Introduction: Montreal Bagels
The perfect crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, cavernous, yet dense, boiled and baked bagel is as elusive as any other "holy grail" food item. Coveted by many, perfected by few, the ability to bake a delicious bagel is truly an art form. After hanging out with Blake and Amy from Beauty's Bagel Shop in Oakland, CA for a few mornings to watch how they make their delicious Montreal style, wood fired bagels, I have learned a whole lot about the process from watching the pros and am excited to share it with everyone here in this Instructable.
Before we get on with the show, let's take a brief moment to learn some bagel history.
Although wildly popular as a breakfast item now, the bagel was if not invented, then at least first mentioned in Krakow, Poland in 1610 as a baked gift to give to women in childbirth. It is not clear whether the bagel was a symbol of fertility, or simply a tasty object for the woman to bite down upon in labor. A rival creation story tells of a Viennese baker who created the bagel in 1683 to honor the Polish King Jan III Sobieski for saving Austria from the Turks. The Baker molded the roll into the shape we now know and love into a stirrup (German for stirrup: beugel) to symbolize the King’s passion for horses. However, the childbirth story from Krakow pre-dates this event and is believed to be the actual beginning of the bagel.
No matter what it's history, bagels are a delicious baked good that's been around since the 17th century and can be made by following these specific steps, either in the professional kitchen, or at home.
Step 1: Beauty's Bagel Shop
There are three things (ok, maybe more) that an east coaster misses when they make the pilgrimage west: a decent slice of pizza, warm summer nights, and good bagel. I have found that Arinell’s Pizza in the SF Bay Area scratches the itch for a good NY slice, and the west coast may never have warm summer nights (but we don’t have the brutal humidity either), but bagels have always been missing, until now.
A hybridized New York and Montreal Style bagel has finally made it west! In late 2012, Blake Joffe and Amy Remsen opened Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland, CA after moving from Philadelphia, PA in 2009 to satisfy the good bagel cravings of the East Bay.
Blake and Amy were nice enough to let me, and therefore Instructables document their careful and exacting bagel making process for us to share and learn from - thanks guys!
Step 2: Professional Ingredients
Commercial bagel recipes are highly coveted pieces of information - often making, or breaking a bagel making business. Beauty's Bagel Shop, and therefore the ingredients we're showcasing in this Instructable use a classic Montreal recipe, with the addition of a New York Bagel standard ingredient - salt. Considered to be the "best of both worlds" this recipe makes a very tasty bagel.
I've listed the ingredients exactly as used at Beauty's in Oakland, CA below. For quantities that relate to someone making less then hundreds or thousands of bagels per day, check out the at home recipe in the next step.
*photos of each of the ingredients appears in the expanded photo section of this step.
The first of the dry ingredients in Bagel making, malt lends it’s sweetness to the bagel, helps to form the crispy crust, and controls the overall browning. Beauty’s Bagel Shop uses dry powdered malt, however barley malt syrup can be found in most supermarkets. Other substitutes include brown rice syrup, honey, or agave, please note however, that each of these substitutes has a different and often increased sweetness factor that should be taken into account.
Organic Cane Sugar
Sugar offers additional sweetness to the bagel.
Refined Sea Salt
Although not found in a traditional Montreal bagel, Beauty’s (and the customers) have found salt to be a nice addition and flavor profile to their bagels. Salt also helps prohibit the yeast from allowing the dough to rise too much leading to a chewier and denser bagel. It is best to weigh your salt for the bagel recipe you use since different types of salt have different size grains and therefore can vary within a single cup measurement. Beauty’s recommends a refined (small grain) sea salt for bagel mixes.
Yeast is an essential ingredient in the making of bagels since it is largely responsible for the leavening process as well as the fermentation process giving each bagel it’s unique flavor.
A very small amount of vegetable oil is included in the recipe in order soften the bagel dough and increase shelf life.
Water or lack thereof, is a secret to most traditional New York and Montreal bagels. Most bagels are less than 60% water and often will get down into the low 50 percentiles. This low water content (most breads have mid 60 to 80% hydration) is responsible for the firm, tight structure of the bagel and also allows the bagel to withstand being parboiled in water later.
While there are such things as "egg bagels", eggs are an essential ingredient in the standard plain/seeded bagel recipes.
High Gluten Flour
Beauty’s Bagel Shop uses high gluten flour from The Central Milling Company. Most bagel shops also use a high gluten or protein flour to create a bagel that has a distinctively chewy texture. Regular bread flour can be substituted but it will lead to a less dense bagel due to less gluten in the flour. The general consensus is, if you are making bagels at home, take the extra step and source a high-gluten flour with around 13% gluten.
