In yesterday’s post, I was on a quest to make Montreal bagels with the help of the library’s resources. A friend had just told me about the process of retarding the dough (placing it in the fridge overnight before boiling and baking the bagels). I was curious about this mysterious-sounding process and decided to investigate further.
I found a delightfully technical article called “A Laboratory-Scale Bagel-Making Procedure” in the journal Cereal Chemistry. Although the library didn’t carry this journal, our wonderful interlibrary loan service obtained a copy for me. Eureka! Complete with scientific analyses of bagel texture and electron micrographs of dough structure, this study showed that retarding was indeed the key. After trying the procedure, my bagels were at last marvelously flavorful with the characteristic “foxy red-brown color,” as this article so charmingly described it.
Of course I couldn’t duplicate the wood-fired ovens of Montreal bakeries, but the bagels I ended up with were pretty darn close. And along the way I discovered a fascinating little book, The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread. My late grandfather had been a baker in the Bronx during the early 1900’s. Unfortunately I know few details about his life, but reading this book I wondered: Did he bake bagels? Did he work under the incredibly difficult and dangerous conditions found in those bagel bakeries? Did he perhaps belong to one of the bagel unions that existed then?
Now every morning I wake to a piping-hot mug of tea and the tangy-sweet goodness of a homemade Montreal-style bagel, dreaming of the bagels of my father’s father.
~Michael E., Central Library