The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bagels: is it really "the water"?

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Elagins's picture

Bagels: is it really "the water"?

The real story on what passes for bagels

wally's picture

Oh, and a big source of NYC's water are resevoirs in the Adirondacks, not exactly the home of Brooklyn.

Nice looking bagels, by the way.



Elagins's picture

True, and also further south, in Westchester,

gmagmabaking2's picture

Since Stan is the guru of bagels, I believe ANYTHING he says... and

The water is so different everywhere... I like to leave the whole pot of water sit with out overnight to get rid of the chlorine... and then go from there.

We have a LOT of chlorine in our water in our county... sometimes my laundry water smells like the city pool!

Happy Bageling!


leftypg's picture

Authentic?  Why not lye Stan?

I grew up on the East Coast and our neighbors owned a Deli/Bakery --They used lye, so thought everybody used it! Can you tell the difference?

Thanks,  lefty

Elagins's picture

Both are correct, IMO. Lye, i.e., wood ash in water, was and is used widely in Central Europe in pretzel making, and since bagels are likely a subset or close relative of pretzels, it would stand to reason that at some point, they, too were probably subjected to a lye dip. At the same time, barley is grown extensively throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and so it's reasonable to assume that barley malt was an important sweetener until the introduction of sugar on a commercial scale in the mid-19th century. I use malt for two reasons: first, because, following this debate, Norm told me that in his experience all the bagel bakers used malt; and second, because, IMO, malt makes for a richer, shinier crust (think of pretzel crust vs. bagel).

It may well be that the first NY bagel bakers used lye because it was cheaper and more readily available than malt; these days, among the few traditional bagel bakers, I believe malt is the preferred medium.

Stan Ginsberg

dabrownman's picture

But, even the best bagels in the West is still open according to my ankle biting apprentice.  She says her SD bagels, your recipe by the way too, but beside the point, that use RO water and half mountain spring water that they make that Bunny Beer out of, are way better than your non sourdough, non blistered, non lye boiled version :-)

She is eternally grateful though as her bagels have really improved since you got her flipping them at 3 minutes instead of 8.and reducing the hydration down to 53%.

Happy baking 2nd place bagel baking Stan.  I suppose, if you have to lose, losing to yourself is a real consolation prize :-)  

Elagins's picture

Bottled water is always a good alternative, especially in places where municipal water sucks.

The sourdough vs. commercial yeast debate will go on forever. However, I can say with confidence that I've made non SD bagels that end up with a nicely pimpled surface, which is largely a result of the cold retard, rather than of any idiosyncrasies of sourdough. At the same time, that retard allows the enzymes in the malt and flour to break down the complex carbs in the flour, which produce a nice, sweet product. Whether people prefer a touch of acidity in their bagels or not is a personal preference. Frankly, I think a good schmear of cream cheese contributes all the acid I need.

Glad we were able to help your ankle biter improve her bagels.


Dwayne's picture



Thanks for the history lesson as it applies to Bagels, as well as information on the water debate.



Elagins's picture

My pleasure!