Spinach & Beetroot Bagels

I bought some bagel moulds recently. I know. I'd never heard of them before either. They look like silicon witches hats on which you spear your final risen dough to create a ring shape, let it rise, boil and finally bake, all on the mould. This is all besides the point though, which is that the bagel moulds came with an equally bizarre booklet full of questionable translations and unfortunate recipe suggestions.

However, something in the booklet caught my eye. A luminous green bagel pictured as a variation on their standard bagel recipe. I tried it out: the bagels had barely a shade of green, tasted like plain white bread and were basically a complete failure. They definitely used food colouring for that picture. The idea stuck with me, though.

I set out to make some green bagels by adapting a recipe I knew to be reliable: Peter Reinhart's (a highly respected US baking educator) recipe. His were the first wonderfully chewy, malty water-bagels that I had tasted. Up until then all I had tried were the soft and squishy supermarket bagels, which do have their place, but are nothing remarkable on their own.

You can buy excellent bagels in Brick Lane, London - thanks to the Jewish community who settled there in the 19th century - and parts of New York. You may have heard you get the best bagels in New York because of the water pH there. That turns out to be nonsense and experiments have shown it is down to what you'd expect: the ingredients, recipe and method.

From my reading and results, there's one key factor and two important but not essential ones in producing a good bagel. The crucial one is time. You cannot produce a really good, flavourful bagel without an overnight rise. Bagels made in a day taste bland. An overnight rise allows the naturally occurring enzymes to break down the carbohydrates into accessible molecules of flavour.

Two ingredients make up the other important factors: the flour and the malt. Choosing a flour with a high protein (gluten) content will give you that extra chewy texture. You'll come across this labelled as' high-gluten' or 'very strong' bread flour in shops – the main thing to look out for is the protein content being around 14-16%. Adding malt powder or syrup will make a bagel with a distinctive, subtly sweet, caramelly flavour. This recipe combines all these things with the vibrant colours of spinach and beetroot. Don't worry about the flavour being changed or ruined by these additions. The spinach doesn't add too much – just an earthy, slightly bitter note, and the beetroot compliments – rather than displaces – the bagel flavour with a lovely jamminess.

Spinach & Beetroot Bagels

Makes 6
Hands-on time:
40 mins
Hands-off time:
4 hrs + overnight


(Make sure to see the optional substitutions table below, too)

I advise you weigh out the ingredients out rather than use volume measurements

  for the spinach bagels
300g/11ozfresh spinach
80ml/⅓ cupwater
  for the beetroot bagels
1 mediumbeetroot, peeled and diced
80ml/⅓ cupwater
  for the pre-ferment:
205g/scant 1½ cupshigh-gluten (aka very strong) bread flour (i.e. between 14-16% protein e.g. this one)
1.5g/½ tspinstant yeast
  for the dough:
0.5g/¼ tspinstant yeast
9g/1½ tspfine salt
4g/1⅓ tspdiastatic malt powder e.g. this one
245g/1¾ cupshigh-gluten (aka very strong) bread flour
  for boiling:
1 tbspbaking soda (aka bicarbonate of soda)
  for the topping:
3 tbspsesame/poppy seeds


  1. If you're making the spinach bagels, microwave the spinach for 4 minutes until wilted. Set aside.
  2. If you're making the beetroot bagels, microwave the diced beetroot for 6-8 minutes with 1 tsp of water until soft. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, or the bowl of an electronic stand mixer if you'll be using one, mix the pre-ferment ingredients well until you have a cohesive dough. Cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and set aside for 2½ hours.
  4. After the 2½ hours: for the spinach, squeeze out as much water as you can then use a stick/jug blender or food processor to blend it with the 80ml water to a smooth paste. For the beetroot, drain off any excess water, then blend with the 80ml water to a smooth paste.
  5. To make the dough, mix the yeast, salt and malt powder into the beetroot/spinach paste. Now add the paste to the sponge along with all of the flour.
  6. Mix well until you have a cohesive dough, then knead for 10 minutes, or 6 minutes if using an electronic stand mixer. The dough should be uniform in colour and should not be sticky to touch. If it is, add more flour to the dough until it is no longer sticky.
  7. Cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and set aside for 1 hour.
  8. After the hour is up, line two baking trays with greased baking parchment. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Cupping the ball in your hands, pull the sides and top of the dough down and around the ball, tucking underneath and pinching the bottom, to create surface tension on the top. Use your thumb to make a hole from the pinched side upwards. Spin it around your thumb round to increase the size of the hole (too small a hole will close up later). Transfer 3 bagels to each lined baking tray. Spray the bagels with oil and cover loosely with cling film. Leave for 20-30 minutes, then put in the fridge overnight.
  9. The following morning, preheat the oven to 200C/390F. Fill the widest pot you have 2/3 full of water. Add the baking soda and bring to a boil.
  10. Once the water is simmering, gently lift 2 (or 3 if they can fit) bagels into the water. Boil for 1½ minutes then flip using a slotted spoon and boil for a further 1½ minutes on the other side. Making sure the baking parchment-lined trays you used earlier are still oily, take the bagels out of the water with a slotted spoon and back onto the lined trays. Top with the sesame or poppy seeds once they come out of the water.
  11. Bake for 5 minutes, swap the trays and rotate 180°, then return to the oven and bake at 175C/350F for 35 minutes. Check that the bagels aren't browning too much after 20/25 minutes. Cover with an aluminium foil tent is there are.

Optional substitutions:

listed ingredient can be swapped for
300g fresh spinach 200g frozen spinach
high-gluten flour normal white bread (aka strong) flour
malt powder 6g/1tsp barley malt syrup (preferred substitution)/maple syrup/treacle/brown sugar