Everything or Nothing

Allegedly, according to surveys of questionable origin, the most popular type of bagel worldwide is plain. Yes, plain. In a world rife with fake news, this shocking proclamation is one that I find most difficult to believe. Has anyone ever raved about a plain bagel in any restaurant review? Are there bakeries out there at risk of selling out of this most austere option? Honestly, when was the last time you willingly ate a plain bagel, excluding the sad occasions when it was sole occupant languishing in the bread basket?

Falling entirely on the opposite side of the spectrum, the case for the everything bagel is a strong one. Brazen and fearless in its combination of savory seasonings, no person in their right mind would decline such savory complexity. Such heresy would be akin to ordering mapo tofu, but asking for it mild. A bagel without everything is nothing.

It’s a suitably audacious statement for such a bold blend, but I’m not alone in this judgement. Spreading a trail of seeded crumbs across the culinary landscape, the “everything bagel” has become a flavor in and of itself, spawning truly creative interpretations of the concept far beyond the original yeasted ring. The Everything Bagel Salad in Real Food, Really Fast remains a stand-out dish among fans, but today, I’m bringing it back down to the bakers bench, with just a little twist.

Make that a literal twist. Boiled rings aren’t the only sort of bread that can have it all. Buttery, tender babka dough forgoes the typical sweet adornments to get in touch with its salty side. Swirled and rippled with thick lashings of cream cheese, awash in a speckled sea of everything seasoning, each rich slice presents the complete package. Toast if you must, but as is the case with the original, fresh is simply best.

That said, cutting those slabs down a bit thinner to make a sandwich with extra cream cheese, carrot lox, dill, and capers isn’t such a terrible deviation from the plan…

I’m proud to submit this bread to the 12th annual World Bread Day celebration. I haven’t missed a single crumb-covered observance in the history of BitterSweet, and don’t plan to turn in my dough hook anytime soon. Scores of yeasted inspiration will be posted soon, so keep an eye out for the official roundup… But maybe, just maybe, don’t browse while hungry.

World Bread Day, October 16, 2018

Everything Bagel Babka

Savory Babka Dough:

1 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 (1/4 Ounce) Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/4 Cup Olive Oil or Melted Vegan Butter
3 1/2 – 4 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt

Cream Cheese Filling:

1 (8-Ounce Package) Vegan Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Everything Bagel Seasoning, Store-Bought or Homemade

“Egg” Wash:

2 Tablespoons Aquafaba

Gently warm the coconut milk to just above room temperature (no hotter than 100 degrees at most) along with the sugar. Sprinkle in the yeast and let sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast re-activates in a happy, foamy froth.

Mix in the aquafaba and olive oil or melted vegan butter, stirring well to combine, before adding the first 3 1/2 cups of flour and salt. Incorporate all of the dry mixture, using a stand mixer to knead on low speed for about 5 minutes with the dough hook attachment. To knead by hand, plan on spending closer to 10 minutes. Add more flour as needed to achieve a smooth, tacky but not sticky dough.

Round the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, rest in a warm spot, and let rise until doubled in volume; about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.

Press down the dough and divide it into two equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece into a rectangle of about 14 x 10 inches and smear half of the cream cheese all over the surface. Sprinkle evenly with half of the everything bagel seasoning, and then roll it tightly, lengthwise, like you would for cinnamon buns. Repeat with the remaining dough and fillings.

Once you have two filled logs, use a very sharp knife to slice both cleanly down the middle, leaving the bottom intact. Twist the two split rolls together and tuck the messy ends underneath. Place the full loaf in a lightly grease 8 x 4-inch loaf pan and lightly cover with a clean dish towel. Let rise for another hour.

As you near the end of this second rise, begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Gently brush the loaf with aquafaba, and bake for 60 – 75 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe

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Now Shmear This

Tofutti has become so ubiquitous in both specialty and mainstream grocery stores, it’s hard to imagine life without it. Many a vegan cheese cake has been born from those plastic tubs of non-dairy spread, and countless bagels topped with their creamy contents. So devoted am I to this classic staple, which has been around since the infancy of my veganism and beyond, it’s simply difficult to imagine having any other cream cheese in my life. Galaxy Foods wants to change all that though, and has officially entered the battlefield with their brand new vegan cream cheese.

The differences between brands are subtle, but noteworthy. Immediately upon peeling back the protective plastic, it was evident that the textures would be distinctly divergent. Much softer and easy to spread straight out the fridge, the Classic Plain from Galaxy definitely had the upper edge on consistency for everyday eating.

Delightfully but still mildly tangy and well-rounded, the stellar flavor makes this option a serious contender. With just the right balance of salty and sour elements, it’s a very pleasing and agreeable shmear overall. Truth be told though, while I would be perfectly happy eating Galaxy’s version, Tofutti might still be my personal preference in that department.

More importantly, however, how would this newcomer hold up to dessert applications? This was a job for my favorite cream cheese frosting recipe!

What had been a positive aspect previously was now a big negative- Too soft to properly pipe, thanks to that more spreadable texture, I tried to compensate with more confectioner’s sugar, but to no avail. The frosting remained more gooey than desired, and became too sweet through the process of trying to correct the issue.

Adding a bit more of a savory spin to things, the Chive & Garlic cream cheese introduces a few pale green flecks of herbs into the mix. Impressed by the concept but not so much the execution, I could barely taste either of the star ingredients. They’re subtle flavorings, to say the least. Taking that idea and running with it, though, I rolled balls of the cream cheese in a mixture of fresh chives, lemon zest, and chopped pine nuts, and was thrilled with the results. Perfect for serving at a party to spread on toast or crackers, those simple additions accentuated and greatly enhanced the existing herb essence.

Compared to existing non-dairy cream cheeses or tasted without any point of reference, this is unarguably a highly viable and tasty substitute to anything made with cow’s milk.