Baking challenge: sweet (strawberry cream) and savoury (caramelised onion and tomato) flavoured bagels

This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the showstopper challenge for week two (bread week) of series three: 12 sweet and 12 savoury bagels.

 

Sweet strawberry bagels
Sweet strawberry and cream bagels

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best time to make bagels for the first time ever is three hours before your guests are due to arrive at your brunch o’clock birthday party. You may have already made Bircher muesli and autumnal loaf cakes (my birthday is in September) and chocolate sheet cake and pumpkin and white chocolate cookies; you may be sizzling bacon in the oven and baking up savoury strata. But after two days’ worth of preparation and as many dishes as there are guests, if you’re anything like me you may still have a nagging feeling that something is somehow missing if you don’t bake up 24 bagels, to your own made-up recipe.

(Funnily enough I was discussing this scenario with a few people who love food and cooking and about halfway through they started nodding in recognition. The urge to over-cater is a strange one, but I feel better knowing that the wish to destroy one’s nerves and kitchen shortly before inviting your dear friends to come in and gape, somewhat aghast, at the filthiness of the kitchen floor, all trodden in flour and dough bits, is not unique to me).

Tomato and onion bagels
Tomato and caramelised onion bagels with sesame topping

Anyway, the aforementioned scenario is why these bagels are not very pretty, and also why I have very few photographs of them. What is undeniable is that they were absolutely the hits of the party: for something thrown together pretty spontaneously, to recipes I was devising off-piste, they came off really well. People devoured them, took them home with them, and remembered them. And that is really gratifying.

For the sweet bagel I made strawberry-cream cheese bagels. The barely sweetened dough (the sugar is to feed the yeast rather than sweeten the dough) is studded with dried strawbs and, after poaching and baking, is slathered with a topping of sweetened cream cheese and topped off with freeze-dried strawberry bits. You could very easily of course make a raspberry version, given that dried and freeze-dried raspberries are as widely available as the strawberry versions thereof. The cream cheese topping gives the sweet fruit an obviously creamy, tangy element, which hearkens to the quintessential British summer cliche: you know, I know, we all know, strawberries and cream, British summer, Wimbledon, blah blah blah. Still good though. The resultant bagels are delicious and, while recognisably sweet, not too sugary, and deliciously rich and sticky from the topping. For a more sober or transportable version, you could leave out the cream cheese topping.

The savoury bagel is tomato and balsamic vinegar caramelised onion, topped with sesame seeds. It’s just about the most inspired brunch bagel flavour ever, to be honest. Goes well with eggs, goes well with bacon, would probably go well with those hideous baked beans British people like to eat fried tomatoes or black pudding. The tomato flavour is a quite subtle layer of savoury sweetness; if you’d prefer it to be more assertive, use a few more tablespoons and use either double-concentrated paste or (even stronger) sundried tomato paste.

Strawberry bagels

To my surprise, the ‘bits’ in each bagel – the dried strawberries in the sweet and caramelised onions in the savoury – adhered well to the dough and stayed put even during the poaching stage. I had thought that the water would be studded with raspberries and onions making a bid for freedom, but in fact not a single piece detached. The density and relative dryness of the bagel dough keeps them lodged firmly in place. I was pleased, particularly for the strawberry bagels, as dried strawberries are not cheap.

Recipes below the jump.

Strawberry cream cheese bagels

Notes: I used instant yeast for the leavening, but you could use an equivalent amount of dried active yeast, which will need mixing with the water and sugar before adding to the flour and salt (the packet will have directions on this)

You can use honey or maple syrup in the place of agave syrup for the topping if you prefer. In fact you could very likely use any liquid sweetener. I just used what I happened to have.

There’s loads of dried and freeze-dried fruit on the market these days; I’ve mentioned raspberries above, as they are readily available in supermarkets, but if you’re willing to make an online purchase you can buy freeze-dried mango, blueberries, bananas, cherries and even rhubarb. You could experiment with corresponding or complementary dried fruit.

