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Cooking at the Merchant House

By Shaun Hill

Published 2000

  • About

These crisp rolls are the main Jewish contribution to our bread basket. They can be sweetened with dried fruit and cinnamon but are more usually savoury, coated with poppy seeds, or served plain and shiny from their swim in the sugared water. Cream cheese and smoked salmon is a traditional filling but they are also good with butter and jam for breakfast. Whatever you fancy, it is important to eat them as soon as possible after making because they turn stale and leathery really fast.


  • 175 ml (6fl oz/¾ cup) tepid water
  • 25g (1 oz) fresh yeast (1 × 1 oz cake)
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 level tablespoon salt
  • 2 medium eggs (2 large eggs), plus 1 beaten egg for glazing
  • 450g (1 lb) strong flour (3⅔ cups unbleached all-purpose flour)


Mix the water, yeast and ¼ tablespoon of the sugar together. Let stand for 10 minutes, by which time it should start to bubble.

Add another ¾ tablespoon of sugar to the mixture, along with the oil, salt and two of the eggs.

Stir in half the flour, then slowly add the remainder. As the dough becomes difficult to stir, use your hands.

Knead the dough for about 10 minutes so that it is smooth, then cover and leave for around 1 hour to prove.

Knock back the dough by kneading once or twice, then shape into bagels. This is how you do it: divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball. Flatten the balls with the palm of your hand and then push a hole through the centre of each with a floured finger. Alternatively, you can roll each ball into a cigar shape and join the ends. Cover and leave for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas 6). In a large pan, bring 2 litres (3 pints 10 fl oz/ quarts) of water to the boil with the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Drop in the bagels, 3 or 4 at a time. Let them boil for 1 minute, then lift them out with a slotted spoon.

Transfer the bagels to a baking sheet, brush lightly with the beaten egg and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.