A soft, chewy bagel stuffed with cream cheese, smoked salmon, dill and lemon has got to be up there as one of my favourite things to have for lunch. In London I am spoilt for choice with the amount of bakeries making them just a stones throw from my flat, often open around the clock for when that bagel craving comes a knocking. After a couple of drinks, a salt beef bagel from Brick Lane beats any kebab hands down!
As I have written on this blog before, I’m still a bit of a novice when it comes to bread making. I can bake a simple white loaf, but am yet to experiment with more advanced things like sourdoughs or ryes. I thought that bagels would be really difficult to make at home, but after a couple of attempts they are a doddle. Bread has a reputation for taking ages, but in reality most of this time is just waiting for the dough to prove. If you’re at home anyway it isn’t much extra effort, and so worth it when that glorious baking smell fills the flat.
I started making bagels using Dan Lepard’s recipe from his excellent book Short and Sweet. I cannot think of a more ironic title for this huge book, containing over 500 pages of fantastic breads, cakes and pastries. I have adapted this recipe by adding the roasted onions and garlic, reducing the yeast and water and by changing the baking methods slightly to create a bagel that is perfect for me. I have also doubled his quantities to make larger bagels. The best thing about this recipe (and most other bread recipes) is that it can be tailored to exactly how you want it. They would also be delicious with lots of dill, sun-dried tomatoes or even a hard cheese running through them.
As for bagel fillings, the choice is yours. Aside from the smoked salmon or salt beef bagels that I love, they are also great with a soft cheese such as Tunworth or just simply toasted with loads of salty butter. If you go for the smoked salmon, it’s well worth searching out produce from Hansen and Lyndersen’s amazing North London smokery.
1kg strong white bread flour
3 large onions, cut into large wedges
2 tbsp brown sugar
12 cloves garlic, left whole and unpeeled
12 sprigs of thyme
4 tbsp sesame seeds, plus more for sprinkling over the top
4 tbsp poppy seeds, plus more for sprinkling over the top
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 large pinches salt
500ml warm water
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
For the poaching:
50g brown sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
Put the onions, garlic and thyme into a large oven tray and toss in a little olive oil and seasoning. Roast in the hot oven for 20 minutes before removing the softened garlic and scattering the 2 tbsp brown sugar over the remaining onions. Put the onions back in the oven for another 10-20 minutes until soft and golden. Peel the skins from the garlic cloves and chop finely with the cooked onions. Allow to cool.
Mix the flour, yeast, salt, caster sugar, seeds and cooled roasted onions and garlic in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and vinegar and combine until the mixture forms a firm dough, before covering the bowl with a cloth and leaving for 10 minutes. Once rested, knead the dough for 10 seconds on an oiled surface and then return again to the bowl. At this point the dough will still be quite sticky, but it will firm up by the end. Repeat the kneading and resting process twice more before allowing the dough to rest in the bowl for 1 1/2 hours.
Using your hands, portion the dough out to the size that you want each bagel to be. This recipe makes around 14 large bagels. Shape each piece into a ball by rolling it on the work surface with one hand, cover loosely with cling film and allow to prove again for 20 minutes.
Heat up a large saucepan of water, adding the brown sugar when it reaches a rolling boil. Put the oven on to 200ºC. Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper and scatter over some seeds.
Once the dough balls have proved for the final time you can make them into bagel shapes. With lightly oiled hands, poke your fingers through the middle and ease the dough outwards.
Carefully drop the bagels in small batches into the boiling water for a minute before turning and allowing the same on the other side. Remove and place on the lined and seeded baking trays. Sprinkle more seeds and salt over the tops and they are ready to bake.
Place the baking trays on the top shelves of the pre-heated oven, and tip a small glass of tap water into the bottom of the oven before closing the door. The water will steam up and keep the outsides of the bagels nice and soft. Remove from the oven after 20 minutes and allow to cool slightly on a rack if you can resist for long enough!