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If you find inspiration running low on the ground for exciting bagel filling ideas, we’ve selected three recipes from American food writer Cathy Barrow’s latest cookbook ready and waiting to fill that void.
All winter long, we made sandwiches the main event of our lunchtime respite. But now, with the arrival of spring sunshine, it feels like the right time to shake things up. And what better way to do so than opt for the slightly lighter yet equally moreish vessel that is the humble bagel?
Now, your first thought may be to hastily fill yours with a hefty helping of smoked salmon and cream cheese, but in the spirit of switching things up, we have some other ideas sure to bring joy to your lunches.
To spark our creative juices when it comes to inventive, easy and delicious recipes, we look to American food writer, cooking teacher and pie maker Cathy Barrow. Having already written for the likes of The Washington Post and authored three cookbooks including Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, Pie Squared and When Pies Fly, this month Barrow added to the list of award-winning cookbooks with Bagels, Schmears, And A Nice Piece Of Fish (£18.98, Chronicle Books). As you may have guessed from its title, Barrow loves bagels as much as we do…
The cookbook’s premise goes all the way back to her mother’s love for bagels during her childhood. Throughout the years, Barrow has experimented countless times to perfect these very bagels at home, and finally, the perfect parts to her recipe – and focus for this cookbook – came about: schmears (a creamy spread), fish and briny pickles of some sort. With every easy-to-recreate recipe, you can expect a nostalgic story from her childhood and Jewish upbringing to get lost in.
We’ve hand-picked three flavourful bagel recipes to get you started that will no doubt become your go-to next time the sun’s out and you’re getting picnic-ready.
Firstly, when you’re in the mood for sweet, salty and chilli all at once, Barrow’s nectarine, bacon and jalapeño bagel will hit the spot. If you didn’t think fruit could work with bagels, this recipe happily proves otherwise…
We’re all familiar with the southern Italian pasta dish puttanesca. Barrow brings us a picnic-appropriate take with her Puttanescizza bagel. You’ll find all the classic flavours here, including anchovies, garlic, capers and parmesan.
Lastly, taking inspiration from French cuisine, Barrow’s pan bagelnat boasts a host of tangy flavours, thanks to the combination of salty olives, minced red onion, tuna salad, radishes and more.
Though before you get started, take a read through Cathy’s best tips for perfecting the bagel below…
Cathy’s secrets for better sandwiching
There’s no denying that bagel sandwiches can be challenging to eat. The best delis make bagel sandwiches that stay together. Where every bite includes every element. Where the type of bagel pairs perfectly with what’s stacked between the two halves. You’ve made the bagel, you’ve fermented the pickle. You’re ready to make a bagel sandwich like a pro.
Sliding and squishing are the enemies of eating a bagel sandwich, and the sheer ratio of bready exterior to stacked fillings has the potential to overwhelm. Layering the meats and condiments or tomatoes must be precise and specific. Slippery condiments contribute to increased laundry. Bagels are stiff, which makes them ideal for sandwiches made in the morning and consumed at noon, but that sturdy exterior shell also means a too-tall sandwich. As my friend Abbie says, “It’s no problem. I’ll just unhinge my jaw like a snake.” I have solutions.
Scooping (more on this shortly), toasting, and the world of the open-face sandwich inform the bagel sandwich’s architecture (hello Denmark and your smörgåsbord and France with your tartines). In the sandwich recipes that follow, I’ve employed these techniques to make bagel sandwiches easier to eat.
It’s disheartening mid-bite to have the filling slide out from a bagel sandwich into your lap. To help avoid this messy moment, I like to scoop out some of the bagel’s insides and use its emptied space to trap messy condiments or slippery sauces.
Sliced cheese has a tendency to slip too, and that’s never good. When cheese is involved, let it meet a warm egg so it melts a little and sticks. Or run that cheese-draped, open-faced beauty under the broiler for a bubbling, freckled surface and toasty cheese goodness.
To stop the squish of fruit or vegetables slices, anchor them between greens or meat and use a condiment to glue everything in place.
The act of scooping, or removing the bready centre from a split bagel, first started during the Carb Craze of the 1990s. Since then, for calorie counters and the carb-averse, it’s de rigueur. And for some others, it’s a reason to side-eye and declare the act an abomination. I’ve learned that a scooped bagel makes a tidy sandwich that’s less likely to slide apart than a non-scooped bagel. And I’m going to leave it at that.
