The recipes i have been using for bagels have sugar. And it seems that bagels are known as a sweet bread. This has prompted two questions for me.
First, what was the sugar content back in the shetl when bagels were sold on street corners stacked on sticks? This is a question about ‘authenticity’ – what is a bagel? Some Montreal bagels you can see on You Tube have eggs, similar You Tube videos about New York bagels contain malt, nether of which i suspect were readily available in Lublin or Krakow or Vilnius.
But food travels and changes. So authenticity – unless you are trying to absolutely replicate the original recipe – for bagels in this case – does not seem pertinent. A bagel is a boiled-then-baked bread with a hole; its constituent parts are the subject of debate maybe even argument.
The second issue is more current. How can we produce food with less sugar and deliver health as well as environmental benefits:
An excess of sweetened foods and beverages can lead to weight gain, bloodsugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease, among other dangerous conditions.
Sugar cane is usually grown as a monoculture. Production in many countries has moved to marginal areas removing natural rainforests, mangroves and other sensitive environments, Cane sugar has been responsible for reduced wildlife biodiversity, polluted rivers and seas, eroded fertile soils, careless use of pesticides and fertilisers, poor management of irrigation, air pollution from burning cane, and damage to coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef. The processing of sugar cane has also been shown to be very polluting, especially in poorer countries.
So, two issues emerge. Removing the sugar from the bread is simple enough, though i am not sure about its impact on the fermentation process and the final taste and texture. This needs to be discovered.
In addition, baking commercially, the process in the bakery is designed to ensure the bagels are baked in a certain time, that a certain number fit on a tray and have a certain pre-bake weight. This seems to present a problem so that the recipe is adjusted to retain efficiency as well as for the correct water content levels
Even so, I am going to work towards removing as much sugar as possible from most varieties so that by the end of the year there will be a sugarless set. And we already have one, which has already made a couple of outings to Beanies, though it needs some work.
We tend to get stuck with bagel fillings in the traditional many revolving around cream cheese – on its own, or with smoked salmon if you eat fish, and either with dill pickle. These are great but it is good to find something else to try from time to time
Here is a great mix for an onion bagel:
Fry up some halloumi (do this quite slowly so that it does not burn but just browns and retains some moisture)
Cut your bagel in half and place some raw baby spinach leaves on the bottom half of the bagel. (If you prefer, you can steam the spinach first)
Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the spinach and sprinkle some finely chopped green chili.
Halloumi is quite salty already so salt can be left out if you like and the chilli means black pepper is also not needed. Even so, add both to make it as you like
I set about making some bagel boards: should i look for some cedar, or will pine do? What weave of burlap do i need? Well, like lots of these things, you can do all the research you like but it seems to be simply a matter of getting started and seeing what happens.
I chose some pine conveniently stored in my garage and bought some burlap from Whaleys in Bradford that would seem tough enough to deal with the oven. (Jute role is more for hemming and seems fragile) .
With the boards made i went down to the Abbyedale Road Nether Edge Pizza shop and met an enthusiastic Theo and Somerset. Theo is clearly an expert on the oven and, as i would find out, holds no fear in putting his hands in.
Preparing the bagels is no different of course : i had prooved them in the fridge beforehand, a bit shorter than ususal for practical reasons, and they are boiled cooled and then set on the boards, not oven trays.
So then to the key thing: the oven.
What was not clear to me before is that the oven has clear heat gradients – pizzas are placed first at the back and then gradually brought forward, Theo told me. But this flexibility is not possible with bagels. The idea is to place them top down on the boards , flip them after some minutes (how many will depend on the oven) so that the bottoms are on the stone and the tops face up.
Last night we had the oven too hot and this clearly showed that the for the first batch the crust formed too quickly and left a doughy bread. The second batch were better. Maybe the next batch better still. Watch this space!
Scary or not, i had a bit of fun making this Halloween Bagel. The serious ‘foody’ thing is the colours and flavours just blend really well.
Take a small squash, I used a red kuri as pictured but you could also use a small pumpkin, wrap in silver foil and bake on a medium oven for about an hour or until soft. The aim is to be able to have it cooked but not have the flesh fall apart. (Test by using a baked potato skewer and seeing if it easily goes through the flesh: you want a bit of resistance not an easy slide)
As it nears being cooked slice some halloumi (quite thick) and place on a gentle heat in a fry pan. Turn every so often so it cooks both sides. Don’t be tempted to speed up the cooking as it takes away from the succulence of the cheese.
Take the squash from the oven when ready and slice off the lid and allow to cool so it is easier to handle. When you can handle the heat scoop out the seeds carefully. (Don’t forget the halloumi! – I only say that because i have and it is so disappointing).
Now with the squash on sitting on its bottom, slice chunks downwards. Place a bed of rocket on the bottom of the bagel and then place some slices of squash (or pumpkin). Place the halloumi when ready to the sides of these, almost like the act as a barrier to the squash leaking out (hence the thick slices).
Chop a chili pepper of your choice finely and sprinkle to taste with a bit of salt. Take two more – red with stalks are best, something like the Dagger Pod maybe – and see if you can insert them by the stalk in to the flesh of the squash.
Get some curved ones and they can be like claws.
Now spread some harissa on the side. And there you have it. Halloween Bagel!
Not long ago i had a brief, almost throw away conversation, with people at Regather. We were talking about where our food comes from and how important it is to understand what happens before it gets to our plate.
This subject spans a wide spectrum of topics – from GMOs to multinationals to deforestation to imperialism to poverty, war….and more.
One aspect is fostering an experiential approach to understanding food production.
So, children have been seen increasingly at city farms over the past 30 years; our own Heeley City Farm being a great example; and schemes like Food for Life are dedicated to ensuring we widen our collective understanding of food production and can access tasty and healthy food sustainably.
With regard to bread, the growth of sourdough bakeries has both stimulated and been a product of a discussion about and move away from manufactured bread products. Even so it seems there has not been a discussion at the next level of where the grain comes from and how it is processed . And this contrasts with wider discussions about organic vegetables, for example, or ‘food miles’.
Grain to plate experience.
When I learnt Regather might be linking up with Friends Field, some dots started to join in my head.
Friends Field is a social enterprise in the wonderful Moss Volley.
15 acres of land that has had green manure for three years cut three times a year and mulched for worms to do their magic.
So last week i hear they will be a planting winter wheat (i.e it is sown in the winter) in an acre and half of the field; and next year via harrowing, planting, harvesting, threshing , milling, bagging and baking, it may land on a Sheffield plate!
There is still lots to find out and do. Not sure yet if it is hard or soft, red or white …. but we will find out soon as it has to be planted by November 5th.