ROOSTERKOEK WITH A DIFFERENCE
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.