To remove the centre portion of the bagel, first split it, then use a grapefruit spoon or a melon baller to scoop the centre crumb away from the firm shell. The centre portion can be toasted and ground in a blender for bread crumbs.
The following sandwiches and salads are simply a jumping-off point. Now that you have bagels in the house, have fun creating your own.
Wake me up with a nectarine, bacon and jalapeño bagel
Cathy says: This sandwich, or a very close approximation, is offered at Call Your Mother, my favourite Washington, DC, bagel shop. There, the chefs swap in seasonal fruit throughout the year, but I had a sandwich with nectarine and can’t kick it. The combo is likely to surprise you— salty, sweet, spicy, the textures, and the tang. From the very first bite, I was a believer, and I think you will be too.
Makes 2 sandwiches
For the Montreal-style sesame bagels, which should be split, scooped and lightly toasted
- 3 tbsp cornmeal, for dusting
- 360g all-purpose flour
- 175g of water
- 42g light clover or wildflower honey
- 15g neutral oil, like canola oil
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- ½ tbsp instant yeast
- 71g sesame seeds or all-dressed spice for the topping, optional
For the Montreal-style sesame seed bagel’s water bath
- 2.8 litres of water
- 85g light clover or wildflower honey
For the filling
- 1 perfectly ripe nectarine, halved, pitted and thinly sliced
- 4 to 8 thinly sliced rounds of jalapeño pepper
- 4 slices of crispy bacon, halved
For the 112g of schmear
- 225g full fat cream cheese, softened
- 2 tbsp sour cream or crème fraîche
- ½ tsp of fresh lemon juice
To make the bagels, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and scatter the cornmeal evenly across the paper. Set aside. Place the bowl of a stand mixer on a kitchen scale and tare the weight to zero. Measure in the flour, water, honey, oil, salt, and yeast. Place the bowl back on the stand mixer and fit it with the dough hook. On low speed, mix the ingredients together until there are no dry patches of flour showing.
Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl and increase the speed to medium. Mix until the sides of the bowl are nearly clean, 2 to 3 minutes. The dough may seem dry. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and let the dough rest for 10 minutes to allow the flour to hydrate evenly.
Uncover the bowl, turn the mixer speed to medium, and let it run for 5 full minutes, until the dough is smooth and satiny and the sides of the bowl are clean. Scrape the dough onto a clean, unfloured work surface and give it five or six kneads. Divide the dough into six equal pieces, each weighing about 97g.
Shape the bagels using the Poke ’Em method and stretch the centre hole with the thumbs and forefingers of both hands. These will be rougher looking than New York bagels, uneven and bumpy. One at a time, form and place the bagels on the prepared baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet tightly with plastic wrap that has been lightly coated with cooking spray and set in a cool place to rise until slightly puffed, about 1 hour.
About 15 minutes before the rise is over, place a pizza stone, baking steel, or inverted baking sheet on the oven’s centre rack and set the oven to 200°C. To prepare the topping, pour the seeds, if using, into a pie pan or another shallow dish.
To make the water bath, add the water and honey to a large pot and bring it to a hard boil. Place a 23cm x 33cm piece of parchment on a pizza peel, large cutting board, or a baking sheet flipped over. You need to be able to easily slide the bagel-laden parchment paper from this surface into the oven.
The bagels will have risen to only about 50 percent more than their starting size. Gently lift one at a time, brushing away any excess cornmeal, and drop it into the boiling water. Repeat with another one or two bagels only if they fit in the pot without crowding. Using a slotted spoon or spider, flip the bagels over and over in the water until very slightly puffed, about 60 seconds and no more than 90 seconds.
Transfer each bagel to the pan of seeds, using a chopstick to flip the bagel so the seeds stick to both sides, then move it to the parchment paper on the pizza peel. Repeat with the remaining bagels; six bagels will fit snugly on the parchment paper without touching.
Slide the parchment paper with the bagels directly onto the hot surface in the oven and bake until lightly golden brown and shiny for 16 to 20 minutes. To remove the bagels from the oven, slide the parchment paper right onto the peel. Transfer on their paper to a wire rack to cool. As tempting as it is to grab the hot bagels immediately, allow them to cool slightly before eating. Eat within 4 hours or store.
