As much as I lo­ve cook­ing, I ha­ve ne­ver had much in­te­rest in in­ven­ting new re­ci­pes. This is be­cau­se I think that all the ex­cep­ti­o­nal in­gre­dient com­bi­na­ti­ons and cook­ing met­hods ha­ve al­re­a­dy been dis­co­ve­r­ed. Rat­her, my pas­si­on has been to ex­plo­re ex­is­ting re­ci­pes, in­gre­dients and met­hods to see if I can bring out the be­st in them on an o­pen fi­re or by sub­sti­tu­ting ga­me for far­med me­at.

My li­bra­ry is fil­led with cook­books writ­ten by the food heroes of the past 150 y­e­ars, such as Mrs Bee­ton, Hil­dagon­da Duckitt, C Lou­is Lei­poldt, Eve Pal­mer and Mrs He­witt. I al­so lo­ve to re­cre­a­te re­ci­pes from a­bro­ad that will turn an ot­her­wi­se or­di­na­ry braai in­to an u­nu­su­al and of­ten spe­ci­al tre­at. So our ta­ble has been gra­ced with Cu­ban Cong­ris, S­cot­tish S­to­vies, Mau­ri­ti­an D­hal Pu­ri, jer­ked pork and ma­ny spi­cy cur­ries and ke­babs, all cook­ed o­ver the co­als, so­meti­mes with ga­me.

And this is the sto­ry a­bout my most re­cent a­dap­ta­ti­on of an al­lA­me­ri­can fa­vou­ri­te which can be cook­ed o­ver the co­als, the New York ba­gel.

Ba­gels are one ty­pe of food that I would ne­ver ha­ve con­si­de­red ma­king and baking a­bo­ve the co­als. It was my pig far­ming bud­dies, Co­lin and C­her­ry who we­re re­spon­si­ble for gi­ving me the i­dea. T­hey re­tur­ned from a ho­li­day in the USA ha­ving put on an un­wel­co­me ki­lo­gram or so from a s­lig­ht o­ver­in­dul­gen­ce

of A­me­ri­can de­li foods. T­hey could not stop tal­king a­bout how dif­fe­rent and de­li­ci­ous the New York ba­gels and pan­ca­kes we­re. Na­tu­ral­ly I be­gan to won­der if a­ny­bo­dy had tried to ba­ke re­al ba­gels o­ver the co­als, the sa­me way as you would ba­ke roos­ter­koek. I could not find a shred of e­vi­den­ce a­bout ba­gels pre­pa­red o­ver the co­als on the in­ter­net, and ha­ve ne­ver seen any prin­ted re­fe­ren­ce to them. So na­tu­ral­ly I had to see if it could be do­ne, and that was the be­gin­ning of my ex­tre­me­ly re­war­ding roos­ter­koek ba­gel mis­si­on.

I be­gan by re­se­ar­ching in e­ar­nest to dis­co­ver the be­st way to ba­ke a ba­gel. Af­ter all, he­at is he­at w­het­her it is ap­p­lied to dough a­bo­ve the co­als or in an o­ven. And, as with most t­hings cu­li­na­ry, I dis­co­ve­r­ed that the­re are a lot mo­re to ba­gels than I had o­ri­gi­nal­ly thoug­ht.

Mi­grants from Eu­ro­pe and el­se­w­he­re took their cul­tu­re and re­ci­pes to w­her­e­ver t­hey sett­led or tra­ded. So our South A­fri­can cui­si­ne be­ca­me a fu­si­on of im­mi­grant Dutch, Ma­lay­si­an, F­rench, En­g­lish and In­di­an de­lig­hts com­bi­ned with so­me in­di­ge­nous re­ci­pes and in­gre­dients. And in much the sa­me way, the A­me­ri­cans ha­ve a­cqui­red a pot­pour­ri of cui­si­ne and cul­tu­re from all o­ver the wor­ld. So sim­ply spea­king, we got the cur­ry, milk tart, and wi­ne, whi­le the A­me­ri­cans got ba­gels, ta­cos and Bour­bon whis­ky.

