Some bagels travel many miles from the bakeries of Israel to our plates but there’s one great bagel that is just around the corner: Beigel Bake.
Brick Lane’s iconic Beigel Bake was established in 1974 by Asher Cohen, his brother Amnon Cohen and Samy Minzler, after he and his brother emigrated from Israel to set up in business.
The Cohen family use their late father’s traditional family recipe to this day, baking bagels around the clock to feed the hungry mouths of East London.
Beigel Bake has remained open on a reduced hour basis through lockdown, offering home deliveries through their newly-launched app.
However for those still under lockdown and wishing to learn at least one skill before lockdown ends, Eastlondonlines asked Daniel Cohen, co-owner of Beigel Bake, how they bake their bagels step-by-step.
“The ingredients needed to make a bagel are simple,” said Cohen. “It is the process and how you produce the dough that is the tough bit.”
While baking bagels is a complex science entrenched in tradition and craftsmanship, Cohen tells us that it is not impossible to achieve at home.
Ingredients for a batch of 16 bagels (bigger batches are recommended by Cohen to ensure even proportions of ingredients in the dough):
7 cups of strong white bread flour (high in gluten)
5 tbsp of dried yeast
3 tbsp of sugar
2 tbsp of malt powder
2 cups of lukewarm water
1 tbsp of salt
Baking the bagel:
Mix the sugar, water, and yeast in a bowl until yeast dissolves. Add salt, malt powder, and 2 cups of flour, and mix well. Keep adding flour to the mixture until firm and smooth dough is formed. Cover it with a towel and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
Cohen says: “I would say a tip is, don’t be anxious. Leave it to rest, and when it’s ready it’s ready. You can’t rush it. You avoid having huge air pockets that way. If you put too much yeast in the dough or force it up in a hot area, the yeast rapidly activates and multiples and you end up with huge gas pockets. The structure of the bagel will be all wrong. You are better off letting the yeast to multiply and rise up slowly and evenly to create more of a uniform sponginess.”
Preheat the oven to 290C.
Cohen says: “We bake ours in our ovens around 550F/290C. For us, we’ve obviously got a bigger oven and bigger quantity. If you can set your home oven to 500F/260C, it should be good.“
Take the dough and press it into an oblong shape to cut in half. Cut the halves into halves and so on until you have 16 dough balls. On a flat and dry surface press each dough ball flat. Knead the dough and roll it into a 3-inch long cigar-like shape. Take the piece and roll it again under your palm to extend it to 5 inches. Take the dough roll and wrap it around 5 fingers, overlapping the ends by about 1.5 inches. Press into the overlap, roll the fletcher on the table until it is sealed and becomes the same thickness as the rest of the bagel. Repeat with all dough balls.
Cohen says their most popular bagels are plain and simple, but if desired you may make batches with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. You should sprinkle them on before popping the dough into the oven.
Place bagel on a dusted board and cover with cloth. Let them rise for an hour.
Boil water in a pan to around 80C and slide 4 bagels in at a time. Do not submerge the bagels and keep them moving in the water to ensure they don’t soak, but boil instead. Keep them moving in the near boiling for no more than 2 minutes and immediately place them on a cooling rack to drain excess water.
Cohen added: “Leave it to rest and don’t over boil it. The longer you boil it the tougher it can get. Keep the bagels moving in the water. Boiling the bagels helps the dough rise. The heat of the water helps the yeast rise. The water itself gives them a nice chewy texture, that typical bagel chewy-ness. Also, because the water becomes starchy, as pasta water, it coats the bagel itself and helps it achieve that sheen and make it shiny. If it wasn’t for the boiling it wouldn’t be what it is.
Slide them into the oven on the cooling rack so the starchy water residue glazes the dough. Once dry in the oven, place on a baking sheet and let them back for 20-25 minutes. Ensure the bagels are baked from all sides.
Remove from the oven and cool on racks.
London’s favourite bagel is the salt beef bagel but Cohen’s is the salmon and cream cheese bagel, so there really is no right way to eat or fill a bagel. Pick a topping of your choice (or go plain) and enjoy your homemade bagels!
SALT BEEF TIP: Slow cook the meat until tender and soft. Slow heat allows for the fat to melt into the beef and give it that soft chewiness.
Cohen says: “Don’t forget the gherkins. [It’s] is the most important part of a salt beef bagel!”
(For those whose baking skills aren’t good enough, or who want to sample the originals, Beigel Bake’s delivery app (Brick Lane Beigel) is available on the Apple store. They deliver London-wide.)