Montreal Style Bagels with Date and Walnut Cream Cheese

Brent went on a 4-day ski trip, and I decided to make bagels. Not the best timing, since I was left with 17 bagels and no one but myself to eat them. So I invited over some friends, we ate what we could, and the rest are in the freezer. Which is less convenient than one might imagine, because in my world, out of sight equals out of mind. My freezer is a wasteland for all things baked and frozen. Old pie dough, frozen biscuits, frozen phyllo. It's like it never crosses my mind to open the freezer door unless I'm reaching for the tub of ice cream on the top shelf. This morning I actually remembered about the bagels, but with the amount of time it would take to defrost one, I found myself eating a bowl of Rice Krispies and banana instead. Planning is not my strong suit. 

In the past, I've often thought about making bagels. Not the giant fluffy New York-style ones you often see in the grocery store. I'm more interested in the small dense Montreal-style bagels that are hard to come by. Up until a few years ago, I loved the thick fluffy bagels and thought that nothing could ever compete. When I was in high school I used to save up my spare change so I could buy a toasted bagel with cream cheese and bacon for lunch. When in university, my go-to was a cinnamon raisin bagel with almond butter and jam. As a special treat when we were younger, my mom would let us take a fresh cheesy bagel from the bakery bin and eat it right then and there. Nothing beats cramming a fresh yeasty fluffy cheesy bagel into your mouth as a child. Now I'm older and a little wiser, and if I decided to eat a cheese bagel for lunch, I'll also cut up some veggies or fresh fruit, maybe a salad on the side.

When Brent and I moved to the other side other Seattle a few years back, we rented a place right down the street from Eltana Wood-Fired Bagels. Up until that point, I'm not really sure that I had ever tried a proper Montreal style bagel, which really is a shame. Montreal-style bagels are much smaller, and more dense than New York style. The difference between the two is that NYC bagels are made from malt and salt, boiled in regular water, and then baked in a standard oven. Montreal bagels contain malt but sugar instead of salt, and are boiled in honey water before being cooked in a wood-fired oven. Eltana bagels does it right - proper wood oven, a variety of amazing cream cheeses, fresh coffee. It's no wonder that I would eat there almost every day. Sometimes our apartment building staff would surprise the residents with bagels, cream cheese, and coffee in the elevators. It truly was amazing. Since we've moved to the other side of Capitol Hill, Eltana is a 20 minute walk. Too far for me to eat there every day, and inconveniently located across from the police station, so there is never any parking. These obstacles were all the ammunition that I needed to turn my kitchen into a proper bagel making shop (sans wood oven) this past weekend.

I'm not going to lie, there is some effort involved in making bagels, as with any type of bread making. Next time, would I walk the 40 minutes to Eltana and back over making these bagels? probably. If I lived in an area where no one offered Montreal-style bagels, would I make them weekly? yes. 

The mixing and the kneading is the easy part, and if you own a stand mixer it becomes even easier. The issue I had was shaping the bagels and trying to ensure that the ends were properly sealed. Because, if they're not properly sealed, they all pop open when you are boiling them in the water, and all you want to do is curse and punch the wall because you just spent x amount of time on these stupid bagels. I also learned that bagels with a mixture of sesame and poppy seeds are way tastier than just poppy seeds alone. 

The cream cheese recipe is a replica of the date and walnut cream cheese they serve at Eltana, and it is really incredible. I've been eating it on not only bagels, but crackers, cinnamon raisin English muffins, and bananas. It is definitely something that I will make often, and once there in season, I really want to try and replicate their fig, honey, and almond cream cheese. All in all, this experience was really fun. I definitely enjoyed making bagels, and will probably take another stab sometime soon so I can work on perfecting my bagel shaping techniques. 

recipe 

MONTREAL STYLE BAGELS WITH DATE AND WALNUT CREAM CHEESE

makes 17 bagels

1 1/2 cups cream cheese

bagel recipe via

New York Times Cooking

6 pitted dates

2 tbsp water

8 oz cream cheese

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 1/2 cups water, room temperature

2 pkg dry quick rising yeast

1 tsp granulated sugar

2 1/2 tsp salt

1 whole egg

1 egg yolk

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup honey

5 cups flour (preferably bread flour)

1/3 cup honey or malt syrup

sesame and poppy seeds for sprinkling on top

In a food processor, puree the dates. Slowly drizzle up to 2 tbsp of water until the dates become a smooth paste.

Add the cream cheese and pulse until smooth, roughly 2 minutes. You may need to add a tsp of water to thin the mixture enough, so that it doesn't stick and clump to the sides of the bowl.

Once the cream cheese is smooth and fluffy (the consistency of frosting), add the chopped walnuts and combine until blended.

Scoop the cream cheese into a plastic container and store in the fridge until ready to serve.

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In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the water, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the whole egg, egg yolk, oil and 1/2 cup honey, and mix well.

Add 5 cups flour and combine. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface or add the dough hook to the stand mixer, and knead until smooth and elastic (approximately 10 minutes). Add more flour as needed to prevent dough from getting too sticky. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

Add 12 cups of water, 1/3 cup of honey or malt syrup to a Dutch oven, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and allow to simmer while preparing the bagels.

Divide the dough into 17 equal portions (3 oz each). Shape into bagels by elongating each portion into an 8 to 10" coil, 3/4" thick. Fold the ends over each other, pressing with the palm of one hand and rolling back and forth gently to seal. This locks the ends together and must be done properly or the bagels will open while being boiled. Place the bagels onto a towel-lined baking sheet and let rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450ΒΊF degrees, and place one of the racks to the bottom. Bring the water back to a boil and remove the lid. Fill two bowls, one with sesame seeds, and one with a mixture of sesame and poppy seeds. Place a tea towel on the counter beside the boiling water.

Once the water is boiling, using a slotted spoon, add three bagels to the water at a time. They may stick to the bottom of the pot, after a minute, gently give them a lift with the spoon. As the bagels rise to the surface, turn them over, and let them boil an additional minute.  Remove from the water, place onto the tea towel to remove excess water. Dip into the seeds, front and back, and place onto a baking sheet. Continue boiling the bagels in batches of three until all have been boiled and seeded.

Place the baking sheets onto the lowest rack of oven and bake until they are medium brown, 20 - 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Once cooled, the bagels can be placed in a plastic bag, sealed and frozen.