Bagels: They’re Hot, Hot, Hot!
New Fans for the Reinvented Roll With a Hole
Bagels, whose circular shape is said to represent eternity and continuity, boast a long history. When Jews fled the pogroms of late 18th-century Europe, they brought their bagel recipes with them. Some immigrants settled in New York, while others headed north to Montreal. For more than 200 years, their descendants perfected the art of crafting these beloved bready rings. But a recent flock of migrating East Coasters were shocked to find that what passes for a bagel in our Bay Area food mecca is merely a flabby, steamed roll with a hole in it. So they’ve hatched a brood of chewy, crusty bagels that swing to an East Coast beat.
A Montreal Accent on Telegraph Avenue
For Blake Joffe, frequent childhood trips with his father from Philadelphia to their favorite Montreal bagel shops left an indelible impression of traditional goodness. In August 2012, Joffe and partner Amy Remsen introduced Oaklanders to an alternative to the machine-cloned bagels available at most grocery stores and local bakeries by opening Beauty’s Bagel Shop. Hand-rolled, boiled in honey water and baked in a wood-fired oven to bring out a distinctive smoky sweetness, these Montreal-style bagels combine a dense texture with a crunchy crust. Because they are baked on wooden planks, then flipped directly onto the hearth, each bagel also displays its own personality and a shiny, dappled coat.
Beauty’s Bagels (named for a favorite Montreal cafe of Joffe’s) features a menu of basic bagel flavors like plain, salt, onion, poppy or sesame (no blueberry jalapeño here), and are made fresh every few hours.
Hand-rolling coils of dough results in bagels with bigger holes, which Remsen says workers fashion into sandwiches with “strategically placed lettuce.” Toppings finclude smoked trout and classic lox and cream cheese. Remsen, a vegetarian, creates veggie versions of a chicken scrapple, chopped liver and even tofu cream cheese. She also prepares homemade jam and pickles, and bakes coffee cake and Philadelphia-style sticky buns in the cozy diner.
When the pair moved to the Bay Area, they worked in a succession of restaurants, until deciding to collaborate and open their own place. They live in Oakland, love breakfast and start the day early: Joffe arrives at 3:45 a.m. to fire up a 10,000-pound wood-burning oven that almost didn’t fit inside the restaurant.
With an open kitchen, patrons can watch the birth of their bagels. “Seeing the whole process was an important part of the Montreal bagel shops my father took me to,” says Joffe. “My dad would be extremely proud.”
Beauty’s Bagel Shop3838 Telegraph Ave., Oakland 510-788-6098, www.beautysbagelshop.com
Brothers Build a Better Bagel
Jason and Mark Scott, known to their friends as the “Bagel Bros,” were executive chefs at Montclair’s Monaghan’s on the Hill when the challenge of creating a Mother’s Day menu prompted memories of their own mother’s Sunday morning breakfasts: salami and eggs with bagels. Then came the realization that there was nothing in the East Bay that remotely resembled East Coast bagels.
The Scotts, who grew up in Rhode Island, researched an original recipe from 19th-century Poland and found that store-bought yeast was not available at that time, so they experimented with a sourdough starter and homemade yeast to re-create an authentic taste and texture—which suggested the perfect name for their new business, Authentic Bagel Company. Extended proofing of the dough and a boiling bath in hot water combine to create a crispy exterior and chewy interior.
The brothers started selling bagels wholesale to Oakland’s Coffee Mill and Berkeley’s Rick and Ann’s Restaurant and have since added another dozen outlets. In July, they opened their tiny kitchen near Jack London Square to the public on Fridays through Sundays for grab-and-go bagels.
The pair of chefs bill their menu as “authentic with a twist,” so their flavor roster may include maple bacon, pumpkin, pepperoni pizza or chocolate peanut butter.
Authentic Bagel Company 463 Second St., Oakland 510-459-1201, www.abagelcompany.com
Scientifically Engineered Bagels
In his one-man operation, Dan Graf of Baron Baking can only make 300 bagels a day. He doesn’t have a retail shop or even a plan to open one. But Wired, Grub Street, the East Bay Express and The New York Times have dubbed his limited edition—presently sold at Chop Bar and Stag’s Lunchette in Oakland and Saul’s Deli in Berkeley—as “the perfect bagel.”
Graf, who grew up in New Jersey and now lives in downtown Oakland, worked for a while at Saul’s, where owner Peter Levitt was so desperate for great bagels he would fly them in from New York’s legendary H&H Bagels.
After leaving Saul’s, the former genetics major who had never even baked bread, adopted the scientific approach to create the perfect bagel.
“I’ve had a passion for science my entire life which has translated into a search of how things work in the natural world,” says Graf, who spent almost a year perfecting his technique. Key elements of his recipe involve a two-stage fermentation process, adding a low concentration of (food grade) lye to the boiling water for a browner, sweeter crust and “boarding,” or baking the bagels upside down on a wooden board that allows their bottoms to rise and form a hard crust.
Even if he expands his wholesale business, Graf has pledged to stay in Oakland, “the underdog of the Bay Area. It’s an exciting time to be in the place where the food scene is moving to.”
Baron Baking, www.baronbaking.com