BiblioBagels: My Adventures in Bagel Chemistry (Part 1)

Seattle is not a bagel town. It’s nearly impossible to get a genuine bagel here. Sure, lots of places claim to sell the real thing, but they’re only a pale imitation. And don’t even get me started on bagels from a grocery store—those are just lifeless circles of bread masquerading as bagels.

What is a real bagel, you ask? Some swear by New York bagels, but after living many years in Canada, I dissent: Montreal bagels are, hands-down, the best. More dense and chewy than the traditional fare, they’re also slightly sweeter from being boiled in honey water before baking. Beautifully pictured in Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition, they have a larger hole and seeds on both sides.

Recently a Canadian-style bakery opened in Seattle, but it doesn’t claim to make authentic Montreal bagels. Other than that, nothing even remotely resembling them is available here. What’s a Montreal bagel addict to do? Make them myself, of course. Never mind that I’d never baked anything in my life: I had the library’s formidable culinary resources at my fingertips!I started with a classic recipe from Montreal baker extraordinaire Marcy Goldman, available in her cookbook (and also here in a slightly different version). Not completely satisfied with the results, I tinkered with the ingredients and measurements, adjusting the kneading times and shaping techniques with each new batch like a chemist concocting a special formula.

Several attempts later, I was very close to achieving the real thing, but something was still missing. Then a friend clued me in to the bagel tips in Baking Illustrated. Apparently a process known as retarding—placing uncooked bagels in the fridge overnight—creates the complex flavor, crust and color that mine were lacking. Could this be the secret? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

~Michael E., Central Library

2 thoughts on “BiblioBagels: My Adventures in Bagel Chemistry (Part 1)”

  1. I moved here from New York many, many years ago. NO BAGELS! Yes, I learned to make them for myself. The kitchen I had was about 4 ft. wide and 6 ft. long so, needless to say, steam was running down all the windows and mirrors in the apartment. The bagels were good though. I am less ambitious now but you do have me interested in the Montreal bagel. Maybe I’ll have to dig out that old big pot and sing ‘O, Canada.’ (Honey water??? Never heard of doing that. Sounds good.)

    There’s a bagel shop by Group Health Central that does a really good New York style bagel. Most other places–and, yes, ALL packaged bagels–are a waste of money and calories.

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