Here goes the second part of my jewish bread trilogy: Bagels. Chollah was last week, something pesach themed will be next.
When outside of my NW or East London corners a wanton lack sets in. You can’t buy a proper bagel for love nor money. And yet, everyone around the world likes to think they know what a bagel is. “No you do not.” I firmly tell them. That plastic bag of five so called ‘bagels’ you bought from Sainsburys contains no bagels. That hip sandwich you bought from the “world’s best bagel bakery” is a sham. And no, bagels do not come vacuumed packed from the freezer section, cinnamon spiced. If there weren’t bloodier causes the fight, I would devote all my energy to clearing the name of the bagel. A bagel is just as much another type of bread roll as cunnilingus is just another type of stamp licking exercise.
For those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, the main difference between the making of bagels and bread rolls is that bagels have to be boiled or steamed before they are baked. That gives them their unique texture: chewyness. They’re not simply savoury donuts, they’re not just a fun food because, hey, they’re round with a hole in the middle, and, like, that makes them really funny. No! Enough! If you just swallowed a chunk of the bready thing in your mouth without having chewed it fully and then did not die: you did not just eat a bagel.
A bagel lunch is messy and rude. Mouths open, gaping for air whilst they chew and chew and chew, fillings dropping to the floor and sauces running down your sleeve because the bagel holds almost no liquid retention capability.
The bagel is the ultimate date-with-a-non-jew test: do they reach for the cutlery? Do they squirm when you chew, dribble and talk at the same time?
I say all that, but I actually got the basis of my recipe from a non-jewish cookbook. A swedish one at that. Yes, I also felt sceptical, especially as following the said bagel recipe was a recipe for ‘BLT Bagel’. Anti-Semites Ignoramuses the authors of the cookbook might be, I bid you follow my recipe and judge for yourself.
- 1.4 lt flour
- 25g yeast (1/2 my sachet)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 5dl water
- 2 tsbn oil
- Toppings: Poppy seeds, linseed, sesame or an onion.
- Sift flour into a big bowl.
- Add salt, sugar and yeast. I found it very tricky to only add half the sachet of yeast. How do you measure exactly half a foil sachet? I tried folding, and, well, i think I added more yeast than i should have. But really, yeast is life and life can’t be measured! Anyway give your flour mix a good stir.
- Warm up the water to body temperature. Wipe a bit of it on your face, it should feel like a kiss from your bubba.
- Mish in the warm water. I remember that I used the word ‘mish’ in the chollah recipe without explaining it. Mish is Yiddish for mix or stir. Hence the Yinglish mishmash: a mish of this, a mash of that. I think that like a lot of Yiddish words, mish is a lot more onomatopoeic than the English equivalent.
- Add the oil and begin kneading. Remember, knead like your trying to soothe your zayde’s (grandpa’s) bad back, not like your a on an anti-English Defence League demo. (That bit comes a couple of steps later) Knead for about 10 minutes.
- Plop your dough into a greased bowl (or a bowl lined with grease proof paper), cover with a shmateh (rag) and leave in a warm place to rise for an hour.
- Whilst you’re waiting you can do a bit of preparation for the next stages. First, lay out greaseproof paper on a couple of baking trays. Next, sort out your toppings. If you’re gonna use seeds pour them out in fair quantities into bowls. If you like onion – which i do highly recommend – slice away.
- An hour’s gone past? Great! Start by heating up your oven to 225°c
- Now, with an EDL bonehead or some other bigoted schmuck on your mind, PUNCH down your dough. I read up on this whole punching dough thing last week, as I thought you only did it for the sheer pleasure of violence. But no, punching down dough (i found many an incensed posts about the necessity to write ‘down’ after punch) basically releases the gases that the yeast have made (microscopic farts?) and allows them to draw in some fresh air, making the dough quality better.
- Kneed the dough for a few minutes and then divide it into as many bagels as you want. Aim for about 12-15 or so.
- Form your dough balls into bagel shapes. My Swedish cookbook says you should pierce a hole in the middle of the dough balls and form them into bagel shapes like that. But that makes me think of the Pythagorusly perfect supermarket bagels that all look identical. No! I say make sausage shapes from the dough balls and link their ends to each other with a good pinch. Roughly round and unique, essential qualities for a good bagel say I. (and a good life, no?) Lay them on your baking tray for 15-20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in your biggest pot start boiling about 2 litters of water.
- Dunk your nascent-bagels into the boiling water. How long to keep them there? My theory is that the longer you leave them in the water, the bigger and chewier they become. The court’s out on whether a bagel boiled for three minutes is chewier than one boiled for ten though. I usually make a mix of bagels boiled for different times.
- When you pull them out of the water lay them into a bed of seeds and put back onto your baking tray. If you’re using onions, I recommend throwing some salt on too.
- Bake! Mine took a while, maybe 20 or so minutes. Hot bagels are great, but for some reason these are best after a few hours, or overnight. Enjoy!