Great London Bagel a Case of Pretzel Logic

There are only two things wrong with the exceptional bagel created by Luca’s Bakery in the South London suburb of East Dulwich:

  1. It costs £1.40. What chutzpah!
  2. It’s not a bagel.
The Luca’s bagel is not boiled before it is baked, the process that yields the distinctively chewy crust that sets bagels apart from other breads. It acquires its golden patina from a coating of lye applied immediately prior to baking, in the manner of a pretzel. The Luca’s bagel is in fact a bagel-shaped soft pretzel.

In creating his pretzgel (or do you prefer bagzel?) Luca’s co-owner Andreas Bajohra ought not be accused of applying twisted logic. Many before him have made the connection between soft pretzels and bagels, notably salt bagels (dipped in kosher salt). Both are golden-shelled, chewy and lightly sweet. I’ve often thought a step towards improving both bloated New York bagels and pathetically bready, zero-personality supermarket bagels would be to make them a little more like pretzels, as Montreal bagels are.

Conversely, many prefer to pre-boil pretzels rather than dip them in lye, first because lye (caustic soda) scares people (it can burn skin and eyes) but also because boiling, with or without lye in the recipe, makes the pretzels crisper, chewier and denser – more bagel-like. The acclaimed American chef Grant Achatz makes his German soft pretzel sticks without lye. He simmers them first in a solution of water and bicarbonate of soda, brushes them with egg wash and sprinkles them with Maldon salt crystals before they go in the oven (recipe here). I’d love to see what Grant would do with a bagzel (or do I mean pretzgel?)

The Luca’s hybrid comes in two varieties, multi-seeded (sesame, poppy, sunflower, linseed) and cheese (right). Personally I would not mourn the latter if Andreas replaced the shredded Cheddar with coarse salt. The multi-seed, best when sliced and well toasted (it’s too soft otherwise), serves as a superb platform for a shmear of cream cheese and a slice or two of glistening smoked salmon.

Prior to rolling out its lye-dyed rings of goodness Luca’s baked pre-boiled sourdough bagels. Real bagels. Unfortunately these were not a big hit in East Dulwich and were pulled from production. Much as I’d love for Andreas to bring back the sourdough bagels he could make me very happy merely by dropping the price of his pretzel bagel. £1.40 isn’t twisted. It’s meshuggah!

Luca’s Bakery, 145 Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, London, SE22 8HX (see map)

About Daniel

Food critic and events leader Daniel Young is the "Young" behind young&foodish

Comments

  1. Alec says:

    Thanks for that Daniel, discriminating and informative.

    As a Maryland native, I’ve long been puzzled by the range of texture that was allowed to fall under the ‘bagel’ umbrella. The pretzel connection lends some insight to this, though I still don’t grasp why so many people (I’m thinking of Einstein Brothers and Chesapeake Bagel Bakery here) produce seriously mediocre bagels on such a large scale. Most of the world’s great bagels are pretty cheap, so it can’t be that hard to do a good job, can it?

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