Step 3: Home Recipe
Ingredients for 18 bagels
- 1 1/2 cups water, room temperature
- 2 packages dry quick-rising yeast (or 1 1/2 ounces fresh yeast)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons refined sea salt
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup malt or honey
- 5 cups or more high gluten bread/baking flour
Step 4: Mix
Combine all of the ingredients except the salt and eggs into a large bowl or mixer.
The dough should be mixed until just incorporated and shaggy, then covered for 30 minutes (if left uncovered, the dough will lose hydration).
Add salt and old dough, approximately 10% of total dough volume you are mixing from the previous batch of bagels (if possible) and mix for 1 minute.
Next, add the eggs and mix until fully incorporated, about 5 minutes.
Finally, let the dough rest, covered, for an additional 15 minutes.
Step 5: Stretch Test
Commonly known among bakers as the “window pane test”, this step is essential in determining the gluten development in your bagel dough. If the gluten has developed and is present in your batch of dough, you will be able to stretch the dough relatively thin without it ripping and light will be able to pass through.
The gif shows Blake ripping the dough as another way to test for gluten development. The dough should be stretchy before it breaks apart.
If your dough cannot be stretched to this point, or rips immediately upon stretching, put the dough back into the mixer and continue mixing.
Step 6: Roll Out Dough
Once the dough has sat for 15 minutes after mixing, and has passed the window pane test, it is ready to be rolled and shaped.
Cut the dough with a knife into thin strips.
Then, roll the dough back and forth with one hand until the roll of dough is the cross sectional width of your desired bagel - approximately 3/4".
It helps at this point to run your hands quickly under some cold water before rolling, the water will coat the dough and prevent it from sticking to your rolling surface.
Step 7: Form Bagel
To shape your bagel, wrap a segment of your rolled dough around the palm and back of your hand. Break the dough where it meets back upon itself, keeping the now donut shaped piece of dough around your hand so that you can seal the seam in the next step.
A fully formed Beauty's bagel weighs right around 4 oz.
Sound a little small? It is, classic Montreal bagels are somewhere between a "mini bagel" and the big puffy monsters that are commonly found in the supermarket.
Step 8: Roll Seam
With the measured roll of dough still around your hand, place the section where the two ends meet against the counter or other rolling surface.
Lightly roll back and fourth along the area of the bagel with the seam a couple times, just enough to close the bagel without changing the diameter of the roll.
Place the rolled bagel onto a cookie sheet and cover the sheet with plastic wrap.
Step 9: Refrigerate for 1-2 Days
The formed bagels are then refrigerated for 24-48 hours to allow for slow fermentation.
There are two reasons behind the cold fermentation of bagels. The first, cold fermentation prevents bagels from “over-rising” and then collapsing when submerged into the boiling bagel bath. The second reason is that cold fermentation allows the natural enzymes in the flour to release more trapped sugars from the flour’s starch molecules, creating a better bagel flavor.
Step 10: Boil in Honey Water
After the bagels have been refrigerated for 1-2 days, dump them from the cookie sheet into a large pot of boiling water and honey. Beauty's Bagel Shop uses 1 1/2 cups of honey in a very large pot to flavor their water. Folks at home should use 1/4 cup of honey in the biggest pot you have on hand.
Although some bagels today are streamed or infused with steam, the traditional method was to boil bagels before baking them.
Boiling achieves three things, coloration of the bagel, increased yeast activation within the bagel (yeast starts eating away at the sugar) and overall chewiness of the bagel.
Boiling affects the chewiness by setting the crust before the bagels are baked limiting the amount that the bagel can rise within the oven.
Traditional Montreal bagels are boiled in a honey water mixture while New York bagels are boiled in a lye and water mixture. At home water mixtures can also include baking soda or malt as substitutes to honey or lye. Montreal bagels are boiled for 4-5 minutes or until they look plump and rise to the surface.
*It's important to note that during this step the bagels did not actually boil, nor is it necessary that the water bath reach a rolling boil before adding in the bagels. As an anecdotal note, this step was more of a hot honey water soak than a rolling boil.
Step 11: Plain Bagels
Plain bagels require some special attention. As a baker you want to move them as quickly as you can from the boiling step to the wood plank that they rest on upon before being put into the oven.
Blake wipes the wooden planks down with a wet rag before placing the plain bagels upon it to prevent them from sticking. Arrange the bagels so that they are close, but not touching.