“Bey­gels” we­re broug­ht to A­me­ri­ca by Je­wish sett­lers and re­fu­gees from Eas­tern Eu­ro­pe and their o­ri­gin is wo­ven in­to the his­to­ry of that re­gi­on. This is a co­lour­ful his­to­ry of sur­vi­val and tri­umph in the fa­ce of bru­tal per­se­cu­ti­on. The litt­le that I ha­ve re­ad a­bout the te­na­ci­ty of Je­wish com­mu­ni­ties in Eas­tern Eu­ro­pe is a fas­ci­na­ting sto­ry in it­self. But let’s stay with ba­gels and be­gin by look­ing at the fun­da­men­tal dif­fe­ren­ce be­t­ween them and nor­mal bre­ad or buns.

The ob­vi­ous dif­fe­ren­ce is that ba­gels ha­ve a ho­le in the midd­le. And until I be­gan re­a­ding a­bout them I sim­ply as­su­med that t­hey we­re just that, ci­r­cu­lar bre­ad rolls that had been co­a­ted with a bit of egg wash to ma­ke them shiny and al­low the se­sa­me and pop­py seeds to stick on­to their sur­fa­ce. This is part­ly true.

But the fun­da­men­tal part of the baking pro­cess that se­pa­ra­tes ba­gels from ot­her bre­ad ty­pes is that on­ce t­hey ha­ve been shaped and ha­ve ri­sen, t­hey are boi­led be­fo­re baking. And it is this part of the pro­cess that gi­ves them their u­ni­que crust, firm tex­tu­re and fla­vour.

You see, boi­ling the shaped dough for 1 to 2 mi­nu­tes a si­de al­lows the ba­gels to ri­se a bit mo­re, and then part­ly cooks the crust p­ri­or to baking. Two ob­vi­ous ad­van­ta­ges of boi­ling the dough for roos­ter­koek occur­red to me im­me­di­a­te­ly. Fir­st­ly, if the we­at­her is chil­ly and your dough is not a­chie­ving an im­pres­si­ve se­cond ri­se then the ex­tra ri­se in the hot wa­ter would be a se­ri­ous ad­van­ta­ge. And se­cond­ly, a firm and par­boi­led crust would pre­vent the dough from slum­ping through the grid, as of­ten hap­pens w­hen sof­ter dough is u­sed for roos­ter­koek. Both the­se ad­van­ta­ges would be just per­fect for bush camp cook­ing in cold we­at­her. My on­ly wor­ry was that the egg wash would cau­se the ba­gels to stick to the grid. But this was not much of an is­sue at all.

Af­ter look­ing at nu­me­rous ba­gel re­ci­pes and ta­king the be­st in­for­ma­ti­on from them, I be­gan ex­pe­ri­menting and af­ter two very tas­ty at­tempts I fi­nal­ly ar­ri­ved at w­hat could be cal­led the per­fect roos­ter­koek ba­gel re­ci­pe. And he­re it is:

To ma­ke a ba­tch of 20 ba­gels o­ver the co­als you will need: FOR THE DOUGH 1.2kg bre­ad flour (you need high glu­ten so do not sub­sti­tu­te with ca­ke flour) plus a bit ex­tra for your work sur­fa­ce 720ml lu­ke­warm wa­ter (you mig­ht need s­lig­ht­ly mo­re or less de­pen­ding on the flour) 2 x 10g pac­kets of in­stant y­e­ast 4 tb­sp w­hi­te su­gar Salt to tas­te (I use 4 tsp) »

» FOR BOI­LING A wi­de. flat-bot­to­med pot with boi­ling wa­ter to which you ha­ve ad­ded ½ cup of bro­wn su­gar

FOR COATING 1 egg that has been whis­ked with a dash of cold wa­ter Se­sa­me or pop­py seeds (op­ti­o­nal), I pre­fer plain ba­gels

