Whenever I’m pregnant (which has only been twice in my life, but whatever, let’s make this a rule), I crave everything bagels with cream cheese. I think it’s the American imperialist in me, it’s like I need to encode the baby with half of my New Yorker DNA via bagel. So here I was, in my first trimester of pregnancy, and craving everything bagels so bad I could (and did, actually) cry.
Why was I crying, you ask? I was crying because I was in Islamabad, and whenever I would enter any coffee or bakery establishment and ask for an everything bagel, they would look at me blankly and respond the same way,
“Uhh….what’s a bagel?”
It turns out that nobody in Islamabad knew what bagels were, because bagels simply did not exist in this city. Even the Dunkin’ Donuts in Islamabad didn’t offer bagels. It’s Dunkin Friggin’ Donuts for cryin’ out loud! The bagel is practically the salty sister of the donut. HOW COULD THEY NOT HAVE BAGELS?! Oh, sure, they had everything bagels at their Karachi location, because apparently, people in Karachi are good enough to deserve everything bagels, but we Islamabadians were simply not worthy.
Can you IMAGINE? I mean, SERIOUSLY. A world without everything bagels, ladies and gentlemen, is a very sad place indeed. Especially for a pregnant woman. This is why I was crying.
So my sweet husband did some Googling, and the ONE place that showed up in an internet search for bagels in Islamabad was a restaurant called the Hot Spot. So of course we went there, THAT NIGHT. It was practically a medical emergency. I was suffering from some serious everything bagel deprivation. I needed a cream cheese drip STAT.
The Hot Spot is set up in a renovated railway carriage in the very posh F7 sector of Islamabad. So, we walked in, and sitting at a table right across from the door was a white, blond, German (no, I have no way of confirming that he was, in fact, German, but my imagination has set this as his nationality) man who saw us in the doorway and LITERALLY jumped in his seat. Perhaps he was not expecting a bearded man and woman in full black burka and niqaab to show up at such an establishment. However, I am sure he was set at ease when the supposedly-terrifying looking man went up to the counter and asked the guy behind it:
“Hey, you got any bagels here?”
Unfortunately, they didn’t have any bagels, even though this was the SOLE reason for us coming to this place and scaring poor foreigners.
I don’t remember what I decided to have instead, but I recall it as being some fruity confection. My husband tells me that I ordered a lemon tart that night. I do not doubt his memory, because Mashallah, he is amazing like that, but I am seriously questioning my pregancy-sanity. A LEMON tart was the sufficient substitute for an everything bagel?! I MUST have been pregnant.
Anywho, around the time I was pregnant with baby number two a few years later, I was, luckily, much more adept at baking, and working with yeast as I was during the great Pizza Debacle. (Yes, the one in which I mangled two pizzas. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out my post: Spicy Pizza with Chicken Fajita Topping. You’ll learn more about the crazy things I do when I’m pregnant, AND get a really awesome spicy pizza recipe.) So this time, when the craving for everything bagels with cream cheese struck again, (YES, AGAIN. You can take the girl out of NY but you can’t take the NY out of the girl!) I opted to bake my own bagels.
My first batch was a success, and it was a pleasure to introduce my bagel-deprived family to this beautiful bread.
“Okay, NOW I see what all the fuss was about. This is GOOD!” were my sister-in-law’s exact words. Okay, not exact, because she said it in Urdu, but, you know what I mean.
Today, I’ve created my own version of that original recipe. I used all purpose flour in this recipe because I wanted to use ingredients that were readily available and DIDN’T require a special trip to Kohsar Market. But if you can easily get bread flour, then DO go for that. Diastatic malt is also hard to come by here, so I’ve substituted with brown sugar in the dough and honey in the bagel boiling water. I also wanted to cut down on the prep time because I’m an impatient person. So while I still prep the sponge the night before, I don’t wait as long after the dough is prepared, just a couple hours or so. If you follow my recipe right, you can prep your bagels the night before and work on them after Fajr the next morning to get yummy bagels for breakfast. That just fills my little Brooklyn heart with so much joy.
And if, by any chance, you’re reading this, oh blond, (possibly German) man from Hot Spot— I’m very sorry for scaring you that night. I was just a pregnant woman with a SERIOUS craving for bagels.
Everything Bagels: Special Tips for Pakistani Bakers
You SHOULD be using bread flour. However, in Pakistan, this is not easy to find, so I’m working with All Purpose. Islamabadians, you can get bread flour from Kohsar Market if you really want to do this right.
I found Coarse Sea Salt at Al Fatah supermarket. I’m sure it is also available at Kohsar market. If you’re still having trouble, use any kind of readily available coarse salt. If all else fails, plain old table salt will work just fine.
Traditionally, everything bagels use the “Blue” poppy seed which is the black colored poppy seed. However, white poppy, khash khaash, is more readily available here, so that is what I used. There is only a very slight difference in taste.
