A specialty of Jerusalem, a Yerushalmi bagel only resembles its American cousin in shape: It's actually an airy bread crusted deliciously with sesame seeds. Made to be dipped in zaatar, also great with labaneh, hummus, and other dips.Yum
Israel has two kinds of bagels, and neither of them remotely resemble the American version thereof, with the sole exception of their shape. So let's just put it out on the table at the very beginning: every bagel has its angel, each one a cherished member of the Jewish breads family with its own unique destiny. The standard Israeli bagel? For toasting, especially grilled cheese. The standard American bagel? Destined for cream cheese and lox. And the Yerushalmi? Well, this bagel is strictly for dipping, traditionally in just plain zaatar, but also in creamy local cheeses, or runny egg, or whatever you have around.
Yerushalmi bagels are, today, not sold just in Jerusalem; they're to be found in many Israeli bakeries and on cafe menus. Yerushalmi bagels have a few key characteristics: they are salty-sweet, baked in elongated bagel shapes, with an elongated hole; they must be big, at least 10" / 15 cm in length; and they're not chewy like American bagels, airier even than a roll, in fact. All the better for sopping stuff up.
Making Yerushalmi bagels at home—ones that turn out just the way they're supposed to!— is not difficult and doesn't require a lot of active time, but it does have a lot of steps. This is the type of project to do while puttering around the kitchen, doing other tasks. (Like making the rest of the meal, supervising homework, folding laundry, avoiding the laundry by reorganizing the pantry, that type of thing.)
Mixing the dough for Yerushalmi bagels
I was surprised to learn, when I started down the path of Yerushalmi bagel research, that Yerushalmi bagel recipes are usually dairy. The Zahav cookbook puts labaneh in there, and David Leibovitz uses regular milk; but most recipes call for powdered milk, which, like any ingredient of the old school, always commands my attention. In fact, Uri Scheft (of Breads Bakery fame) indeed calls for dry milk—as does Janna Gur, the author of the first English-language Israeli cookbook I'd ever seen and the architect of my personal food culture liberation. So, needless to say, dry milk it was to be. If you don't have any on hand or don't want to purchase it for this recipe, the notes include how to substitute regular milk instead. Otherwise it's a straightforward, dump-it-all-in-and-knead kind of dough.
Folding the dough
And here the story gains another twist. While most recipes instruct you to make a straighforward kneaded dough, our friend Uri Scheft actually has a specific, 12-layer folding technique for forming the dough rounds. Throwing Occam's razor to the wind (have I told you the one where I get a PhD in medieval intellectual history? True story), I decided that this must be the one, true way, the secret to getting an airy bagel that is not like an elongated roll but rather essentially Yerushalmi. Once I made it, I didn't want to try any other way, because this, friends, is it, the way a Yerushalmi bagel is supposed to be.
Here's how to do it:
Start off by turning out the kneaded dough onto a floured surface and shaping it into a ball shape. Then, take one "corner" of the ball and tug on it until it tears (like in the photo above left). Fold this corner back towards the center of the ball. Continue with the other three "corners." Your ball of dough will now look like an envelope (see photo top right).
Now, turn the dough envelope a quarter turn. Working with one of the corners, again tug and fold. Continue with the remaining three quarters.
Now, you're going to repeat this one more time. Rotate the envelope a quarter turn. Tug and fold all four new corners. When you're done, you'll have a total of 12 folds.
Turn the dough over and admire its smooth, supple exterior. Lightly flour a bowl and place the dough inside, folds-down.
The dough gets its first, bulk rise in a warm spot in your kitchen for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until it's almost doubled in volume.
Dividing the dough and second rise
When the dough has nearly doubled, you turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a bench knife, divide it into 6 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time, tuck the little corners underneath, forming a ball. Then, using your cupped hand, gently rotate the ball against your hand to round it even more.
Once all six balls are worked, cover them with a kitchen towel and leave them to rise for another 30 minutes.
Shaping a Yerushalmi bagel
Shaping a Yerushalmi bagel isn't hard; mostly it requires patience, as you need to give the dough a little time to relax between stretching it out (not much time, though).
As with American bagels, there's a machloket (the Talmudic term for intractable difference of opinion) about whether the hole gets in the bagel by poking or by rolling. We're going with the poking theory. As in, you're going to stick your finger into the center of the ball of dough and make a hole (photo above left). At first, you only want your Yerushalmi bagel to look like an oversized doughnut (photo above right). Shape all six balls, cover, and leave them to rest for about 5 minutes.
Next, use two fingers to elongate the hole in each bagel (above left). Cover them back up and let them rest 10 more minutes. Meanwhile, fire up the oven to medium heat, 350F / 180C.
Right before the bagels go in the oven, they get elongated one final time. At this point, you want to stretch them out as absolutely long and thin as your baking sheets will allow, each holding three bagels. You want them at least 10" / 25 cm, even 12" / 30 cm if you make it without deflating the dough.
Baking Yerushalmi Bagels
Before placing them in the oven, brush your bagels with egg wash and sprinkle very generously with sesame seeds. You want the rolls to be encrusted with them. A delicious optional addition here is coarse sea salt.
Once in the oven, you'll want to rotate the pans halfway through baking. Meaning, place the bottom one on the upper rack and the top one on the bottom rack, but also rotating them front to back, so that the bagel closer to the back wall of the oven is now near the door. Even so, the bagels on the top rack will probably brown more than those on the lower rack towards the end.
Yerushalmi bagels are usually baked until they're deep golden brown on top, but we actually like the medium-gold ones best around here.
Yerushalmi Bagel (dairy)
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp water
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ⅓ cup sesame seeds
- 1 Tbsp coarse sea salt - optional
Mix the dough:
- Add the water to your mixer bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and whisk to combine.
- Add the dry milk, sugar, and salt. Whisk.
- Add the flour to the bowl and begin kneading. Once the dough starts to come together, drizzle in the olive oil.
- Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and supple, several more minutes.
Fold the dough:
- Lightly flour your work surface. Turn out the dough onto the floured surface. Shape it into a ball shape.
- Beginning with one side of the ball of dough, tug at the corner until the dough tears.
- Fold over the corner to the center of the ball of dough.
- Repeat for the remaining three "corners." At the end of the this step, you will have 4 folds, like an envelope.
- Turn the dough a quarter turn. Again, tug on one corner and bring it up to the center. Repeat for the remaining three corners: 8 folds total.
- For the last set of folds, turn the dough another quarter turn. Tug one each of the four corners and fold them in to the center: 12 folds total.
- Flour your mixer bowl lightly, place the ball of dough inside, folds down. Cover and leave to rise until nearly doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Dividing the dough and second rise:
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a bench knife, divide the dough into 6 equal portions. Tuck any corners in to the bottom.
- Gently rotate each ball of dough towards your cupped hand, rounding it further.
- Cover the balls of dough with a kitchen towel and leave to rise for another 30 minutes.
- Poke your finger into the center of each ball of dough, creating a large doughnut shape. Cover and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
- Using two fingers, stretch the hole in the center of each bagel to elongate it. Cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Line two baking sheets.
- Just before placing the bagels in the oven, elongate them a final time so they are very long and thin, about 10-12" / 25-30 cm, or as long as you can get them while fitting on your baking sheet.
- Prepare the egg wash: beat an egg with 1 tablespoon water and 1 teaspoon salt.
- Brush the bagels liberally with egg wash and generously sprinkle the sesame seeds over the bagels, so the seeds cover as much of the tops as possible. If desired, sprinkle also with coarse sea salt.
- Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pans front to back and switch the top and bottom pans.
- Bake for another 5-10 minutes, until medium to deep golden brown on top.