PREPARING THE DOUGH 1. Mix half the wa­ter with the y­e­ast and su­gar and let it stand for 5 to 10 mi­nu­tes until it be­co­mes frothy, then gi­ve it a stir to dis­sol­ve the last of the su­gar at the bottom. 2. Af­ter mix­ing the flour and salt to­get­her in your mix­ing bo­wl, ma­ke a hol­low in the midd­le and add your y­e­ast and su­gar mix. 3. Then gra­du­al­ly mix in the rest of the wa­ter until your dough is firm but moist. 4. K­ne­ad the dough well on a flou­red sur­fa­ce for at le­ast 10 mi­nu­tes to de­ve­lop the glu­ten. It should be firm, springy and e­las­tic af­ter kne­a­ding. 5. Lig­ht­ly oil your mix­ing bo­wl, pop the dough in, co­ver with a damp cloth and le­a­ve it in a warm spot to dou­ble in si­ze (for a­bout an hour). 6. On­ce ri­sen, plop the dough back on­to your work sur­fa­ce and di­vi­de it in­to 20 e­ven­ly­si­zed bits (I roll it in­to a sausa­ge and sli­ce it). 7. Then roll the dough pie­ces in­to balls and form them in­to ba­gels by pus­hing a ho­le in­to the cen­t­re with your thumb and fin­gers and stret­ching them. I do not try to a­chie­ve “de­li ba­ke­ry” per­fecti­on be­cau­se I li­ke the look of s­lig­ht­ly rus­tic im­per­fect­ly-shaped ba­gels. You can al­so plait or shape so­me of the dough li­ke con­ven­ti­o­nal roos­ter­koek for va­ri­e­ty if you want to. (See pho­to­grap­hs) 8. Pla­ce the ba­gels on­to lig­ht­ly oi­led baking trays and le­a­ve them in a warm spot to ri­se a­gain for 10 to 15 mi­nu­tes. No­te: At this sta­ge you are a­bout 20 mi­nu­tes from put­ting the ba­gels o­ver the fi­re, so ma­ke su­re that the co­als are on the go.

On­ce the shaped ba­gels ha­ve ri­sen s­lig­ht­ly you are re­a­dy for the next steps: BOI­LING, COATING AND BAKING Add a half cup of (pre­fe­ra­bly bro­wn) su­gar to a lar­ge pot of boi­ling wa­ter. Then ca­re­ful­ly pop the ba­gels in­to the wa­ter in ba­t­ches that will fit the pot. Be­ar in mind that t­hey ri­se and ex­pand in the wa­ter. A slot­ted spa­tu­la and a set of tongs are per­fect to pick up and work with the soft dough. I boil the ba­gels for 1 mi­nu­te per si­de which gi­ves them a re­al­ly ni­ce tex­tu­re, but you can in­cre­a­se the ti­me to as much as two mi­nu­tes per si­de if you want re­al­ly che­wy ba­gels. Be ca­re­ful w­hen tur­ning the ba­gels in the boi­ling wa­ter to pre­vent splashing your­self or by­stan­ders. And I can pro­mi­se you that if you are doing this for the first ti­me in your bush camp then you will be sur­roun­ded by qui­te a cro­wd.

Trans­fer them from the wa­ter to a wi­re rack or your braai grid if you are cam­ping (I put so­me news­pa­per un­der­ne­ath the grid to ca­tch the drips of egg wash). Let the ste­am and moi­stu­re e­va­po­ra­te for a mi­nu­te, then paint the egg wash on­to the top sur­fa­ce. Then add a sprin­kle of se­sa­me or pop­py seeds if de­si­red. On­ce you ha­ve boi­led and co­a­ted the w­ho­le ba­tch you are re­a­dy to ba­ke them o­ver mo­de­ra­te co­als in ex­act­ly the sa­me way as you would for roos­ter­koek. Just be su­re to start with the co­a­ted sur­fa­ce fa­cing up­wards a­way from the co­als so that it dries s­lig­ht­ly and does not stick w­hen you turn them. Turn re­gu­lar­ly and ba­ke to gol­den bro­wn. Bre­ak one a­part to check if t­hey are ba­ked through. Put them in a bas­ket and co­ver with a tea to­wel af­ter a few mi­nu­tes. This w­ho­le pro­cess mig­ht sound com­pli­ca­ted, but it ac­tu­al­ly is very quick and e­a­sy. The ac­tu­al baking part of this pro­cess is much e­a­sier than for roos­ter­koek be­cau­se the dough is firm and can be e­a­si­ly hand­led. It is al­so worth e­very bit of ex­tra ef­fort.

Now, in A­me­ri­ca ba­gels are tra­di­ti­o­nal­ly ser­ved at bre­ak­fast or du­ring the day with all sorts of fil­lings such as smo­ked sal­mon and cre­am chee­se, a­vo­ca­do and ra­dish, scram­bled egg and ba­con, chee­se and hum­mus as well as ber­ries in cot­ta­ge chee­se.

