Two-tone bagels – 100% natural

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Two-tone bagels of different shapes and sizes that are not just naturally coloured, they are also fully flavoured: part pesto and part beetroot & walnut.

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I will be making bagels with my GCSE Food students shortly and I wanted to show them how to get lovely flavours into the dough and present something a little different without resorting to artifical colours and flavours.

On the most recent episode of Bake Off, the technical was rainbow bagels: wonderful, I thought, until it became clear this was a bake that was more style over substance given the amount of artificial colours used in the dough yet without the flavours to back them up.

I honestly felt this was a shockingly poor bake to choose in the first place. And then with Hollywood later blithering on to a baker in the next round about “style over substance”: oh perenially dreadful judge, heal thyself!

Colouring just for the sake of it is one of my pet hates: I am a firm believer that foods that are coloured – cakes, icings, doughs… – should at least have some accompanying flavour……

Flavouring and colouring the dough naturally

Ok, I allow myself a little artifical food colouring when I make macarons but I do like to sneak in flavours, too.

With these bagels I made a simple pesto (basil, garlic, Parmesan and pine nuts all blitzed together -but without the oil, as this hinders the gluten development in the dough). I also blitzed some cooked beetroot with some walnuts for the second dough.

Admittedly, you do not get the vibrancy in the baked dough that you get using artificial colours but I do quite like the muted colour palette here – and I especially like the flavour combination.

The pesto and the beetroot “pastes” are then used to make up the two doughs, with enough water then added to give the somewhat stiffer dough needed for bagels compared to bread rolls, for example.

Cooking bagels

Bagels require boiling first in water and then baking.

They only boil for about a minute or so, during which time the starch in the flour gelatinises so that when the bagels have baked in the oven, you get the characteristic chewy crust without the crispness that you get with, say, a baguette or a roll.

Adding bicarbonate of soda to the water helps with the final colour (less of an issue with these ones) and the texture on the outside of the bagel.

The boiling also kills off most of the yeast so that when they go into the oven to finish cooking, they will not rise so much so that you get that dense texture you want in a bagel.

Recipe: two-tone bagels: makes about 10

For the pesto dough:
  • 200g strong or very strong white bread flour
  • 5g fine sea salt
  • 3g dried, easy-blend yeast
  • 30g bag basil leaves
  • 1 rounded tablespoon pine nuts
  • 1 rounded tablespoon finely grated Parmesan
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
For the beetroot dough:
  • 200g strong or very strong white bread flour
  • 5g fine sea salt
  • 3g dried, easy-blend yeast
  • 60g cooked beetroot
  • 1 rounded tablespoon walnuts
To poach:
  • 1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda
  • boiling water
To finish:
  • beaten egg white
  • poppy seeds or sesame seeds, optional

(1) Make the pesto by blitzing the basil, garlic, Parmesan and pine nuts to give a fairly smooth paste: pieces of pine nuts and strands of basil in there is fine! Add enough water to come to about 100g of “green” mixture in total. Similarly, blitz the beetroot with the walnuts until well blended and crushed. Add enough water to come to about 100g of “red” mixture in total.

(2) Put the remaining pesto dough ingredients into a bowl along with the pesto mixture. Mix well, squeezing with your hands to incorporate any dry bits of flour and shape to a firm dough. Add a little water only if needed – but you want the dough on the firm rather than soft side. Knead about 5 minutes until smooth and place in the bowl, covered for about an hour to prove.

(3) Repeat with the beetroot and walnut dough.

(4) Roll out the doughs to a rectangle (about 20cm by 15cm) – you can stretch the corners gently to get a cleaner rectangle if needed.

(5) Place one dough on top of the other and roll out to about 30cm by 20cm. Trim if needed (I love to prove and bake the off-cuts). Cut in half and place on top so that you have 4 alternating layers: pesto, beetroot, pesto, beetroot (or vice-versa!).

(6) Cut strips about 2cm by 20cm and twist fairly tightly. Then use the palms of your hands to roll them on the work surface to smooth them off a bit.

(7) Coil round and pinch to seal so you have a circle of dough with a hole in the middle.

Alternatively, take a strip of dough and roll into a smooth ball: this gives less defined, more blurry colour pattern (more marbled in effect) but I think that also looks nice. You then poke a finger through the middle and open up the hole a bit.

(8) Place the dough onto squared greaseproof and leave to prove for about 30-40 minutes until slightly risen. If they rise too much, they might collapse when you boil them and end up looking wrinkled and somewhat scrotal!

(9) Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add a tablespoon or so of bicarbonate of soda. Give it a stir than carefully place the bagels, face down into the water for about 1 minutes. If the paper is still stuck to them that is fine, as the paper will come off in the water.

(10) Lift them out of the water and onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof, making sure the domed side is upwards. Brush with the egg white and sprinkle over seeds, if using.

(11) Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the side and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Author: Philip

Finalist on Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC Television 2018). Published recipe writer with a love of growing fruit & veg, cooking, teaching and eating good food.

6 thoughts on “Two-tone bagels – 100% natural”

  1. I am THRILLED that you did this, vindicating all of us who watched it and choked on that comment of style over substance… HOW COULD HE? not see the irony of it???? Your bagels are magnificent… now, did you know I’ve never made bagels? (please don’t stop talking to me, I have defects that I shall work hard to overcome)


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