I have been thinking about lower sugar baking recently, in view of the health problems associated with having too much sugar in the diet. Cake is yummy, and in moderation it’s fine. But I can’t be making/eating cake all the time! I don’t eat a lot of bread, but I do like baking. I don’t know why bagels popped into my head, but once the idea was there I couldn’t get it out. So I did a bit of research on the web, and on Pinterest. I thought a bagel was a bagel was a bagel. But it turns out that is not the case, and there are literally 100’s of recipes and ideas on what makes the perfect bagel.
The first thing I learned is that as well as the classic and well known New York bagel there is another type – not so well known here in the UK it seems – the Montreal bagel. I admit to never having heard of this. But apparently it is a big thing! The difference is that the Montreal bagel is a bit sweeter than the New York style. The dough is enriched with an egg and some sugar, or malt extract/maple syrup/honey (depending on which recipe I looked at). The New York style bagel is basically the same kind as you would get at a proper Jewish deli in London, with only enough sugar to perk up the yeast.
The most important thing about making any kind of bagel is the two stage cooking process. First the bagels are boiled, then they are baked. The boiling gives them the classic chewy texture. Recipes vary on how long to boil them for – between 30 seconds each side to a minute or more. The Montreal style bagels are boiled in water with honey or malt extract to add flavour, enhance the sweetness and make them a bit glossy.
After a lot of looking around at different recipes I did this:
750g strong white bread flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp malt extract – next time I would use just malt extract (3 tsp) probably, and no sugar. Or maybe honey.
20g fresh yeast
1 egg, whisked
1-2 tbsp mild oil – light olive or sunflower
375 – 400 ml warm water
Sesame seeds (I used black and white) and/or poppy seeds (I didn’t use poppy seeds this time because I couldn’t find the packet in the cupboard…!)
Whisk the fresh yeast with some of the warm water and a teaspoon of sugar. Wait 15 minutes or so until it starts to look a bit bubbly. Mix in the rest of the water (start with the lower amount), the egg, the oil and the malt extract and leave for another few minutes to activate. If you are using instant dried yeast you can skip this bit – just add 1 1/2 tsp (about 7g) directly to the flour.
Stir the salt into the flour and make a well. Add the liquid ingredients. Start off mixing with a plastic spatula and then when it’s not too wet carry on with your hands. Knead the dough until it is soft, smooth and stretchy. I like this bit so I don’t use a dough hook (actually I don’t have a dough hook thingy). But if you have a mixer with such a thing then by all means use it. The dough is supposed to be quite ‘stiff’, but if it feels too dry add a little more water. When it feels all lovely and has stopped sticking so much to the bowl and your fingers cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise while you go for a run. (Well that’s what I did 🙂 ). The dough should be doubled in size.
Pre-heat the oven to hot hot hot – gas mark 8. Put a big pot of water (about 2 l) on to boil and add some malt extract or honey. Some of the recipes I looked at added a great quantity of honey but I am too mean to add the best part of a pot of honey so I just added about 2 tbsp of malt extract. For New York style then I think salt is usually added.
Get some baking sheets ready with baking parchment. I used 4. Put the seeds in a shallow bowl ready for coating the bagels.
Bash down the dough. To get even sized bagels weigh the dough and divide by 15 (or 12 for bigger ones). Then pull off pieces of dough and weigh to get the right size (mine were about 82g each). If this is too much faff eyeball it. I formed the shape by making sausages of dough and then pinching the ends together. Another method is to roll into a bun shape and then poke a hole in the middle. As mine ended up with no hole in the middle I obviously did something wrong! I think the sausages were too thick.
When the water boils carefully drop the bagels in the pan, in a single layer. After about 30 seconds (or longer for more chewiness – next time I will do it a bit longer) turn them with a slotted spoon. I used a handy draining spoon thing from a Chinese supermarket. After another 30 seconds or so take them out, drain slightly and cover in seeds. Put them on the baking sheets.
Bake in the hot oven for 10 minutes and then turn them over and bake for another 10. They should be a good golden brown colour. Leave to cool on a rack. They can be frozen successfully.
I had fun making these and they really weren’t difficult. I am definitely making them again – I am determined to actually achieve the bagel shape as well as the taste!
Interesting post script – this item is known as a beigel – pronounced with a long i (b-eye-gel) by European Jews, according to Brandon Robshaw. The word was changed to b-ay-gel by the Americans. And then came back again to us…