bake in Brick Lane – an area that is now mostly muslim and increasingly hipster but for much of the late 19th and early 20th century was very jewish. We used to regularly go to Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday and drop off for one of their special bagels for breakfast – a trip we must do again soon though you really have to get to the market early to avoid the crowds.
I am sure with the rise in Artsinal food making there are now other ones in London, but outside of London I suspect you will struggle. That leaves you with just one option – make them yourself.
I usually do a sourdough version but you can just as easily use normal fast yeast. You can leaIve them plain, or top them with seeds of your choice though beware they will head for every corner of your kitchen.
Even better they are perfect for the weekend. You can make up the bagels in the evening, prove them in the fridge overnight, and then take them out and poach and bake them in the morning.
Technique wise they are not too tricky. Forming the bagel and poaching (the essential step which makes the bagel special) are the main curve balls the technique throws at you, but the dough is very dense, only 50% water to flour content, which makes it very easy to handle.
The traditional technique for forming the bagel is to roll the dough out into a sausage and wrap it around your hand to form the circle. You can just as easily roll the dough into a ball and poke a hole through it using a wooden spoon handle and then stretch it out a bit by swirling the dough around your finger, or if that makes you nervous stretch it out with your fingers. The latter technique gets a more uniform finish I find but I am still working on the traditional method.
You should try to prove the bagels in the fridge overnight, so they develop a better flavour, but don’t worry overly if you don’t. After that you have to poach the bagels by dropping them into simmering water for a minute on each side which gets the bagels to puff up. I add black treacle to impart some colour and flavour to the bagel. It is the poaching that gives them that wonderful chewy texture. The longer the poach, the more the chew.
There really is not the much to bagels so please try them yourself – you won’t regret it.
Ingredients for 6
Non sourdough version
- 250g strong white bread flour
- 125g water
- 5g salt
- 2.5g fast yeast
- 100g 50:50 sourdough starter (50% flour-50% water)
- 200g strong white bread flour
- 75g water
- 5g salt
- 1 egg beaten
- seeds of choice (linseed, sesame seed, poppyseed)
- 1tbsp black treacle
The night before breakfast
- combine the flour, water, salt and yeast together and knead
- the dough is quite stiff
- form into a ball, cover with a bowl and allow to rise for 1 hour (allow 2-3 times longer for sourdough)
- after an hour grease a baking tray with cooking oil
- split the dough into 6 equal parts
- roll each part into a ball
- roll out each dough ball into a 6″ sausage
- wrap around your hand
- seal the ends together
- push the handle of wooden cooking spoon through the ball of dough
- twirl the dough around the handle to open up the hold a bit
- Place all the bagels onto the old baking tray, put into a large plastic bag and leave in the fridge overnight
- heat your oven to 220c/200C Fan
- beat an egg and set aside for brushing on the bagels
- fill bowls with the seeds of your choice
- take your bagels out of the fridge
- allow to come up to room temperature and make sure they have doubled in size from the night before (again with the sourdough version you may need to wait a few hours longer)
- add black treacle to a large pan of boiling water
- lay out a tea towel to the side of your cooker (not kitchen towel – this will stick to your bagels or parchment – a fact I forgot!)
- carefully lift your risk bagels and place in the simmering water
- simmer for 1 minute one side and then turn them over and simmer the other side for a minute
- place them on your tea towel
- brush with egg
- dip the top in your bowl of seeds if you want a seed topping
- place back on the old baking tray
- bake for 15 minutes until a glossy golden brown
- allow to cool and then eat immediately