But this is South A­fri­ca, and ba­gels that ha­ve been cook­ed o­ver the co­als in the e­ve­ning are a fan­tas­tic ac­com­pa­ni­ment to any braai. And t­hey are per­fect ser­ved in the true South A­fri­can fashi­on, with a lashing of but­ter and ho­me­ma­de a­pri­cot jam. If by so­me mi­ra­cle the­re are so­me left o­ver in the mor­ning then t­hey are just as ni­ce as the day be­fo­re, thanks to their tough crust.

Co­lin and C­her­ry ha­ve less »

» ti­me to braai than I do, but t­hey lo­ve to ba­ke their own ba­gels u­sing this sa­me re­ci­pe. So inste­ad of baking them o­ver the co­als t­hey pop them in­to the o­ven for 20 mi­nu­tes at 220 °C af­ter boi­ling and coating. Their out­co­me is gre­at and a bit mo­re con­sis­tent than ba­gels o­ver the co­als, but t­hey are just not as tas­ty. My tra­di­ti­o­nal wood-fi­red bak­oond is al­so per­fect for baking ba­gels.

I ho­pe that roos­ter­koek ba­gels will be­co­me a re­gu­lar i­tem on the si­de of South A­fri­can braais. T­hey ha­ve be­co­me a re­gu­lar si­de dish at our hou­se and I now ba­ke them o­ver the co­als mo­re of­ten than I ma­ke nor­mal roos­ter­koek, main­ly be­cau­se friends and fa­mi­ly ask, beg and so­meti­mes al­most de­mand them! T­hey cer­tain­ly de­ser­ve to be­co­me part of our bush camp food. T­hey are much e­a­sier to ma­ke than tra­di­ti­o­nal roos­ter­koek and their tex­tu­re is sim­ply won­der­ful. Al­so, why should the A­me­ri­cans ha­ve all the fun?

I ha­ve tes­ted ot­her re­ci­pes that in­vol­ve boi­ling ba­gel dough to “set” it a­round wors and sausa­ges and will dis­cuss that next ti­me.

Fi­nal­ly, you may ask why ba­gels ha­ve a ho­le in the midd­le. The­re are lots of the­o­ries a­bout this. So­me say that t­hey we­re thre­a­ded on­to a stick to ta­ke to mar­ket; ot­hers reckon that it al­lows for e­ven baking. But the re­a­son that I li­ke be­st co­mes from Je­wish fol­klo­re from a long ti­me ago in Eas­tern Eu­ro­pe.

Je­wish com­mu­ni­ties in that re­gi­on we­re bad­ly per­se­cu­ted by a cru­el and greedy T­sar. One day he ca­me up with a new and nas­ty way of ap­plying the 10% bre­ad tax to all Je­wish ba­kers. He in­sis­ted that t­hey gi­ve his tax col­lec­tors the 10% of the midd­le of each lo­af. In ot­her words, t­hey had to re­mo­ve the be­st and sof­test part. So w­hen his tax col­lec­tors next ar­ri­ved in the vil­la­ge t­hey we­re told to help them­sel­ves to the midd­le of the ba­gels!

Step 7 and 8: Form in­to ba­gels and al­low to ri­se for 10 to 15 mi­nu­tes. Boil the dough for 1 mi­nu­te per si­de in wa­ter.

Paint with egg wash on one si­de.

Step 1: Y­e­ast/su­gar mix with half the wa­ter fro­thing af­ter 10 mi­nu­tes. Step 2: Add the y­e­ast and su­gar mix to the flour/salt mix.

Steps 3, 4 and 5: Add rest of wa­ter gra­du­al­ly until dough is firm. K­ne­ad well for 10 mi­nu­tes, co­ver and set a­si­de to ri­se until dou­ble in si­ze.

Step 6: Form in­to a sausa­ge (left) and then sli­ce in­to 20 e­ven dis­cs.

Bak­oond- ba­ked roos­ter­koek ba­gels.

Ba­ke the ba­gels in ex­act­ly the sa­me way as roos­ter­koek.

A va­ri­e­ty of de­li­ci­ous ba­gels.

Straig­ht ba­gels, ba­ke them in ex­act­ly the sa­me way as roos­ter­koek.

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