So, you are new to London and you are visiting Brick Lane for the first time. Suddenly, you see a big line of people politely queueing (a really British thing to do) outside a shop. You immediately try to see what all the fuss is about and you discover that the shop’s name is “Beigel Shop” and yes, people are queueing for bagels.
But is ‘beigel’ a spelling mistake???? Or is it some kind of British pastry that you are not familiar with? Well, neither, a beigel is a bagel, but on this side of the city the proper name is Beigel. In theory, there is a difference: beigels must be handmade and bagels are factory produced. I´m not sure if we can say that this applies now, but I can say that the Beigel shop in Brick Lane does make beigels by hand (with a little bit of industrialised help). The story is not very clear to me, but what we do know is that these little pieces of bread were invented some centuries ago in Poland, the legend says that it was in Krakow. Although they are usually related to Jewish food, apparently they were common with Polish people of all religions and they may have been invented to commemorate childbirth (quite a graphic commemoration to be honest). Jewish Polish communities travelled to the United States with the bagels recipe becaming popular, especially in New York. Jewish communities became fond of them because the parboiling process allows them to remain fresher for longer, and during times when ingredients are scarce, it is always nice to know that the bread made with the only flour available will last longer than other styles. Although nowadays bagels are common everywhere in the United States the rumor is that the best bagels are the ones produced in Montreal, and if anyone is curious about my opinion and is willing to sponsor me for the trip I will be happy to let you know the result of the experiment!
Brick Lane is not close to my house and sometimes I really want to have fresh beigels for breakfast so I bake my own. It is the easiest bread ever – it does take time, but for most of it, you can be sleeping, reading or drinking at the pub. They freeze really well, so you can freeze half of them and eat the rest during the week. Enjoy!!
700 grams of strong white flour (if there is no such thing in your country, just add two alka seltzers to any kind of white flour that you have)
12grams of instant yeast
4 tsp of sugar
10 grams of salt (yes, yes it is not too much, you will be perfectly fine)
400 ml of warm water (by warm water I mean that if you put your finger in it you will not scream)
Sesame seeds, nigella seeds, and I definitely do not recommend poppy seeds as they never stick to the dough and it becomes really messy (but hey! You are the one cleaning up after so you decide)
You will also need: a bowl, saucepan, an oven, a scale, a baking sheet with baking paper (or lightly oiled), a tea towel or cling film. I also used a standing mixer but you can do this by hand and you can skip the upper body routine in the gym.
- Mix all the ingredients in a bowl with the exception of two teaspoons of sugar. Try to put the yeast as far as possible from the salt and as close to the sugar as you can. It’s believed that the salt kills the yeast, it has never happened in my experience but well, it doesn’t hurt to follow all wisdom.
- Start kneading the dough by hand or in the standing mixer with the dough attachment. The time this is going to take you varies depending on you or your machine’s strength, so between 10 and 30 minutes I will say. It is going to be slightly sticky at the beginning, do not add more water. Nigella says you can add more flour (only to the bagels) but I have never needed to do this. It is a hard dough (literally) so be patient. You want the dough to be elastic and does not stick to any surface or your hands. It is also going to become a little shiny.
- When your dough is ready, cover it with a damp tea towel or cling film. You now have two options: let the dough rise at room temperature for two hours or until it doubles in size, or put it in the fridge for around 10 hours and take it out for an hour before going to the next step.
- Divide the dough into 100 grams pieces. Roll them into balls, flatten them slightly and make a whole in them with your fingers. Remember the dough will continue proving so make big holes that they will not close after. Cover them again and let them to rise for half hour.
- Meanwhile, preheat your oven at 220 C. Put the rest of the sugar in a saucepan with boiling water and start popping the bagels in it. Let them boil for 30 seconds on each side and then immediately cover them with sesame seeds or nigella seeds if you are using them.
- Bake the bagels for 25 minutes, or until they are crispy on the top and sound shallow in the bottom.
- Let them cool down before eating or freezing them. If you are eating them during the week keep them at room temperature in a closed bag or container.
You want to know more about bagels?? Try The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread by Ms. Maria Balinska