There are no shortcuts to creating an excellent bagel. Rushing the lenghty proving, resting, boiling and baking process will leave telltale signs throughout the final product. Patience is a virtue, one that leads to flawless, perfectly textured holey bread rolls.
The bagel waiting game is given its due respect by Sam Ellis, owner of Grizzly Bagel, which has been making weekly appearances at farmers' markets and brunch menus for over a year now across Christchurch. An experienced baker, Sam developed his own bagel recipe through trial and error, until he found the iteration which best resembled his vision of the ideal bagel. His recipe ultimately incorporated a hybrid of time-honoured processes, with elements characteristic of the Montreal and New York styles of bagel.
The process takes place over three days. To have the bagels hot out of the oven for Saturday morning, Sam would begin on a Thursday with the pre-ferment, which aids with flavour development and texture, as well as overall shelf-life. Grizzly Bagels are made with a mixture of sourdough and poolish pre-ferments. Sourdough is a replenished and ongoing pre-ferment (it has a 'mother dough), whereas poolish is made fresh each time.
Rolling and shaping is Friday’s task. Sam deftly measures and rolls out bagel after bagel with the skill that only comes from rolling as many as 500 bagels a day, six days a week. Each has character of its own which is the proud signature of anything handmade. Despite the sheer volume, they all look remarkably uniform with no questionable shapes coming towards the end of the batch when less seasoned hands would tire.
At this point the bagels rest, which Sam says is one of the best things about bagel life. They are quite happy on their own, sleeping in the fridge, not requiring constant attention, which is fine with him as it allows him more time to direct his attention to his young family (who are already bread aficionados in the making).
On game day, it's an early start to boil the rested bagels, which are then baked in a flaming hot oven to produce the perfect crust. The surface of the bagels glisten and the not too hard, not too soft crust conceals a soft centre with just enough chewiness. The varieties cover all bases: plain, sesame, poppyseed, wholewheat, sea salt encrusted and packed with big juicy cranberries or cinnamon and raisins.
The last batches arrive at the markets still warm from the oven. They are available au natural to take home ($2 each or $10 for a half dozen) or ready to eat, filled or topped with carefully paired accompaniments, from classic tomato and pesto to inspired Taleggio, walnut and microgreens. Gherkin and lightly scorched cheese is a favourite.
When grilled on his favourite bagel/topping combinations, Sam describes a sea salt bagel with GOOD peanut butter as “pretty killer”. His personal preference is the sesame bagel, as 'It goes with everything and you get to pick up the leftover seeds with your fingertip”.
While Grizzly Bagels are in hot demand via Christchurch’s best brunch menus, selling his bagels directly to customers at the markets is a priority. He mans the stall in person each week to maintain the connection between making and selling, so he can pull the bagels fresh from the oven and put them straight in his customer’s hands. The transparency of the process appeals to Sam so he is on hand to answer any bagel related questions, and explain his method and product openly and honestly.
Grizzly’s range recently extended to include another circular dough-based good - the doughnut. Freshly made, they are filled and rolled in glistening sugar on location at the start of the market. The range includes vanilla cheesecake, chocolate coffee and lemon curd, which is a permanent feature, as its omission results in disappointed customers and probably the only complaints Sam ever receives. So he doesn't let them down.
Grizzly Bagels are available to take home or topped/filled at the Christchurch Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings and St Martins/Opawa Farmer’s Market on Sunday mornings. They can also be found on the menu at Black and White Coffee Cartel, Rare Fare and Hello Sunday. For more information visit www.grizzlybagel.co.nz or the Grizzly Bagel Facebook page.