Interviewer: Steve Cooling
Permission given to use interview for website, exhibition and Staffordshire archive: YES
Question asked “What do you remember about bread or bread baking”.
It was only when I ended up in London that I developed a bagel habit. I can remember my first: it was a 6am plain bagel with cream cheese, having breakfast before bedtime. Like many, I found the 24hr Beigel Bake on Brick Lane to be highly convenient for the journey home from East End clubs. Later in my time in London a friend lived above the Bagel House in Stoke Newington, with the smell of fresh bread ever present. For my last couple of years in London, though, I lived just around the corner from the Happening Bagel Bakery in Finsbury Park, with great bagels, challah, pizza, cakes galore, and posters of the Gunners on the wall. Saturday mornings would mean buying a dozen plain and half a dozen poppy seed bagels, and then wandering round the corner to the all night grocery to buy ricotta and tomatoes (and globe artichokes). Back in North Staffordshire, decent bagels are hard to find: certainly those in the supermarkets are not even close to acceptable.
I've imported some from Finsbury Park on occasion, just as I used to take about 12 dozen oatcakes (from JB oatcakes, since you ask) from Stoke to London, every few months. I've tried some bagels from a Manchester bakery - again, not so good - and know that I should go up to Prestwich or Crumpsall to try again. In lieu of two or three hours driving, though, I'm now making my own for special occasions. My first few attempts weren't particularly successful, being too thin and stringy, too tough. At the time, though, I was using an old and fairly broken down cooker which never heated up fully. As soon as I had a better cooker to use, the bagels started to come reliably on stream. I use a recipe by Rachel Allen I found online, and I'm told they resemble Montreal style bagels, as opposed to New York. They are sweet and doughy, with a crunch on the outside, and still pretty thin. It's a pain to have to do the boiling (in water sweetened with molasses) before baking, and I roll them by hand so they aren't perfectly round or smooth. I eat them with cream cheese or ricotta, tomato and basil, but the children like them with just butter or butter and cucumber. Whatever happens, a batch of 16 are usually gone in a couple of days. Yum.
Boiling in molasses
Poppy seed bagels
Ingredients 450g/1lb strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting 2 tsp salt 7g sachet fast-acting yeast 2 tbsp clear honey 1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing 3 tbsp black treacle or molasses fine polenta, for sprinkling 1 free-range egg, beaten sesame seeds, sea salt, poppy seeds, or a savoury topping of your choice (optional)
Preparation method Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, then add the yeast and mix well. Measure 250ml/9fl oz warm water in a measuring jug and then stir in the honey and oil. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour the liquid in gradually, bringing the dough together with your hands. Turn the dough out onto a clean, dry and floured work surface. Start kneading the dough, stretching it away with the palm of one hand and folding it back again with the other. Knead for approximately 10 minutes, adding more flour if the dough becomes too sticky. Continue kneading until the dough is firm and elastic. Shape the dough into a large ball and place in a lightly oiled, large bowl. Turn the dough in the oil to coat. Cover with cling film or a plastic bag and put in a warm, dry place for 1–3 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size. When the dough has proved, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the treacle or molasses. Cover and turn off the heat. Lightly oil two baking trays and sprinkle with polenta. Remove the dough from the bowl, then punch it down and knead it briefly. Roll it into a rough sausage shape and divide into seven equal chunks. As you work with one chunk, keep the others covered with a clean tea towel. Firmly roll out each chunk into a long, slender sausage shape. Bring the ends together, splash the ends with a tiny bit of water and squeeze them together to seal. Place on the prepared baking trays and repeat with the remaining the dough. Cover and set aside to prove for a further 10–20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Bring the saucepan of molasses and water back to a gentle simmer. Gently drop each bagel into the water (do this in batches of no more than three at a time) and turn over after 1-2 minutes. Simmer for another 1-2 minutes, then remove the bagels from the water, and drain. Place the bagels on the prepared baking trays, spacing them widely apart. Brush the tops with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds, sea salt, poppy seeds or a savoury topping of your choice. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until golden-brown, then turn them upside down for a further ten minutes to cook the bases. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving.