People ask us every day if we boil our bagels and the answer is “of course we do”. Often the customer will respond with a remark that those are the only ones they like or satisfied with our response, they will place an order for their favorite variety and schmear.
I will often joke with the customer and tell them that if it isn’t boiled, it isn’t a bagel. That’s just my opinion, or is it?
According to Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster and the Oxford dictionaries, that is a factual statement. To homogenize and paraphrase their definitions, they state that a bagel is a ring or donut-shaped roll that is first boiled and then baked.
Why do we get the question so often if it is accepted as fact? Big box bakeries and chains don’t invest in all of the specialized equipment it takes to produce an authentic bagel. They take shortcuts where they can and by removing boiling from the equation, they treat their “bagel” as they might other bread products. They place them on oiled sheet pans in rack ovens and inject a bit of steam into the oven to firm up the crust a bit.
This is very different from the boiling process. When we boil the bagel for just the right amount of time, we are setting the outside as well. However in our case, we do so to force gelatinization of the outside of the bagel and make it stronger. This strength keeps the bagel from rising in the oven too much and keeps the crumb dense and chewy. The alternative with steamed bagels produces a more bread-like crumb. Boiling produces a nicely browned crust too and unless a steamed bagel has colorings added to it, looks quite anemic.
We boil our bagels because to do otherwise is false advertisement. Steamed “bagels” are nothing but rolls with a hole in the middle. We also use organic products in our bagels but we’ll save that explanation for another day.
Whenever you crave a bagel, it is ok to ask how that bagel is prepared. Just remember, if it’s not boiled, it’s not a bagel.