Monday, 12 November 2012

Bagels - wholly holey homemade bread, part 2

Well, would you believe, making bagels, it turns out, is a. quite easy and b. a roaring success.

First up, the recipe. I consulted various books and websites on this one, and they were all pretty much in accordance with each other on quantities and methods. By the by, I'd like to recommend Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food.  If you are the sort of person, as I am,  who enjoys cookery books as bedtime reading (you know who you are - you have Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries and Nigella's How to Eat on your bedside table, don't you?), then I really recommend this. Claudia Roden is such an evocative writer, and this is a really comprehensive cookery book, but has all sorts of fascinating snippets about the dishes and the traditions associated with them. In the end, I didn't actually use her recipe, which includes an egg, as this is not traditional (as she admits), and I wanted to start with a more basic traditional recipe. But I do recommend it as a good read.

As to quantities, I didn't want a huge batch, as bagels are really best freshly baked (though also very good toasted for a day or so afterwards), so I used 500g bread flour as a starting point. This makes about 10 bagels.

Basic bagels
500g strong white bread flour
5g easy-bake yeast (more or less - a gram or so here and there won't make too much difference to the finished product so don't worry too much)
about 1tbs salt (I tend to use rather less salt than most bread recipes suggest because of the fact that I'm feeding children)
2 tbs/about 20g sugar  (I used caster sugar)
50 ml vegetable/olive oil
250 ml lukewarm water

To finish: 
either 2 tbs malt extract or 1 egg, beaten (see method below for details)
poppy seeds and/or sesame seeds (optional)

1. My first confession here - I used a breadmaker to make the dough. I don't often use mine for baking bread, because I'm not mad about the big square shape of the loaves it makes, but they are great for making dough - just bung everything in and leave it for a couple of hours to mix and prove. Then skip to stage 3 below. However, if you don't have a machine, never fear - a mixer with a dough hook, or indeed your bare hands will do just fine! If you're using a breadmaker, just follow the maker's instructions for dough - on my Panasonic machine, you put in the ingredients yeast-first, though I believe some machines work differently. The setting on mine is 'basic - dough'. 

 If you're not using a machine, you'll need to knead the dough (ie using all the ingredients in the first section above) for a good 10 mins or longer - you want a nice smooth dough.

TIP: my Kenwood Chef has a metal bowl, and when I'm making yeast doughs in it, I always give it a wash in hot water before I start so that the bowl is nice and warm when I put in the ingredients - this gives the dough a good start.

2. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to prove for an hour or so - it should double in size.

3. Knock back the dough and give it another quick knead. Then divide the dough into about 10 pieces. My kitchen elves helped with this next part: roll out each piece into a fat sausage and then wet one end and join the ends together to make a ring, squashing the ends down to seal them. I then spent a little time tweaking to get them looking nice(ish). Place the bagels on an oiled tray. Cover the tray with a cloth/clean tea towel and leave to prove again for about 30 minutes, until doubled in size again. Alternatively, you can form the bagels into little buns to prove and then carefully make a hole in them and leave them for another 10 minutes before the next stage. In retrospect, this would probably make a more 'perfect' bagel.

4. While the bagels are proving, heat the oven to 220C and bring a large pan of water to the boil. Now the malt extract - this suggestion is from Nigella Lawson's recipe in Domestic Goddess). If you have malt extract, add a couple of tbs to the cooking water - this will give the bagels a nice authentic-looking glaze. You can also use sugar or honey in the boiling water, or glaze them with beaten egg once they have been boiled instead. Malt extract just makes me feel all motherly, like Kanga in Winnie the Pooh. You can buy it in most chemist's shops if you can't find it at the supermarket.

5. Once the bagels have puffed up, add them to the boiling water in small batches of 2 or 3 and boil hard for a minute on each side, then transfer back to the oiled baking sheet (you may want to re-oil the trays to prevent sticking). Sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds if you want them.

6. Bake for about 15-20 mins until golden brown on top. Here's the finished article. They don't look like perfect round bagels, but they are nice and shiny on top, and they have at least got a hole in the middle!

Best eaten fresh, but also good toasted. We had ours for lunch with smoked salmon and cream cheese, but you could also make the dough the night before, prove slowly overnight in the fridge and then proceed with forming, poaching and baking in the morning. Or make like a real baker and get up really early.

The verdict? Well, freshly baked bread always goes down well, but these were a big hit. The boys told me 'not bad for a first attempt mum' (praise indeed), but then both demanded seconds, and MrB, the ultimate bagel judge...also came back for more. Oh, and he scarfed the cheesecake too.


  1. Now that does look impressive. I'm still trying to garner the courage to try and bake the dough I defrosted and forgot about on Friday. Will it kill me?

  2. I have no idea, to be honest. I can't imagine that bread yeast is a killer, but you never know. A blast at 220C should kill off any nasties though, don't you think? Does it puff up again once it defrosts?