The seeded bagels have their own non-stick coating due to their toppings.
Step 12: Sesame
Sesame bagels are reported to be the most popular bagel in Montreal, and so naturally could not be left out of this Instructable.
With any flavored bagel you want to move quickly from the boiling process to the seasoning step. This allows the bagel to retain its moisture on the outside, which helps the seeds stick to the bagels themselves.
Fill a large bowl with sesame seeds and dredge the freshly boiled bagels in the sesame seeds.
Place the sesame bagels upon the wooden plank so that they are close, but not touching.
Step 13: Everything
Everything bagels are a popular flavor as well, but what exactly goes into an everything bagel seasoning mixture?
Beauty’s uses seasame seeds, poppy seeds, dried garlic, dried onion, sea salt, caraway seeds, and fennel seeds.
Dredge the bagels through the mixture just as with the sesame seeds in the previous step and place them onto the wooden plank.
Step 14: Moisten Plain Bagels
Make sure the plain bagels have enough water on them to give them a nice golden glaze in the oven and prevent them from sticking.
If they are looking a little parched you can spray some water, or ring a wet rag over them.
Step 15: Wood Fired Oven
Beauty’s Bagel Shop uses a 10,000 lb Woodstone oven to bake their bagels that runs on both wood and gas. Blake and Amy use primarily almond and walnut as their wood sources.
Almond burns hotter and slower while walnut sparks up and gets the fire going. The gas portion of the oven is nice because it brings the oven up to temperature and also helps maintain an even baking temperature even as the fire fluctuates during the baking process.
Bagels can of course be baked in a non-wood burning oven, but the wood adds a really nice crispy quality to the bagel. Home bakers can simply bake the bagels on a pizza stone (better) or cookie sheet (acceptable) and need not tend the bagels quite as much as we'll see Blake do in the commercial oven.
Step 16: Bake and Tend
Once the oven comes to 450 degrees F, it’s time to bake!
Bake the bagels on the wooden planks for 4-5 minutes to prevent them from sticking to the oven and burning. After the initial bake, take the bagels off the planks and bake them for another 4-5 minutes rotating as necessary in the oven depending on the fire condition.
Blake puts the raw bagels into the oven closest to the wood fire, then slowly rotates each row of bagel towards the cooler side of the oven in a beautiful frogger/tetris type manner.
During peak times managing the oven is a full time job as the beast can hold literally hundreds of bagels at a time.
Step 17: Sheeba
It's worth noting and appreciating the giant wooden tool called a sheeba that Blake uses to move the bagels around inside the wood burning oven. Bagel ovens tend to be custom built and very large in size - so big that a normal bakers spatula, peel, or paddle simply wouldn't work. That's where the sheeba comes in.
Usually made from a solid untreated piece of wood whose length is roughly a bit longer than the depth of the bagel oven, the sheeba has beveled edges and a sturdy handle. Beauty’s sheeba is a piece of poplar that's 9' long.
It takes a lot of practice to manage the sheeba, but once mastered it's quite an impressive skill.
Step 18: Check for Done-ness
Blake looks for color and a feeling of firmness in the bagel to know when it is done. Make sure to check both sides and all the bagels on the sheeba before pulling them from the oven.
If some bagels cook faster than others, remove them individually and continue cooking the rest of the row.
Step 19: Toss
This is perhaps the most fun and impressive step in the bagel making process. Using finess, Blake slides the sheeba under the far right row of bagels in the oven and loads up as many as 30 bagels at once onto the wooden plank. The sheeba is then removed from the oven and with a calculated, but effortless flick of the wrist, all of the bagels are tossed from the sheeba into a custom made bin that resides next to the oven. We watched Blake toss at least one hundred and fifty bagels into the air - all landed perfectly in a small pile in the bin.
I'm not sure that this last step is necessary in the home, but perhaps just a nod of respect to the Montreal bagel maker, it'd be best to toss them from the oven onto a cooling rack where they can rest.
Montreal bagels are best eaten fresh, and have a wonderful texture to them - almost as if they've been pre-toasted by the wood burning oven for you to enjoy. They are certainly denser than a standard New York bagel, not to mention smaller, but they are sweeter as well, and take to any and all of your favorite bagel toppings very nicely.
Many thanks to Blake and Amy for letting us document their amazing bagel making process. Hopefully this Instructable demystifies some of the tips and tricks to making great bagels (on the west coast) and helps you make bagels at home. If not, you can always head on down to Beauty's Bagel Shop on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland and pick up a dozen fresh Montreal bagels from Blake and Amy.