We May Have Found The World's Healthiest Bagel. Here's Exactly What's In 'Em

Photo: Nick Barnard

Bagels are the ever-popular, shiny, ring-shaped bread rolls that have a rather unusual genesis, as they are boiled (poached really) as well as baked. Their origins can be traced back some 500 years to Poland, where they were a staple of the region. The hole in the middle? It’s practical—the dough cooks more evenly throughout, and for the baker, it was, traditionally, a novel way to display and sell bagels either in rows on a stick or strung up on a length of string.

Most bagels are made with highly refined wheat flour, which is high in gluten and lacks the coarse bran or germ. At best they are made more nourishing and digestible if the dough is fermented overnight, but there’s no doubt that their addictive, sweet, tender (when fresh), dense, and chewy texture is derived for the most part from the use of refined wheat flour and refined sugars, making them unsuitable for the increasing numbers of gluten-sensitive and gluten-intolerant individuals, let alone those wanting to avoid refined sugar.

This recipe, from my book, Eat Right, manages to combine the best of both worlds; by using sprouted spelt flour and unrefined, or wild, sugars, the amount of gluten is reduced, the digestibility and nourishment are improved, yet you can still have your chewy, crusty mouthfeel and superior flavors. You want convenience, too? It’s right here. Made with sprouted flours complete with their readily available nutrients, including simple sugars rather than starch, these bagels do not require proofing overnight.

Spelt. So what’s all the excitement? Spelt is closely related to wheat, and therefore contains gluten, but, crucially, less gluten than wheat. Spelt is an ancient hybrid, and until about 150 years ago, it was the bread grain of choice in Europe since antiquity. Replaced in the last century by more recent wheat hybrids, spelt is making a welcome return in popularity, especially in organic farming, as it’s less dependent on the use of artificial fertilizers. Spelt has a far more interesting flavor profile than wheat; it’s nuttier, and sweeter, too, and for those sensitive to gluten, spelt can often be tolerated.

Honey-Crust Sprouted Spelt Bagels

Makes 8 bagels

  • 1⅔ cups freshly filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fresh yeast
  • 1½ tablespoons unrefined cane juice sugar, jaggery, or coconut palm sugar
  • 4 cups sprouted spelt flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey (can sub maple syrup if vegan)
  • Raw or toasted poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

Method

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Activate

  1. Pour ½ cup of the water into a small bowl, crumble in the yeast, and sprinkle with the sugar. Leave for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve.
  2. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeasted water. Pour in the remaining water and then mix to form a firm, moist dough.

Knead and let rise

  1. Turn the dough onto a well-floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, which will take about 10 minutes. As you knead the dough, feel for its texture. You need this dough to be quite stiff and firm. If it’s too moist, gradually knead in some more flour.
  2. Wipe the inside of a bowl with some olive oil, then roll your dough around the inside of the bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a cloth. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, which will take about 1 hour.
  3. Punch down the dough, then let rest again for 10 minutes.

Shape and rest

  1. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and return it to a lightly floured work surface. Cut into 8 equal-size pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Poke a floured finger into and through the center of each one to form a ring.
  2. Place the bagels on a lightly (olive) oiled baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425°F.
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Poach

  1. Bring a large, wide pan of water to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and then add the honey.
  2. Use a slotted spoon to lower the bagels carefully into the honeyed water, 2 or 3 at a time.
  3. Boil each batch of bagels on one side until they rise to the surface and puff up, then turn each one over and remove them once they rise to the surface again.
  4. As you remove the bagels, let them drain well. If you are coating them in seeds, this is the time to do it. Put the seeds in a shallow bowl and dip the top of each bagel lightly into seeds.

Bake

  1. Return the drained bagels to the lightly oiled baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, turning once, or until golden and shiny. Let cool on a wire rack.
  2. Bagels are at their best within 2 or 3 days of baking, when fresh. They do freeze well. Slicing into two half-rings before freezing is recommended.

In the mood for weekend baking? Try this healthy breakfast cake (no, really), or make some gluten-free pizza for dinner.

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