I knew i would be very nervous before being on Kat’s Kitchen yesterday, a BBC Radio Sheffield Saturday morning slot, so i spent some time ensuring i was prepared.
I made sure Fran from Regather was available to come too to help the conversation flow
revised quite a bit about bagel history (didn’t get to talk about that)
I made sure i knew the order i was going to do things in (revised this umpteen times!)
I made a list, of course, of all the things i had to make sure to bring
To start with, in this list, was sugar. And then i thought , hang on i am trying to go sugarless, what better time to launch this than on the radio?
Taking the sugar out is no big deal: the only thing is to make sure , from a weight perspective, to make the dough stretch as far, we replace about 2/3 of the sugar weight with flour and the rest with water.
But what about the taste? The use of barley malt syrup rather than diastatic malt powder (which is what i have been using when baking in bulk) brings out enough sweetness , so i will be switching back to syrup.
So. It Tower of Bagel is now a no sugar bagelry! (And challary: challah will be with honey in future (or Agar Syrup for vegan challah)
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.
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!
Summer baking it was blast
I had some bread, proofing so fast
I made some bagels with sesame seeds
They split their crust like shelling peas
Summer days so hard to bake
Oh oh – from night to daybreak
This is the first change of season in the new bakery. I have been amazed at how the flour is no longer cool but warm to the touch. How the dough is warm coming out the mixer and already feels airy. And with increased demand (cannot knock that!) this variation makes it hard getting the product absolutely right each time.
I imagine that in big manufacturers where they don’t really bake the bread (:>) they have control of the environment: heaters, air conditioners, humidity injectors and hi tech proofing cupboards.
So in my bakery the only tech i have is my own biological feedback system : my brain and my eyes and they don’t work so well some days.
The problem does not come from leaving a single mix longer to proove or shorter, though that is part of it. But more how can further mixes be done in tandem so that the bakery is as efficient as possible?
Whereas before i could do all my mixing and be confident that the first batch would be ready to shape by the time the mixing has stopped, the warmer weather means i have to mix two or maybe three batches then shape; then resume mixing any further batches after this.
It can feel disturbing to change a routine: the routine represents control, long worked for in the early hours, and is also a guarantee of quality – ‘if i do this then this then this, the quality is assured’. But it is also exciting, a new problem to wrestle with, a new challenge and once sorted, renewed confidence that the process can change and the bagels still be as good.
The other day someone asked me what bagels varieties i made. I went through them but slowly as i knew i would probably forget one or two if i tried to go fast.
Not quick enough for my interlocutor who tried to remind me ‘poppy seed, sesame seed, plain…’ she insisted. But, i explained, only one of these is true: plain. The Tower of Bagel seeded plain has a mix of flax poppy and sesame seed.
‘Do you do rye’, she asked. ‘I like rye’ she said ‘with caraway’.
Well i have done but it is not a staple. Just as i have done a rainbow bagel.
What about a marbled bagel. Nope.
What about a sourdough bagel. Nope.
What about a gluten free bagel. Not yet.
The possibilities are endless, which is one of things i really like.
And most especially I like also doing seasonal varieties like wild garlic in the spring (see to the right) and nasturtium (pictured above) in the summer.
The key thing whatever the variety, is that the bagels are boiled in a kettle, and the end product is a chewy bite, close texture.
You will be wanting to know what’s on the menu board tomorrow:
Carrot and corriander soup with a bagel if you like and a dollop of cream cheese if you like.
Filled bagels: some cream cheese with olives or just cream cheese; I have not forgotten you vegans – some baba ganoush and olive tapinade and also some houmus. I will be bringing beetroot and cumin, sun dried tomato , olive as well as plain bagels
Some lovely salads from the Sheffield Organic Growers:
french bean and roasted squash, Courgette and red cabbage, and a mixed green salad, with some peppery and crisp nasturtium leaves and some gorgeous sorrel
In terms of pricing
the soup, filled bagel and a single salad for a £5
a salad mix and (vegan) ‘buttered’ bagel for £4 (with a filled bagel will be £5)
filled bagel and salad will be £3.50
a filled bagel will also be £2.50
soup on its own will be £1.50; with a (vegan) ‘buttered’ bagel will be £2.50
Long in the planning, slow in the doing and then … suddenly i am there, in new kitchens.
There is a new oven, which is nearly a friend.
We think we need some time to get used to each other; we have high expectations of our skills and i can tell she looks at me through her ‘steam eyes’ when i have a tray of bagels and i am sure she is thinking oh, dear not another load of old bagels.
Or maybe this is just a story i am telling myself and we need to talk.
A new mixer, which is best friends with my shoulders; and a new (to me ) fridge which is best friends with my idea of what being a bagel baker is and with the trolley of trays which go with it. And look how great (and sinister) these beetroot bagels look.
And i am especially proud of my unassuming proving cupboard – made from things found and bolted together, to give a reasonably stable and effective bulk fermentation temperature.
When i turn my head backwards in time i look back at the lovely kitchen at Regather and most of all the really lovely people there. There is a bit of regret; but there is much i can do now that i could not before.
I have more capacity and can starting baking other jewish specialist breads. You might expect Challah is on the list but Gerry does a fine Challah already; so that can wait. Bialys are the thing; of which more another time.
And I can experiment at leisure: first up is gluten free, much asked for and definitely on the product development path. I will be blogging about this in the near future.