Next, make the schmear. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, sour cream, and lemon juice, increasing the speed as the ingredients combine, until fluffy, lightened, and spreadable, just 1 to 2 minutes. Alternatively, use a medium mixing bowl and a stiff spoon to combine and then stir and whip vigorously to aerate and lighten the mixture. Pack the schmear into a ramekin or two, cover, and chill until ready to serve.
After the schmear is prepared, spread it into the scooped tunnels of all four bagel halves. Divide and decoratively arrange the nectarine slices across the bottom half of each bagel, then tuck in the jalapeño slices. Add 2 slices of bacon to each bagel and top with the remaining bagel halves.
Press down slightly, cut in half vertically, and serve.
Every recipe in this chapter may be made with vegan cream cheese, vegan butter, and vegan sour cream, substituting for the corresponding dairy-laden ingredients. And while schmears are part of every classic bagel brunch, remember to include some alternatives: hummus and peanut or almond butter, cheeses made from cashews or other nuts, honey, and fruit jams are easy options for dairy-avoiders.
Cathy says: When I was a teen, my after-school pizza bagel went straight from a box in the freezer to the toaster oven and bore little resemblance to either bagels or pizza. Now that I assemble them myself with pantry-friendly ingredients, pizza bagels remain a welcome snack, whether at midnight or midday.
Here, I’ve layered a bagel with a riff on the concentrated flavours of a traditional Puttanesca sauce, with lots of umami to make a sandwich that’s grown-up and unapologetic. I included pepperoni because I love the way the slices ‘cup’ when sizzled and the way its spicy, orange-coloured grease slicks the cheese.
You should take a pizza bagel in any direction that satisfies your own craving or refrigerator contents: Caponata pizza bagel? Why not? Pizza bagel bianca? Naturally. Quattro formaggi? Go for it. I once made a version with fresh figs, leftover roast potatoes, and blue cheese, and I would do it again.
Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 anchovies, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp drained capers
- ¹⁄8 tbsp crushed red pepper
- 1 New York bagel (we suggest New York Bakery Co Plain Bagels)
- 56g shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 16 small pepperoni slices, optional
- ¼ tbsp dried oregano
- 2 tbsp finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Set the oven rack in the uppermost position and preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil.
In a small skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the anchovies and smash them with the back of a spoon, cooking them until they dissolve into the oil. Lower the heat to medium and use a microplane to grate the garlic directly into the skillet.
Cook until fragrant, less than 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and use a whisk to stir it into the fragrant oil. Whisk and cook the sauce until smooth and emulsified, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the capers and crushed red pepper and cook for another 30 seconds to form a sauce. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.
Place the bagel halves cut-side up on the foil-lined baking sheet. Divide the sauce between the bagels and fill the scooped-out tunnels. Cover with the mozzarella, then the pepperoni, if using. Sprinkle the oregano and Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly over the tops.
Slide the baking sheet under the broiler until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown, no more than 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the oven.
Let the bagels rest for a minute or two before digging in or risk that sorry burn on the roof of your mouth.
Cathy says: Pan bagnat, a sandwich that hails from the south of France, is an ideal picnic take-along. Traditionally built on crusty bread, it is wrapped and weighted after assembly so the dressing and the juices from the tuna, tomato, and olives get friendly in wonderful ways.
It turns out a scooped bagel is a superb alternative for the pan bagnat. Here, it’s worth it to take the extra time to meticulously chop the tomato and cucumber into small pieces, about the size of peas, to keep the salad in the sandwich and avoid it slipping out the sides.
Makes 2 sandwiches
For the egg bagels
- 3 tbsp cornmeal, for dusting
- 420g high-gluten flour
- 150g lukewarm water
- 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
- 42g clover or wildflower honey
- 8g neutral oil, like canola oil
- 1½ tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp instant yeast
For the tuna salad
- 2 jars of white tuna in olive oil, drained
- Scant 115g Balaboosta mayonnaise or shop-bought
- 65g finely chopped celery
- 2 tbsp lemon juice, plus more as needed
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tsp jarred horseradish, plus more as needed
- ¼ tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed
- ¹⁄8 tbsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
For the rest of the filling
- 100g diced ripe red tomato (from about 2 thick slices)
- 60g peeled, seeded and diced cucumber (from about half a medium cucumber)
- ½ tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 2 tsp minced red onion
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
- 8 pitted Kalamata olives, halved
- 1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
- 2 radishes, sliced
To make the egg bagels, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and scatter the cornmeal evenly across the paper. Set aside.