Dehydrated onion and garlic make for a crunchier bagel topping. I have not been able to find these here, so I work with fresh onion and garlic. It is a pain in the butt to get the fresh ingredients to stick on the bagel, and it is not as attractive in the finished product, but the taste makes it worth the effort.
You can attempt to toast or dehydrate the minced fresh onion and garlic before sprinkling on your bagel, but be careful while grilling the bagels, as the toppings will burn quickly in that situation. Any Pakistanis out there, if you can find dehydrated onion or garlic somewhere, or have found a hack that makes working with fresh onion and garlic easier to work with, do let me know!
This recipe uses easy-to-find ingredients for the best copy of genuine, New York City Everything Bagels. Authentic taste with a much shorter wait time!
- 270 g flour (bread flour is best if you can get it, I used All-Purpose)
- 270 g cold water
- 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- coarse sea salt to taste
- poppy seeds black/blue or white to taste
- sesame seeds to taste
- minced garlic, dried or fresh to taste
- minced onion, dried or fresh to taste
- Prepared Poolish/Sponge
- 275 g water
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 655 g flour
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 3/4 tsp salt
- oil for coating
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 egg white
- prepared Everything Bagel Topping
Stir together flour, cold water and yeast in a bowl using your hand or a wooden spoon.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on countertop to proof overnight (8 hours).
After proofing, the poolish should be bubbly and smell a bit sour. If you tap it on the counter, it SHOULD NOT COLLAPSE. If it does, it means that it is overripe. You will need to start over and keep it out for less time.
Combine all ingredients and set aside.
Transfer the sponge to the mixing bowl of a stand mixer (or a regular mixing bowl if you are using a hand mixer).
Add the water and yeast to the bowl and gently stir it together.
Add the flour, brown sugar and salt.
Start mixing on low to combine the ingredients, then shift to low-medium speed for five minutes. The dough should be smooth, firm and elastic.
Put the dough in a container that is lightly coated with oil and cover with plastic wrap for two hours. After the first hour, preheat your oven to 246°C or 475°F, if you have a pizza stone, make sure it’s in there. Otherwise, put a baking tray in the oven to preheat.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces (don't worry, you don't have to be precise).
Shape the dough by forming a round ball, flattening it slightly, then pushing your index and middle finger through the middle. Stretch the opening slightly, then even out the shape to form a classic donut/bagel shape. (Alternatively, you can hand roll them, which is the original technique. However, it takes a bit of time to learn and also produces a less photgenic bagel. If you're still interested, check out the YouTube video I've linked in the notes below.)
Place finished bagels on a tray sprinkled with semolina or flour. Make sure there is plenty of room between the bagels, to prevent them from sticking together as they rise. Slide the loaded tray into a large, plastic bag and gently tie it closed. Allow bagels to rise for about 20-30 minutes.
While bagels are rising, add 1 tbsp honey to a large pot of water and bring it to a rolling boil. In a separate large bowl or pot, prepare an ice bath.
Place bagels one by one in the boiling water, as many as can comfortably be boiled in a single layer at one time (usually, no more than three). They should float IMMEDIATELY upon being placed in the water. If they do not, dry them off, and let them proof a bit longer. Boil each side for about 30 seconds, but you can increase this time to about a minute or two each side if you want a chewier bagel.
As each bagel is finished boiling, remove and immediately place in ice water bath.
When all are done, remove bagels from ice water bath and place on two sheets of parchment paper, six bagels each.
In a small bowl, mix 1 tbsp water to 1 egg white and beat well. Brush the egg wash on the bagels, and sprinkle the Everything Bagel Topping on each one.
Remove Preheated baking sheet from oven and slide parchment paper with prepared bagels onto the hot sheet.
Bake for 20 minutes at 246°C or 475°F. If you are using a Pakistani oven and the tops of the bagels are not brown, turn off the oven, and grill bagels for 4 minutes. Check on it frequently to make sure that the garlic/onions don't burn.
When the first batch is complete, slide the bagels along with the parchment paper off of the tray and onto a cooling rack. Quickly slide the second batch along with the parchment paper onto the hot tray and place in oven. Again, bake for 20 minutes at 246°C or 475°F, and grill for 4 minutes if you need to.
Wait for the bagels to cool a bit before eating.
Working with a poolish does require you to tack on an extra 8 or so passive hours but it is SO WORTH it in the end. Do not skip this and DO NOT skip the ice water bath. Your taste buds will thank you later, I promise!
If you have a large enough oven, you can cut your baking time in half by preheating TWO baking sheets in the oven and baking both sheets of bagels at the same time.
These yield a soft, spongey bagel, very reminiscent of the kind I used to get at my local bagel place in Brooklyn. They taste great hot out of the oven, and toast well.
What is your favorite New York City food?