Barley Malt and Bagels
I spent time recently with Ilan Baron, an associate professor of Political Science at Durham University in England. Ilan was in the California Bay Area doing research for his study of Jews in the diaspora, and our relationship to Israel.
When we exchanged emails to schedule my interview he must have noticed the title "chef" in my email account (Chefalison@gmail.com). Ilan mentioned at the start that he wanted to talk about food. The subject came up frequently during our discussion of Israel. We discussed Ottolenghi ‘s beautiful cookbook “Jerusalem” and Michael Solomonov’s book “Zahav". I later received a piece that Ilan had written on this subject which I share with you here.
Ilan wanted to pick my brain about where to eat in the Bay Area; for example, should he eat upstairs or downstairs at Chez Panisse, where to shop for amazing food products, etc. We planned to dine together towards the end of his stay and I asked him in an email what kind of food experience he wanted. He replied, “Food experience.... what a question! I'm not up for anything fancy or high priced. I really enjoyed the Chez Panisse cafe. I don't know but I guess something similar. Would that be something California-esque? No vegan or any special diet places though. Good food that takes skill to prepare but isn't ostentatious. Does all that make sense?” I chose Penrose, in Oakland, which was perfect. Readers, you must go there.
I first assumed that Ilan was Israeli (his mother is), but when I learned he was a professor at Durham University in England, I assumed he was British. I eventually discovered that he is Canadian and that he once lived for two years in Barcelona, and for about 6 months in Switzerland. His grandfather is from Germany.
When Ilan asked if I ever had guests post blogs on my website, I quickly said not yet and yes, please! This guest post is the perfect introduction to my new culinary companion, as it combines a bit of Canada, California and England.
I hope you enjoy the guest blog "Barley Malt and Bagels" by Ilan Baron, and the whimsical illustrations created by Lila Volkas. (Follow Lila on her website here.)
To read more about Ilan’s book about Jews in the diaspora visit newbooksnetwork.
Barley Malt and Bagels
by Ilan Baron
For a few weeks in September I stayed in Berkeley, while doing some research in the Bay area. I had been to Berkeley and San Francisco before, but not for this long and certainly not long enough to explore the region’s foodways. Markets in Napa, Mel’s, Whole Foods, Chez Panisse. The variety and the quality was both fantastic and overwhelming. The variety is, for better or for worse, luxury. Although I grew up in the West Coast of Canada, I now live and work in Durham, in the North East of England. This is not a region known for its wealth of gastronomic opportunities.
The U.K. is characterised by a major paradox when it comes to food. While the country has excellent local supplies of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy, in too many parts of the country this bounty is not taken advantage of, and you would be hard pressed to find many restaurants outside of a few urban areas and exceptional locales that represent this wealth.
From where I sit, food culture in the U.K. is largely characterised by the consumption of food entertainment (Great British Bake-off, Great British Menu, etc.). When I was completing my PhD, in a coastal University town in Wales, the local shellfish was all sent to Spain. The only way to buy any local seafood was to try to catch a fisherman. I used to joke that when I lived in Barcelona it was easier to buy seafood from Wales than when I lived in Wales. This disconnect with our food was brought home to me the other day when in the local supermarket I asked in which aisle I could find malt extract. I use the extract to make Montreal style bagels, and when I checked in the pharmacy section of the supermarket for it, the malt had vanished.
To be fair, I didn’t shop for barley malt when I was in Berkeley. Because of my work schedule, I ended up eating out quite a lot, and most of my food shopping was limited to fruit and breakfast ingredients. But I did enjoy a conversation with one lady in Trader Joe’s about the least offensive veggie burgers, made sure to buy some cornmeal for cornbread, and took advantage of the opportunity to eat fresh California fruit while in California (I grew up eating fruits that came from California). The short of it is that I don’t know what aisle I’d find malt in, but in the UK, it used to be in the pharmacy section along with food supplements that bodybuilders take. When I asked one of the staff members where it might have gone they eventually told me to check the World Foods section. The product I was after is produced in the UK.
I can’t really speak to the culture of food in California as my taste of it was brief, and it would be ridiculous to think that all Californians live a food life akin to what is found in the French Laundry or the Cheese Board Collective. But coming back to the U.K., where American themed restaurants serve overcooked and overpriced fried chicken and tasteless burgers, where the baked goods served in supermarkets have more chemicals and preservatives in them than normal ingredients, and where malt extract is a forgotten food, I do miss the diversity and the confidence found in a region where taking pleasure in good food is a more normal part of daily life.
Montreal style bagels
[This is a very forgiving recipe, so I’ve simplified the steps]
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons malt syrup
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp fast action dry yeast (I usually just use one packet, which is 7 grams)
2 eggs (slightly beaten)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (butter also works)
1 cup water (approximate – depending on a variety of factors I’ve occasionally had to go up to 1 cup and a quarter, but I usually find that one cup works.)
625 grams of bread flour
Fill a pot with water (you want enough water that the bagels could be completely submerged), and add some brown sugar in the water (one to two tablespoons should be enough) for flavour. You will boil the bagels in this water.
Any seeds, such as sesame or poppy that you might want to sprinkle over the bagels. I tend to avoid this step.
Place the flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the salt and yeast on opposite sides in the bowl, and in the centre add all the remaining ingredients (except the brown sugar). Turn the mixer on using a dough hook attachment (follow the instructions of the mixer for the speed used for kneading dough – I use the second speed).
You might need to add a few drops of water or a bit of flour, in the first few minutes of kneading but any additions need to be conservative. I tend to knead the dough for about 10 minutes in the machine. When the dough forms a ball and is tacky, remove the bowl from the mixer, cover and let rise until doubled.
Once the dough has risen shape into twelve balls and then form into bagels. I poke a hole and then spin the dough around my finger, but do whatever works for you. They will contract so if you want a big hole make the hole bigger than you would want the end result to look like. Cover and let rise for about 20 minutes. They will stick so use precautions.
Heat up the oven as hot as it will go which for a home oven should be about 450/230, and bring a pot of water (with the brown sugar) to a boil.
Boil each bagel for about 45 seconds per side. You don’t need to be too precise here, as the goal is not to cook the bagels. Remove and place on a cookie or baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a baking non-stick mat. The bagels will do most of their rising in the water, but make sure not to crowd them on the cookie or baking sheet.
Sprinkle the bagels with seeds if you like, and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.
Check out Lila's website at
Subscribe below to get next week's blog post.
If your restaurant or institutional foodservice operation is looking for a consulting chef to lead a class or a workshop, assist in assessing, planning and/or implementing recipe changes to modernize your menu, improve quality, boost flavor or increase environmental sustainability, please contact me here for a free 30-minute consultation.
This page may contain affiliate links.