Place the bowl of a stand mixer on a kitchen scale and tare the weight to zero. Measure in the flour, water, egg and yolk, honey, oil, salt, and yeast. Place the bowl back on the mixer and fit it with the dough hook. On low speed, mix the ingredients together until there are no dry patches of flour showing.
Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl and increase the speed to medium. Mix until the sides of the bowl are nearly clean, 2 to 3 minutes. The dough may seem dry. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes to allow the flour to hydrate evenly.
Uncover the bowl, turn the mixer speed back to medium, and let it run for 7 full minutes, until the dough is smooth and satiny and the sides of the bowl are clean. Watch the mixer at all times, as it might hop across the counter; the dough will be stiff and strong.
Scrape the dough onto a clean, unfloured work surface and give it five or six kneads. Divide the dough into six equal pieces, each weighing about 135g. Shape the bagels and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet tightly with plastic wrap that has been lightly coated with cooking spray and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 8 hours and no more than 14 hours.
When ready to boil and bake, remove the bagels from the refrigerator and uncover, allowing them to come to room temperature while the oven heats and the water boils. Place a pizza stone, Baking Steel, or inverted baking sheet on the oven’s centre rack and set the oven to its highest temperature, 230°C to 260°C in most home appliances. Heat the oven for at least 30 minutes.
In the meantime, fill a 4.7 L or larger pot with water and bring it to a hard boil. Place a 23cm x 33cm piece of parchment on a pizza peel, large cutting board, or an inverted baking sheet. You need to be able to easily slide the bagel-laden parchment paper from this surface into the oven.
The bagels should be slightly puffed from their overnight rise. Gently lift one at a time, brushing away any excess cornmeal, and drop it into the boiling water. Repeat with another one or two bagels only if they fit in the pot without crowding. Using a slotted spoon or spider, flip the bagels over and over in the water until very slightly puffed and shiny, about 60 seconds and no more than 90 seconds. Small blisters may appear on the surface.
Remove the bagels one by one and place cornmeal-side down on the parchment paper on the pizza peel. Sprinkle with any desired toppings while the bagels are still damp. Repeat with the remaining bagels; six bagels will fit snugly on the parchment without touching.
Lower the oven temperature to 230°C. Slide the parchment paper with bagels directly onto the hot surface in the oven and bake until deeply golden, 12 to 16 minutes. To remove the bagels from the oven, slide the parchment paper right onto the peel. Transfer on their paper to a wire rack to cool.
As tempting as it is to grab the hot bagels immediately, allow them to cool slightly before eating. Eat within 4 hours or store.
To make the tuna salad, in a medium bowl, flake the tuna with a fork. In another bowl, combine the mayonnaise, celery, lemon juice, parsley, horseradish, salt, and pepper. Gently fold the tuna into the wet ingredients using a silicone spatula or a fork, leaving some of the tuna chunky. Cover and chill for about 1 hour before serving. Taste and correct for lemon, salt, and pepper, as needed. Covered, the tuna salad will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator, but it tastes best the first day.
Finally, prepare the rest of the filling. Combine the tomato and cucumber in a colander set in the sink and then sprinkle with the salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Scoop the tomato-cucumber mixture into a small bowl. Add the red onion, olive oil, and pepper. Stir well, then taste and correct for salt and pepper.
For each scooped bagel, fill one half with the tomato-cucumber mixture and the other with tuna salad. Layer equal amounts of the olives, egg, and radishes atop the tomato-cucumber halves, and then confidently flip the tuna salad halves on top to form two sandwiches.
Wrap the sandwiches tightly in plastic wrap. Put a plate atop each one and press down. Place a can of beans or soup or a something of a similar weight on top of each plate to compress the sandwiches. Let them rest, weighted, for no more than 1 hour at room temperature, then serve.
Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish (£18.98, Chronicle Books) by Cathy Barrow is out now
Photography: Linda Xiao