Once upon a time, many moons ago, I did an internship at an ad agency in New York. The agency was tiny but had an office on 5th Avenue within spitting distance of the Flatiron Building. Being in New York was completely surreal – like being on a film set. Iconic buildings surrounded my office and if it weren’t for the fact that we usually worked 9am – 10pm and that is was bitterly cold I would have just wandered the grid-like streets around the clock trying to take it all in.
New Yorkers are insane workaholics but the agency was a fun place to be – apart from the time a blizzard prevented the boss’s assistant from getting in and I had to answer the phones. Between the unfamiliar accents and rapid-fire delivery I think it is fair to say I managed zero messages and aged 10 years that day. There were compensations for working insane hours and taking on terrifying tasks though. We usually got food delivered on the agency’s dime every time we worked into the night. And you never wanted to be late on Friday mornings because every Friday a huge basket of freshly baked bagels with cream cheese and lox magically appeared in the small kitchen… and disappeared soon after. These bagels are unlike anything I have tasted before or since. Since returning to the UK I have tried and failed to find something resembling them and decided that you probably have to travel to New York to get them.
I have wanted to bake bagels since my New York days but only got around to it quite recently. Bagels require a dough that is first boiled then baked and the recipes are researched varied quite a lot – some containing eggs some not. I liked the recipe on Café Fernando blog years before I actually got around to making it, but be warned it requires 2 days to complete so this is definitely a weekend baking project. The dough is very stiff so I decided to knead it by hand rather than risk breaking the KitchenAid. If you ever want to work out your arms forget the gym, just make bagels – it was HARD work kneading that dough for a lightweight like myself.
The verdict? The bagels tasted great – although they still weren’t nearly as good as the NY ones. They had that chewiness and more authentic taste than anything you buy in London however and I was so proud of them I nearly gave them all names and framed them for all to see.
Recipe via Café Fernando
- Make the sponge: mix the flour and yeast in a large bowl, add the water and mix with a wooden spoon until you have a loose, sticky dough. Cover and let it rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
- Add the additional yeast into the same mixing bowl and mix it in. Add 3/4 of the flour, the brown sugar and salt and use your hands to mix everything together in the bowl.
- Dust your worktop with flour and tip your dough onto it. Slowly work in the rest of the flour until you have a firm dough.
- Start kneading the dough, stretching it away from you and folding back over itself for at least 20 minutes – as I mentioned the dough will be quite stiff and hard to knead so you need to persevere! At this point try the windowpane test. If the dough tears, continue kneading until it forms a thin membrane when stretched between your fingers.
- Divide the dough into 12 sections (or 24 if you are making small bagels) form into balls, cover with a damp cloth and leave them to rise for 20 minutes.
- To shape the bagels, poke a hole in the centre of each ball and rotate it around your finger to widen it. The hole needs to be fairly big as it will fill up when the bagels rise.
- Place the bagels onto 2 trays lined with baking paper, cover with greased cling film and let them rise for 20 minutes.
- Fill a large bowl with cool water and drop one of the bagels in – if it rises to the surface within 10 seconds it is ready to rest in the fridge. If it doesn’t float, cover, let them rise a further 10 minutes and then test them again. Mine passed this test first time round.
- Put the trays, covered with cling film, in the fridge overnight.
- The following day preheat your oven as hot as it will go and set two racks in the middle.
- Line two large trays with baking paper and sprinkle generously with semolina.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the soda bicarb then drop the bagels in, 2-3 at a time and boil for about a minute on each side. Remove with a spoon and place on the prepared tray. Sprinkle with your toppings while the bagel is still wet. Repeat with remaining bagels.
- Bake for 5 minutes at highest temperature then reduce the oven to 220C / 450F and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the bagels are browned. Cool before serving.