Saturday, January 28, 2012


After an initial fiasco involving too much vital wheat gluten, I started over. Bagels, according to the formula given out in class, only need to proof for an hour after the dough is mixed. Then they're shaped, proofed another 30 minutes, boiled in alkaline water, topped and baked.

Much faster than artisanal bread, but would they be as good as the bagels I ate when I was little? Chewy, shiny, crusty things with a unique flavor unequaled by any mere bread. Things worth a special trip to Pasadena, worth enduring the interminable, endless time in the cosmetics department with my mother that would inevitably follow my bagel bribe.

So, I mixed water, salt, SAF yeast, a bit of vegetable oil. Kneaded well to develop the gluten, and placed the dough in a bowl to proof.

An hour later, time to boil some water with a fair amount of baking soda added and pre-heat the oven.

After proofing, the dough was spongy and seemed ready to go, so it got snipped into 3-1/2 ounce portions, rolled into long, spindly shapes and joined into rings with a deft three finger rolling technique.

Thirty minutes more proofing, then into the boiling water for a few minutes. In the water, the bagels puff up and develop a bit of a crustiness - all within a couple of minutes. They're still pale, a light tan off-white - not exactly appetizing, but they're starting to look like bagels.

Out of the water, drip dry, then onto a parchment lined sheet pan. Sprinkle with cumin seeds, sesame, salt, garlic... No poppy seeds. Put them on the list if I'm going to be serious about this bagel thing.

Toppings on, into the oven. I peeped through the door. The bagels began to take on a golden hue, darker, darker... Stop. In about twenty minutes, they were dark enough.

Out they came into the light of day to sit on a cooling rack. They smelled like bagels, but lacked the sheen of my childhood memories.

Now for the wait. The bagels would only develop their full flavor when completely cooled.

Finally they were cool enough (or almost) to taste. Picking one up, I noticed that it was much more springy than my dense childhood friends. I took a bite, worried that it would be more dinner roll than bagel. Not to worry. The necessary chewiness was not lacking. They weren't as chewy as my memories dictated, but they were a long way from being mere bagel-shaped dinner rolls. Not bad, even if they didn't zap me back to Stottlemeyer's Deli decades in the past.

In the future, I'll try a bit of vital wheat gluten mixed with bread flour to boost the chewiness, hopefully with that bit of malt that the formula called for but I don't have. I'm afraid that shiny, thick crust may have been due to the use of lye (sodium hydroxide) in the water instead of baking soda. Still, better not to burn holes in my skin just for a fistful of bagels, so I'll stick with the sodium bicarbonate for now.

If I can get the chewiness and flavor right, maybe I can time warp myself back to Stottlemeyer's Deli or Brookln Bagel Bakery, where I would eagerly scan the bins for my favorites: raisin, garlic, salt, sesame or all of the above. I also liked them plain, just the chewy dough and caramelized crust, pure bagel. So, for now I have some tasty rolls, too tender and soft to fully qualify as definitively bagels yet not altogether lacking in bagelness. A work in progress...


  1. Mike, my dad was one of the creators of Stottlemeyers Deli. I run into people over the years who remember it, all of them fondly and with a great sense of loss that it is gone. So I have started a facebook group to post memories and collect sandwich names/ingredients. Would love for you to join and post.

    My dad claims to be the first to put a sandwich on a bagel. He has talked to me about going to the market in downtown early to pick up the bagels. When we moved to England in 1969, we couldn't get any bagels there, so my mom made them from scratch, along with rye bread, pizza and we even brewed our own root beer! You can buy all that stuff in England now, but I loved the home-made versions.

  2. The Stottlemeyer's Deli I went to was in Pasadena, California. I never knew they moved to England, though. Or were these two different sets of Stottlemeyers? I went there around 1969 or maybe before (I was pretty small and it's all a blur now).

    Back then, there was a Perry Boys Smorgy and Vroman's Bookstore across the street, and Robinson's Department Store, all on Colorado Boulevard. Alas, all but Vroman's gone now. You can get sushi, Thai and Mexican food, but the great bagels are but a memory.

    1. There was no Stottlemyer's in's just that my family moved there, leaving the other partners in the business to run the deli. We returned to Pasadena in 1975, and the deli closed not too long after that. Join the facebook page!