Basic Bagels

If I were to have to choose a last meal, fresh bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese would definitely be in the final shortlist. There is something about fresh bagels that no other bread comes close to matching; they are simply divine. A tiny bit of crunch on the outside and a chewy, satisfying filling make bagels some of the most delicious baked goods you can get.

Originating in Krakow, Poland, bagels have been around for just over 400 years. The name was derived from the Yiddish word beygal from the original German word beugel meaning bracelet, reflecting the shape of the bread. The ring shape not only helped with an even bake but also provided bakers with a way to promote their goods as the bagels could be threaded onto string or dowels for display in shop windows. Bagels were bought to England by Jewish immigrants and the Brick Lane district in London has been known for its fantastic bagel shops since the middle of the 19th century. In the early 20th century, bagels made their way to America. Introduced by Polish Jews leaving Europe, bagels didn’t really become popular until towards the end of the 20th century when the Bagel Bakers Local 338 (a local trade union which controlled the making of bagels) came to an end after the invention of the Thompson Bagel Machine which could make bagels far faster than humans.

Ignoring all the differences in toppings and flours, there are two distinct types of bagel which are separated by their method of cooking: the boiled bagel and the steamed bagel. Bagels are traditionally boiled which is what gives them their classic appearance, texture and taste but for mass production, the steam bagel was far easier. By removing the need to boil the dough, the speed of production was massively increased allowing steam bagels to be created in numbers much greater than bagels produced the traditional way. The injection of steam into the oven creates the smooth, glossy finish that most readily available bagels have and gives them a far lighter, fluffier texture.

The recipe below is for boiled bagels. They are definitely a little bit more work than steamed ones but really, they don’t take very much longer than plaiting a loaf of bread or even super artistic scoring. I hope you enjoy making them as they are great to break out for guests or even if you just want to treat yourself a little.

Bagels

Prep time: 30 mins

Rising time: 90 minutes

Cook time: 20-25 minutes

Total time: around 2 hours 30 minutes

500g strong white flour

350ml water

1 sachet (7g) instant yeast

1 tbsp sugar plus 3tbsp for the boiling later

2tsp salt

Place the flour, salt, yeast and one tablespoon of sugar into a bowl.

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Add the water and stir until everything starts coming together.

Turn out onto a surface an knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic – around 10 minutes.

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Place the dough back into the bowl and leave to rise for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (210°C).

Heat a large pan of water and add the remaining three tablespoons of sugar to it.

Split the dough into eight pieces and roll them into balls.

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Using the end of a wooden spoon or one of your fingers, poke a hole in the centre of each dough ball.

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Stretch the dough until the hole is around three centimetres across. A common way of doing this is by spinning the dough around the handle of a wooden spoon.

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Once the water is boiling, add the bagels a few at a time (no more than three or four) and boil with the lid on for 90 seconds or until a skin has formed.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the bagels and place them onto a lined baking tray before repeating this with the rest of the bagels.

Bake the bagels for 22 minutes until golden brown and the base sounds hollow when tapped.

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Let the bagels cool before cutting as they retain heat incredibly well and whilst delicious, they are not worth burning yourself for!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love making bread, why not try out some vibrant, artisanal, vegetable bread or if you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not treat yourself to a butternut squash and sweet potato crumble? It’s easy to make, vegetarian and packed full of flavour.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a soup recipe which will keep you warm as winter approaches.

H

Honey Cake

One of the coolest things about honey is that it doesn’t go off. It is so sweet that microbes cannot grow in it and while the sugars can crystallise over time, the honey itself will remain unspoiled in a sealed container for years and years.

Honey is one of – if not the – oldest ingredients used in cookery. Unlike flour, fruits and processed sugar, honey hasn’t really changed since we started harvesting it almost eight millennia ago. There are cave paintings from the Mesolithic era which are found in Valencia, Spain which depict hunters gathering honey. The cave painting is surprisingly unambiguous. You can clearly see a human, surrounded by little bugs, reaching into a hive with one hand and holding a basket in the other. There is also physical evidence of honey from around 5000 years ago, when honey was found on the inside walls of clay pots in Georgia. The fact that the honey was sill recognisable is a true testament to how well it keeps.

This post has come about because it is approaching Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year – which falls this weekend). Honey is used as a symbolic way of wishing people a sweet new year and as a result, is added to many different foods. Honey cake is the obvious one, but we also use honey to sweeten bread and during the Rosh Hashanah meal, slices of apple dipped in honey are eaten. It also appears in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism along with the Ancient Greek pantheon of gods. It is normally seen as a food of immortality and food of the gods as well as possessing great healing properties.

Outside of cooking, honey has been used as a medicine for a long time. It was used to help bind herbs in salves and pastes since the Romans and was particularly prominent in Celtic medicine and druidic rituals. This use most likely stems from the fact that honey is incredibly sticky so would hold the salves in place whilst also creating a seal to keep out infection. Nowadays, there is very little evidence that honey actually helps with treating any medical condition although it is very good for soothing a sore throat – just mix a spoon of honey into a cup of hot water with a few slices of lemon and drink it.

The cakes below are amazing fresh out of the oven but are even better if you let them cool, wrap them up in foil, and allow them to sit for a week in a pantry or on the side in your kitchen. The time allows the flavours to mature creating a far more complex taste. Cinnamon, ginger, orange and mixed spice all help give these cakes their distinctive flavour which must be tried to understand how amazing it is. This recipe is from Evelyn Rose and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to change a single thing about it. As an added bonus, these cakes are dairy free.

 

 

Honey Cakes

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Makes two cakes

 

12 oz. (335g) plain flour

6 oz. (170g) caster sugar

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp ground mixed spice

16 oz. (450g) honey – I just used a whole jar

½ cup (125ml) vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Zest of two oranges

250 ml orange juice

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180°C).

Line two 9×9 inching tins with baking parchment.

Fill a jug with hot water and place the jar of honey (still closed) into it. The heat will slacken the honey up making it far easier to use later on.

Mix the flour, sugar and spices in a bowl and make a well in the centre.

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Pour in the honey, eggs, orange zest and oil before beating together – you can do this by hand but it’s a lot easier if you use an electric mixer.

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In a jug, whisk the bicarbonate of soda into the orange juice and after it has foamed up, pour it into the cake mix and beat it all together.

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Pour the cake batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes, or until the cakes are fully cooked.

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Move the cakes onto a cooling rack but don’t remove the baking parchment from them.

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Once the cakes have cooled, wrap them up in foil making sure to seal around the edge before leaving them for a week of two for the flavours to mature.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. The cakes are delicious but very sweet – we don’t tend to eat them very fast at home because you only have a small piece at a time. It is fantastic to eat alongside a cup of tea. If you love baking but are looking for something a little bit less sugary, check out how to make some delicious shortbread or if you want something more on the savoury side, why not make yourself some delicious ginger tofu. It’s fab both hot and cold.

 

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a rich, flavourful, savoury crumble.

H