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.