Equipment: two baking trays, lined with baking paper

For the bagels

  • 7g instant yeast
  • 500g strong white flour, plus a little extra for shaping
  • 2 TBS soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 125g dried strawberries, chopped into raisin-sized pieces
  • a little neutral oil, to grease
  • 1 TBS bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 TBS malt syrup
  • 1 egg white, beaten, to glazeFor the topping
  • 200g full-fat cream or soft cheese
  • 60ml agave syrup
  • 7g freeze-dried strawberries
  1. Mix together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Pour in the water and mix to combine into a rough, shaggy dough. Mix in the dried strawberries.
  2. Tip the mixture onto a clean work surface and knead until smooth, supple and elastic (if you pull pieces of dough off the main mass, it will stretch before eventually breaking off). This should take you between 10-15 minutes; I found this dough denser and tougher to knead than many bread doughs. The strawberry pieces should be evenly distributed and fully incorporated by this point.
  3. Lightly oil a large, clean bowl with a bit of the neutral oil and cover it loosely with oiled clingfilm. Leave to rise until doubled in size – about an hour if left in a warmish place.
  4. Tip your dough onto your work surface and divide into 12 even pieces. You can do this by eye or by weighing the dough and then dividing it by 12 and weighing each piece, which will ensure with greater accuracy that they’re all the same size.
  5. Roll each portion into balls and line up on the lined baking trays (ensure that they are not too close to one another as you don’t want them to join up). If any of your strawberry pieces have fallen out of the dough, just poke them back in. Cover with oiled clingfilm and let rise again for about half an hour, until they have puffed up and about doubled. Remove the clingfilm.
  6. Dip your index finger or the handle of a wooden spoon into flour and use it to make a hole in the centre of each bagel. Swirl your finger or the handle around to stretch out the hole a little, but avoid knocking out too much air from the bagels in the process.
  7. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  8. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the malt syrup and bicarbonate of soda to the water. Place a few bagels in the water at a time – how many will depend on the size of your saucepan, but I did a maximum of four at a time in my very large stockpot. Boil for 1 minute, turning over after 30 seconds. Lift the poached bagels out of the water using a slotted spoon, drain well and return to the lined baking tray. Repeat until all are cooked.
  9. Brush the bagels with the egg white. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  10. To make the topping, beat the cream cheese until softened and creamy and gradually add in the agave syrup. Add it gradually as the consistency of soft cheese can vary and you may not need the full 60ml. You are looking to achieve a light dropping consistency, but the filling should not be runny as it needs to sit on top of the bagels.
  11. Spread the cream cheese onto the bagels using a palette knife, the back of a spoon or a knife. Sprinkle over the freeze-dried strawberries.

 

 

Tomato and caramelised onion bagels

Notes: See the note above under the Strawberry Cream bagel recipe on using dried active yeast.

If you wanted to I’m sure you could experiment by using olive paste or anchovies in the dough.

I used more malt syrup and a slightly longer poaching time for the savoury bagels to give them a richer, yeastier taste and a chewier texture than the sweet bagels, which I thought suited a more delicate texture better (relative: it’s still bread after all)

Equipment: two baking trays, lined with baking paper

  • 1 large onion or two small onions, chopped into small, even pieces
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 1 TBS balsamic vinegar
  • pinch coarse salt (for the onions)
  • 7g instant yeast
  • 500g strong white flour, plus a little extra for shaping
  • 1 TBS dark brown soft sugar
  • 1 tsp coarse salt (for the bagel dough)
  • 2-4 TBS tomato paste (double concentrated is ideal) or sundried tomato paste
  • 250-300ml water
  • a little oil, for greasing
  • 1 TBS bicarbonate of soda
  • 60ml malt syrup
  • 1 egg white, beaten, to glaze
  • 1-2 TBS sesame seeds
  1. Start by caramelising the onions. These are not the true, slow-cooked caramelised onions which cook down to a jammy consistency over an hour or so, but quicker-cooked softened onions with golden-brown edges which have a bit of firmness which can stand up to the poaching and baking. Melt the butter in a small frying pan and add the onions. Cook on a low heat for three to five minutes, until softened.
  2. Increase the heat to medium low and add a pinch of salt to the onions. Cook for a further five to seven minutes, until the onion pieces are slightly golden and browning at the edges. The aim of adding the salt is to draw out moisture from the onions; you are aiming to cook off some of the water naturally present in the onions and butter to avoid them going soggy.
  3. Add the balsamic vinegar to the onion and stir thoroughly to mix it in. Cook for about three minutes until the vinegar has cooked into the onions and the excess has evaporated, and the onions are a golden-brown colour. Decant from the saucepam to a bowl and let cool.
  4. Mix together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Mix together the tomato paste and 250ml of the water and pour the tomato-water mixture into the flour. Mix to combine to a rough, shaggy dough, adding the remaining water if needed to bring the dough together. Mix in the cooked onion pieces.
  5. Tip the mixture onto a clean work surface and knead until smooth, supple and elastic (if you pull pieces of dough off the main mass, it will stretch before eventually breaking off). This should take you between 10-15 minutes; I found this dough denser and tougher to knead than many bread doughs. The onion pieces should be evenly distributed and fully incorporated by this point.
  6. Lightly oil a large, clean bowl with a bit of the neutral oil and cover it loosely with oiled clingfilm. Leave to rise until doubled in size – about an hour if left in a warmish place.
  7. Tip your dough onto your work surface and divide into 12 even pieces. You can do this by eye or by weighing the dough and then dividing it by 12 and weighing each piece, which will ensure with greater accuracy that they’re all the same size.
  8. Roll each portion into balls and line up on the lined baking trays (ensure that they are not too close to one another as you don’t want them to join up). If any of your onion pieces have fallen out of the dough, just poke them back in. Cover with oiled clingfilm and let rise again for about half an hour, until they have puffed up and about doubled. Remove the clingfilm.
  9. Dip your index finger or the handle of a wooden spoon into flour and use it to make a hole in the centre of each bagel. Swirl your finger or the handle around to stretch out the hole a little, but avoid knocking out too much air from the bagels in the process.
  10. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  11. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the malt syrup and bicarbonate of soda to the water. Place a few bagels in the water at a time – how many will depend on the size of your saucepan, but I did a maximum of four at a time in my very large stockpot. Boil for two minutes, turning over after one minute. Lift the poached bagels out of the water using a slotted spoon, drain well and return to the lined baking tray. Repeat until all are cooked.
  12. Brush the bagels with the egg white and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the bagels are lightly golden brown and the seeds lightly toasted. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

 

 

 

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