I have two scars on my face. One is boring and from a mole (#wearsunscreen! get your skin checked!) and the other is very old and from a pizza bagel! I was 7 years old and very impatient. The idea of waiting for a few minutes for a pizza bagel to cool down out of the microwave was complete lunacy to me and I dug in, only to have lava hot red sauce splat onto my chin, right below my lower lip. It left the tiniest little burn scar that’s not so big that I notice it all the time but when I look closely and do see that little raised bump I think about pizza bagels. It’s actually kind of so delightful that I’ve completely forgiven my impatient 7-year-old self (and pizza bagels and microwaves and red sauce). But despite the fact that I think about pizza bagels regularly, there was a really long time when I barely ate them at all.
It’s because they’re a flawed food!
Common practice is that you retrieve an already made bagel, top it with pizza toppings, and cook it until the toppings are all melty and the pepperoni is crisp. Or someone else does this for you and all you have to do is open up your freezer and put the thing in an oven or microwave. The issue here is that both of these options start with a bagel that is already fully cooked, so by the time that it goes through more time in the oven or microwave to melt the cheese and crisp the meat, the bagel is overcooked and hard and awful. Allison called me a monster when I acknowledged this because she said that being over-baked is part of the experience. Which, as someone who secretly liked it when the TV dinner pudding overflowed and got on my macaroni and cheese, I can almost empathize with. But as a lover of doughy foods and, more specifically, appropriately chewy bagels, I say let’s make our bagels from scratch so we can par-bake those suckers and not make them turn into rocks in the oven!!
It’s true, my bagel journey is alive and well here on the farm and my belly is happier for it.
So here’s the rundown: all you have to do is make mini versions of these bagels and par-bake them until they’re jussssst starting to turn brown. Then you slice, top, and complete the bagel baking while the toppings are getting melty. Multitasking! There’s no need to fuss with an egg wash and everything bagel topping before you put the bagels in for their first bake because it’s way easier to just sprinkle some everything bagel topping on when you’re adding the rest of your pizza toppings. Or!!! You could use Cabot’s Everything Bagel Cheese, which I hoard like it’s going out of style. If you don’t have that, their Vermont Sharp Cheddar + topping works deliciously and it fits my need for a very sharp sharp cheddar. A little thyme at the end makes it all even better because cheddar and thyme are good friends.
Another great element here is a crunchy nutty topping that is off the chain! This is a walnut-based crumble that’s been one of our favorite pizza toppings for years. It’s spiced similarly to an Italian sausage and is almost like a very coarse pesto. It gets a little crunchy in the oven and is just so tasty. Here’s a closeup of the ingredients:
All it is is toasted walnuts, spices, cheese, garlic, and olive oil. Easy!
So all of these things result in the most deliciously chewy pizza bagel you never imagined could be possible. You’ll wish you didn’t invite so many people over to watch football so that you could eat them all yourself. Or you’ll just wish you made more.
Note: These are super freezer friendly! Freeze the bagels after they’re par-baked and fully cooled and sliced, and then top and bake, or you can top the par-baked bagels and freeze them on a sheet tray, covered. Simply give them a few more minutes in the oven.
Mini Pizza Bagels with Sharp Cheddar and Walnut Crumble
1 c (238g) warm water (105º-110º)
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp + 1 tb (12g) brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tb (42g) barley malt, divided
3 c (380g) high gluten flour, plus more for dusting
1 tb baking soda
1 c toasted walnuts
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried onion
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tb olive oil
8 oz Vermont Sharp Cheddar, shredded
8 oz pizza sauce
Leaves from a couple of fresh thyme sprigs
In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, and teaspoon of brown sugar and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar, salt, 1 tablespoon barley malt, and flour and mix to form a stiff dough. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and slightly sticky. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
Let the dough sit at room temperature for an hour and then turn it out onto a clean work surface. Divide it into 24 equal parts and stretch them into smooth balls, making sure to seal any dough seams well. Shape the bagels by sticking your thumb through the center of each ball and using your fingers to gently stretch a 1” hole. Cover the bagels with a towel and let rise for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450º. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the baking soda and remaining tablespoon of barley malt. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and grease them well. Also lay out a clean kitchen towel near your pot of boiling water.
Working with 4 bagels at a time, boil them for 1 minute on each side (use a timer for this). With a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer them briefly to the kitchen towel to catch any excess moisture and then transfer them to the baking sheets. Bake for 8 minutes. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool slightly. (At this point you can let them cool fully, slice them, and then freeze them for future use).
Make the walnut crumble by combining the walnuts, garlic, dried parsley, dried onion, fennel, red, pepper, paprika, salt, a few turns of pepper, olive oil, and a heaping 1/2 cup (about 30g) of the shredded cheddar in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture clumps together. It will still look crumbly but it should hold together if you squeeze it in your hand. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
Slice the bagels in half and place them back on the baking sheets. Top each with a spoonful of pizza sauce, a pile of cheddar, and lightly packed plops of the walnut mixture. Shower them with everything bagel topping and bake until the cheese is melted, and the walnut crumbles and bagel edges are browned; begin checking for doneness at 8 minutes. Top with a few scatterings of thyme and serve.