Are you looking for the perfect gluten-free bagel?
Going gluten-free can be pretty tough, especially if you have a love for doughy foods like bagels.
Just walking by a bagel shop could be enough to go back on your gluten-free diet. The smell of fresh bagels can be very enticing!
The Challenge with Making Good Gluten-free Bagels
Let’s face it: Gluten-free breads just aren’t usually as good as the bread made out of wheat that we grew up with.
Maybe it is a simply a question of being raised on wheat and getting used to its texture and flavor.
However, a lot of breads made from gluten-free products have to use filler material like potato starch in order to recreate that bread-like texture.
Does this work well when it comes to fresh bagels?
Well, just don’t expect that your gluten-free bagel is going to be as filling and delicious as the bagels you might have gotten at the corner Jewish deli.
They probably won’t taste as good.
However, they might just be better for you.
What Exactly Is a Bagel?
A traditional Jewish bagel is a bread product that is distinguished by two main things:
1. A Bagel Has a Hole in the Middle, Like a Donut
One of the distinguishing hallmarks of a bagel is that it has a hole in the middle, like a donut.
The term “bagel” can be translated to “bracelet” in German.
Note that these days, many types of donuts do not have holes in them, but have filling in the middle. Bagels, on the other hand, all have holes in them. (Unless you have found some super special bagel place that offers hole-less bagels, but that, of course, is an anomaly.)
Bagels are much denser and far less sweet than most donuts. This is why one of the popular nicknames for a bagel is “cement donut.”
2. Bagel Dough is Boiled First, Then Baked
One of the other defining elements of a bagel is how it is prepared. The dough is first boiled in hot water before it is put in the oven and baked. This is partially how the illustrious bagel gets its thick bread crust with the softer interior (if it is done properly).
Some bagels made in the Middle East do not use this particular cooking process and may be baked directly, but when you are dealing with American bagels, the bagel dough is generally boiled first.
Now, will this method of boiling dough before baking work for gluten-free bagel recipes? This really depends, and you may have to experiment to see what you come up with.
3. Traditional Bagels Have Certain Ingredients
Traditional Jewish bagels have specific ingredients, such as the use of malt syrup instead of sugar. Also, some people claim that the New York City water has special qualities due to its unique chemical composition, therefore giving New York bagels a special flavor.
Now, New York City is not the original home of the bagel. That would be Poland, where the Jewish community also developed another tasty bread-like treat, the bialy. That said, in America, if you want a great bagel, go to New York City and try a traditional Jewish delicatessen.
Obviously, when making gluten-free bagels, you are throwing traditional ingredients out the window.
Making the Most Out of Gluten-free Bagels
Here’s the reality: You simply are not going to get that authentic Jewish bagel taste when you are going gluten-free. You will also find that the texture or consistency is not the same. You may not get that nice crunchy crust with a softer middle.
This is the price you must pay to be gluten-free.
However, there are a number of ways you can improve your gluten-free bagel:
1. Make Sweet or Savory Gluten-free Bagels
A plain gluten-free bagel is probably not going to be that fantastic if you were hoping for an authentic bagel taste. This is why it is a good idea to make gluten-free bagels with some extra oomph in them.
Add some savory or sweet materials to give your otherwise boring gluten-free bagels some added pizzazz. Nuts and seeds can be included inside the gluten-free bagel, as well as on the outside. You can also have a sugary topping on your bagel, but if you are gluten-free, you are also likely to be avoiding sugar.
Here are some ingredient ideas for your bagels:
- Nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds)
- Seeds (chia seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds)
- Herbs and spices (basil, rosemary, thyme)
- Cheese (this won’t work so well if you are dairy-free, but it is an option)
2. Make Some Amazing Gluten-free Bagel Sandwiches
Your plain gluten-free “cement donuts” may be much more interesting if you use them to make sandwiches. You can go to town and add all sorts of toppings and condiments (healthy ones of course). If you are a meat eater, then you can make a great ham sandwich with lettuce and spicy mustard.
Consider making breakfast bagels with eggs, an egg substitute, or scrambled tofu.
3. What Do You Want on Your Bagel?
The traditional bagel topping is cream cheese, but you can also put plain butter on your bagel.
If you are interested in Ayurveda, try ghee, also known as clarified butter, which is supposed to be very nourishing and healthy. Ghee has a very rich taste that is almost a bit nutty, and it can more than make up for a less than exciting plain gluten-free bagel.
If you want a healthier substitute for cream cheese, try kefir cheese. Kefir has a lot of probiotics in it and is therefore good for your gut microbiome. Unfortunately, kefir can be difficult to find in the grocery store. Kefir cheese has a consistency and taste somewhere between Greek plain yogurt and cream cheese. It is sweeter than plain yogurt and more sour than cream cheese.
You are more likely to find it in a health food store like Whole Foods. One brand of kefir cheese is called Labne Kefir, and it comes in a small white vertical tub with blue lettering. Some stores will have the Labne Kefir available next to the cream cheese as it is a good low-fat substitute.
Pretty Good Gluten-free Bagel Recipes
OK, now that your expectations have been dutifully put into perspective, we can look at some actual bagel recipes that do not require gluten.
Many of these recipes include some of the staples of gluten-free flour and bread making: potato starch, xanthan gum, rice flour, and tapioca flour. So, if you already make gluten-free doughs and batters, you should have some of these ingredients in your cupboard already.
1. Gluten-Free Bagels for Emmy Rossum and Everyone Else
If you miss your traditional bagels, you are not alone. Actress Emmy Rossum misses gluten so much she posted a picture of herself smelling a bagel on Instagram. To help Emmy and people like her, here is a gluten-free bagel recipe reprinted by People magazine. The recipe comes from the book “Gluten-Free 101.”
This is a basic bagel recipe that does not include any special flavoring except for poppy seeds that are put on the top as a garnish.
2. America’s Test Kitchen Gluten-free Bagels
If you want a truly tested gluten-free bagel recipe, you can bet that America’s Test Kitchen probably did their due diligence. This public television mainstay for the past 25 years really focuses on quality cooking for everyday people.
This gluten-free bagel recipe they provide is from their book: “The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook: Volume 2.”
They really worked hard to make a bagel without gluten that works. As they say on their website:
“We knew developing a really good gluten-free bagel with a crisp crust and substantial chew was setting the bar high since even traditional bagels rely on lots of tricks. To start, we compiled a variety of recipes and substituted our all-purpose gluten-free flour blend. The first round of bagels were like small, dense hockey pucks. Despite their problems, bagels that were boiled before baking had a nice crisp crust.”
You will see they have a lot of additions to the basic recipe provided by people, including the use of oat flour, psyllium husk, and one teaspoon of molasses in lieu of malt syrup.
Try Different Gluten-free Bagel Recipes
You may have to experiment with a lot of different gluten-free bagel recipes before you hit on one that really scratches that bagel itch. You may also need to tweak and adjust recipes on your own in order to find just that right combination. While you may never be able to fully replicate the taste of a traditional Jewish deli bagel, complete with New York city water, maybe you can come close.