Sourdough bread rings
Both are bread snacks, they have a circular form with a hole in the middle, and they can be highly addictive!!
The most basic bread snack that you can get in Greece, either sold by street vendors or in bakeries, is a circular bread covered with plenty of sesame seeds. We call it koulouri that literally means an object with a ring shape. It’s particularly connected with the city of Thessaloniki, which name usually follows koulouri when someone refers to it. Koulouri is also strongly associated with Turkey and particularly with Istanbul, where it was made since the Ottoman or even Byzantine period. There, it’s called Simit and is also a very popular street snack.
Koulouri is made from a rather stiff, low hydration bread dough so as to keep better its form while shaped and baked. Typically, the circular dough pieces are shortly bathed in sweetened water before sprinkled with sesame seeds and transferred into the oven to bake. You can find koulouri in different consistencies, but it should ideally have a crispy crust and a soft and chewy interior. Usually, we don’t combine it with other foods, but we eat it rather plain as an easy snack while strolling the streets.
Sometimes, koulouri is referred to as the Greek bagel, probably because both have circular shapes and can carry sesame on their surface. You can even make both using the exact same dough. And of course, regardless of which, it’s going to be difficult to resist eating only one piece!
However, the aforementioned similarities are not enough to justify the comparison. For me, koulouri has nothing to do with a bagel. The latter is something different!
Bagel looks like a bread ring, but in this case smaller and thicker than koulouri, exactly like a doughnut. This allows you to slice it horizontally in half and spread or place condiments and food items so as to enjoy eating it like a sandwich. A bagel should be eaten as fresh as possible when it’s still somehow crunchy with a crispy exterior. The interior on the other hand is dense and particularly chewy, giving your jaw muscles a good workout.
Bagel adopts its characteristic consistency because before baked is shortly boiled in water. The latter usually contains some alkaline agent, like baking soda, which gives to the baked bagel its characteristic golden-brown hue. Bagels can be baked plain on top or sprinkled with different seeds, sesame and poppy being the most common.
Although similar round bread items might exist in other parts of the world even before, bagel origin is estimated at the late Middle Ages in Poland. In the beginning, it was not an inexpensive and basic bread item as we know it today, only rich people could afford it. Through its history, it’s strongly connected with the Jewish communities that brought it to many places. North America was among the places that bagels became very popular, particularly through the course of the 20th century, and cities like New York and Montreal are considered today as the places offering the best of them.
The listed amounts make eight rings that fit in two typical baking trays
450 gr bread (white) flour
270 gr water
100 gr active sourdough
7 gr salt
10 gr sugar
sugar water (two tablespoons of sugar diluted in half litre water)
- Mix all the dough ingredients in a bowl until flour is fully absorbed. The dough should come out relatively stiff without sticking. Cover and let it rest for 30 min.
- Knead the dough for a few minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.
(Because the dough is stiff and not very extensible, the most adequate kneading technique is the classic one that involves stretching the dough on the surface by applying pressure with the palm side of the hand and then folding it over)
- Put the dough back in the bowl, cover it, and let it ferment for 3-5 hours until it has risen ca. 50% its original volume.
- Transfer the dough to the fridge and let it there to ferment overnight.
- Next day, scrape out the dough onto a well-oiled surface and divide it into 8 pieces of ca. 100 gr each.
- Using also oiled hands to avoid sticking, roll gently the dough to form a sausage, turn the ends towards each other to form a circle, and pinch them together to stick.
- Dip carefully and briefly the rings into the sugar water, and then coat them very well with sesame seeds.
- Place the rings onto baking trays lined with baking paper, let them stand for half an hour, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 220°C for ca. 20-30 min.
(Be careful not to over-bake them because they can become very hard and difficult to eat. You should eat them also relatively fresh as they can be become hard the day after)
The listed amounts make eight bagels that fit easily in one typical baking tray
Dough (same as for koulouri)
450 gr white bread flour
270 gr water
100 gr active sourdough
7 gr salt
10 gr sugar
seeds of your preference
alkaline water (bring a pot of water to boil and stir into it a couple of tablespoons of baking soda)
- Perform the same steps as for koulouri for assembling, kneading, and fermenting the dough. After the overnight fermentation in the fridge, scrape out the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 8 pieces of ca. 100 gr each.
- Gently fold each piece and shape it into a ball. Then, poke your finger through the center of each ball to create a hole, and use a few more fingers to widen the hole by stretching and rotating the formed ring of dough.
- Cook the formed doughnuts in the boiling alkaline water for ca. 40 sec each side, and transfer the boiled bagels onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.
- Sprinkle on top seeds of your preference, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 220°C for ca. 30 min.