Before today, I must confess to never having eaten a bagel. Now I’m three down and feeling pretty ashamed at being so late to join the bagel bandwagon.
From their origins in Eastern Europe, bagels arrived in New York along with the wave of Jewish immigrants in the early 19th century and soon began their conquest of America. Boiled before baked and often topped with poppy seeds or sesame seeds, the dough has less water and higher levels of gluten than bread mix, making it chewier and much more calorific. However, this hasn’t stopped Britain from getting involved and in 2013 bagel sales soared to 378 million, overtaking even the time-old English muffin. This must, at least in part, be due to the arrival of Udi’s, who last year set up shop in Tescos and brought the first gluten free bagels to the UK.
Admittedly my poor bagel history hardly renders me the most qualified person to judge a bagel on its authentic bagel-ness, but after working my way through pretty much every gluten free bread in the supermarket, I do feel experienced enough to say what, or who, makes a good gluten free bread. And Udi’s, you do.
In Judaism 101 bagels are described as ‘soft, warm and spongy inside, lightly crispy outside. A fresh bagel does not need to be toasted, and should not be. Toasting is a sorry attempt to compensate for a sub-standard bagel.’ I have also heard the Jewish joke that a bagel is essentially a doughnut with rigor mortis, and so decide to ignore all my research and just toast the thing. (NB: Udi’s don’t actually suggest this)
The dough is dense yet tender, slightly sweet with the cinnamon and raisins (probably another bagel sacrilege) and yet far enough removed from cake or sugary fruit bread to tick the healthy breakfast box. I eat mine simply with butter, and am not surprised to learn that it won the Innovation Award at this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards.
For lunch I move onto one of their savoury options: Udi’s Multi Seeded Bagels (£2.30 for pack of 5). This time I make one toasted version, one untoasted. At 254kcal each, this is hardly the healthiest experiment but I have a lot of catching up to do. If calories are a real concern, I have even heard that some people cut out the problem by literally scooping out some of the dough – but personally I think this is the biggest bagel scandal of them all. The savoury bagels can take a whole lot more flavour and my boyfriend and I load ours up with all combinations of egg, bacon, pickled gherkins, melted tuna and cheese. Here my ignorance reveals itself, and I still far prefer the light crunch of the toasted bagel. But fair dues to the untoasted version, it’s better than any other gluten free bread roll I’ve eaten.
Call me greedy but what’s been the biggest surprise about bagels is how good having the hole actually is. I genuinely thought this was a real design flaw, but am now planning on using Udi’s bagels to house everything from beef burgers to mashed banana. I’m also particularly intrigued by the idea of using the sundried tomato bagel as a pizza base. So no, I am no bagel purist and certainly haven’t been there/done that/got the t-shirt on the subject. However, I do have a pretty snazzy Udi’s apron and can confidently recommend their bagels as the best thing since sliced bread (gluten free, of course).