Making Classic Montreal Bagels
Right before the world locked down with COVID-19, I took a trip to Montreal with my dear friend and old college roommate. It had been a 5-year dream of mine to skip off work and hop on a train to New York or Montreal instead of walking through Union Station to the subway through downtown.
One night, my friend sent me a message on instagram and said, “Wanna go to Montreal??” Within about an hour and a half, our trip was booked, for less than two weeks from that date.
In that span of time, the world was starting to murmur about COVID-19. Borders hadn’t closed yet, businesses were still open, we were all still going to work. So we hopped on our train and went off to Montreal. Looking back now, I realize how close of a call this was. We were on the train wiping the seats down with Lysol wipes. We avoided using our hands to turn doorknobs or push doors. We washed our hands an exorbitant amount that weekend, but all of that was second-nature and the good memories and excitement for records, live music, coffee shops and bars outweighed any of our worries.
The best day was when we walked all the way up Rue St. Laurent from Vieux-Port to Mile-End (about 5km) to hunt down the best bagels in the city. We both picked rosemary bagels, popped the paper bag in our tote, and spent the rest of the day picking up records and drinking coffees at every place we passed.
By the time we had shopped (and walked) the 5km back to the airbnb, we were starving. Some styled flat lays and good music jams later, I remembered the bagels! We brought them out of the bag and popped them in the toaster. No butter in the Airbnb, but they had little jars of olive oil that we drizzled on the crispy surface.
I’ll admit that I was a bagel sceptic. I didn’t think you could LOVE a bagel. The only ones I’d ever tasted were dense and bready and disappointing. But THIS bagel? This was a MOMENT.
I’ll never forget that bagel.
About 4 days after we got back from Montreal, the country locked down. My work called at midnight telling us to not come in the next day. That bagel turned out to be one of the last blissful things I enjoyed someone else baking before quarantine.
So, 7 weeks into this at-home order, I decided it was about time I made some bagels. But not just any bagels. They had to be Montreal bagels.
CBC came through with this incredible recipe that I tried and hit the jackpot with on the first try. So I thought I’d convert the measurements to imperial—even us Canadians don’t use metric when baking.
But first—what’s the difference between a Montreal bagel and New York bagel?
A Montreal bagel is smaller, crisper on the outside and airy and soft on the inside. They have a bigger hole and shinier crust. A New York bagel is more doughy/bready and dense, with a smaller hole. Now I realized why I’d never loved bagels—it was because I’d never tried a true Montreal one (sorry, everyone from New York)! The other defining characteristic of Montreal bagels is that they’re boiled in honey water rather than plain water.
So, what about the recipe?
Okay, fine. I’ll get into it 🙂
Classic Montreal Bagels
(recipe courtesy of CBC, converted to imperial measurements… mostly)
For the dough
350 ml water (1.47 cups), warm but not more than 110 f
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 30 ml oil (0.12 cups)
- 2 tsp yeast
- 1 egg
- 4 tsp honey
- 1.4 tsp salt
- up to 5 cups of flour
*note* I find I barely use more than 4
- 350 ml honey (1.47 cups)
*note* I use about half this amount – no sense using all the honey!
- Garnishes & seeds of your choice
*note* I use black sesame seeds and golden flax seeds
- In large bowl, combine sugar, oil, yeast, egg and honey – blend.
*note* I combine the sugar, yeast and water first, to let the yeast bloom.
- Whisk in salt.
- Gradually stir in flour – until it becomes a dough.
- Move the dough to a floured surface and knead for 5 mins – until the dough is smooth and if you poke it, it slowly bounces back.
- Put it in an oiled bowl and make sure the dough is also brushed with oil.
- Cover with a cloth and let rise for 30m
*note* I let mine rise for 45.
- Cut into pieces.
*note* The CBC recommends 15 pieces, but I found those way too small. I cut into about 10-12, and it yielded much better sized bagels! Just make sure to not make them too chunky or they won’t bake through properly.
- Roll the pieces one at a time and shape into bagels by looping the dough around 4 fingers and gently rolling it together on a non-floured surface. Keep all the pieces covered when you’re not working on them.
- Let bagels rest for 30m.
- Boil a pot of water and add honey.
- Boil bagels in batches (I do 3 at a time in a very large pot, because they expand), 1-2m on each side.
- Take the bagels out with a slotted spatula or spoon, and sprinkle with your garnish of choice.
- Put on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and bake at 450f for 15m, or until golden brown.
If you’d like to infuse your bagel with other ingredients rather than sprinkling them on the top, try combining them with the oil! I crushed dried rosemary into the oil and it yielded a soft, beautifully herbed taste.
That’s it! I hope you enjoy trying to make some bagels!