You’re never going to believe this but last year, around spring time, Alessia was offered a two week all expenses paid trip to New York. If that wasn’t enough, she went armed with  a 10 day New York pass allowing her free access to all the top art galleries, museums and tourist attractions.
The Guggenheim, the 9/11 memorial, a cruise along the River Hudson to the Statue of Liberty, Natural History museum, Central Park, the list goes on. In return for such generosity from friend and ex-work colleague, Mauro, all she was required to do was be chaperone slash tour guide slash translator to his non-English speaking niece, who was going to be studying marine biology at Nottingham University the coming September. Although they’d never met before they shared common interests, so in other words it was party time. For them at least. I on the other hand had to stay at home and look after Jenna, aka The Rat, aka ta bestia.

About three days into the trip I get a whatsapp message from my better half, filling me in on all the cool stuff they’d been up to. “Yesterday, we went to Madame Tussaud and got my photo taken with Indiana Jones”. Great, I thought without a hint of jealousy. Then she goes on to tell me that right now we’re having lunch, and “I’m eating a smoked salmon bagel with tofu spread, and it’s lush x”. I love bagels. “They have poppy seeds, sesame seeds and rock salt on. According to the guy serving, if it doesn’t then it’s not a New York style bagel”. Ok, alright.

When living in London back in 2007, if ever we were around the Brick Lane area for a gig or shopping, we’d always pay a visit to the famous Jewish bakery. I can remember the vinyl letters stating various meal deals coming un-stuck from the windows. They’d always be covered with condensation due to the vats of boiling water used for pre-dunking the bagels before baking. I forget the name, but I’ll never forget their warm, crispy bagels stuffed with hot salt beef and mustard, cheap instant coffee in a polystyrene cup.

So next time you fancy a bagel, do yourself a favour. Don’t buy the doughy supermarket ones filled with nothing but air and e numbers. Make your own, it’s not as hard as you might think, and you won’t regret it.

Bagels, or any good quality bread product needs to begin by mixing together a pre-ferment. It’s what gives bread flavour and is referred to by a number of different names. When using a natural yeast starter it will be known as a leaven. When using dried or fresh commercial yeast, the French call it poolish and the English, a sponge. Either way it will always be a combination of water, yeast and flour with varying ratios depending on what type of bread you are making. This recipe calls for dried yeast and yields about 17 small to medium sized bagels.

For the Poolish
¼ tsp Dried yeast
270g Water
270g “00” Flour (or bread flour)

260g Water
¾ tsp Dried Yeast
1 tsp Molasses
655g “00” Flour (or bread flour)
1 tsp Salt

Print it here

(Based on the original recipe from the book 'Bread, a Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes'  by Jeffrey Hammelman)

Make the poolish  
In a bowl, mix together with the stick end of a wooden spoon 270g water, ¼ teaspoon dried yeast and 270g plain flour to form a nice thick batter. Cover with cling film and leave to ferment in the kitchen for about 8 hours, or overnight in the fridge. Times will vary because not everyone’s kitchen or fridge runs at the exact same temperature. You can confirm the readiness of your poolish by checking for air bubbles on the surface and throughout, a nice beery, sour smell and if when you place a small amount into water it should float. 


Mix the dough
In another bowl, or Kitchen Aid (if you are one of the lucky ones) mix together 260g water, 1 teaspoon molasses, the pre-ferment, ¾ teaspoon dried yeast, 655g plain flour and 1 teaspoon salt. It’s always best to add the salt last to avoid direct contact with your yeast. Once mixed, knead on the bench until silky smooth. It’s not difficult to achieve this as bagel dough has relatively low hydration compared to sourdough or ciabatta. Next you want to return the dough to the bowl, cover with cling film and chuck it in the fridge for another 8 - 12 hours.

Roll and shape
After the bulk fermentation time what you should have is nicely aerated dough, full of gas. 


Before you can shape this gas needs to be removed, a process known as knocking back the dough. Do this by kneading for a second time – at this point your dough will be silky smooth, stretchy and alive. You can shape by first scaling the dough into equal pieces, roll as you would when making rolls, then poke your finger through the middle. I prefer the alternative method, as seen in the photo. Start by rolling one end of the dough into a sausage shape. Grip, and stretch around the back of your hand. When the end meets up again with the rest of the dough, tear off, and close the seam by rolling on the bench. Once all the dough is used up, they need to rest again on a floured surface, covered with a dry tea towel. They’ll be ready after about an hour, in a warm place. Turn your oven on full about 20-30 minutes before you bake.



Your bagels at this point will be aerated once more. This is so that they will float when boiling. If not, wait a bit longer and in the mean time prepare the topping. A plate with a mix of poppy seed, sesame seed and rock salt is more than sufficient. 


Get your water to a rolling boil, add some molasses to help give your bagels a golden colour. Don’t overcrowd the pan. I go with four at a time, cooking for about a minute each side. Fish them out onto something like a tea towel with whatever holey utensil you can find. 


Coat one side of each bagel with the topping, place on a greased and floured baking tray, then straight into your roasting hot oven for around 20-30 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown.

Enjoy with smoked salmon, vegan cream cheese, lettuce and tomato or sweet with classic peanut butter and strawberry jam. 


What about you? What would you put inside your bagel?

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