The Fresh Loaf

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The Great Bagel Experiment

Ryan Sandler's picture
Ryan Sandler

The Great Bagel Experiment

Since making a foray into pretzels and discovering the impact of a strong-ish baking soda solution on the crust of said pretzels, I've been wondering how different qualities of water affect the results on bagels.  I know from around the forums that some do without baking soda, some do a little, some go for malt syrup instead. The Bread Bakers Apprentice recipe (also the one in Floyd's bagel post) calls for 1 tablespoon soda in an unknowable amount of water.  By comparison, the concensus in the pretzel thread was 1 tablespoon soda per cup water, a 1/16 solution.  But would that work for bagels, or make a pretzel-tasting bagel?  I endeavored to find out this morning.

I made up a batch of the BBA bagel dough, shaped and refrigerated last night.  This morning I got two pots of water going with 8 cups of water in each, and did six different dipping combinations, with each bagel boiled 1 minute per side.  In this first one, from right to left, you can see plain water, 1 tbsp baking soda (the amount called for in the recipe, though probably stronger than usual since I typically use more than 8 cups water), and 4 tbsp baking soda (a 1/32 solution, half the amount recommended on the forums for pretzels).

As you can see, the amount of soda makes a big difference! The rightmost pair in the next pan had 8 tbsp of baking soda--pretzel quantity.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but these were much darker than the 1/32 solution pair. After this I switched to the other pot of water, and the last two pairs of bagels were boiled with 1tbsp and 2 tbsp of malt syrup in 8 cups water, respectively.  No, it wasn't the camera's fault, I couldn't really tell them apart either.

Of course, this left my wife and me with six type of bagels to taste, and only two taste testers.  We tried the 1/32 and 1/16 baking sodas, and one of the malt syrup ones (I think the 2 tbsp, but I forget).  The 1/32-solution bagel was quite good, although with a little bit of the alkaline "pretzel" taste in places where a lot of moisture from the pot stuck to the bagel.  The 1/16 solution bagel tasted like a bagel in preztel's clothing--pretzel-y on the outside, yet bagel-y on the inside.  Weird.  The bagel boiled in malt had much the same texture as the 1/32 and 1/128 baking soda bagels, though with a slightly different flavor.  My wife and I decided we like the baking soda flavor a bit better, but I figure that's a matter of taste.  I think for future I'd shoot for something like a 1/64 or 3/128 solution of baking soda (2-3 tbsp in 8 cups water).

The Great Bagel Experiment!

summerbaker's picture

Hey, I really appreciate your taking the time to perform these tests since I have been reading about bagels and have also wondered about the various boiling methods.  These differences have actually been standing in the way of me trying to make any of the recipes!  You have given me some idea of the results I can expect (especiallly concerning color) and have made the whole process seem much less overwhelming.  Thank you!