Bagel Biz

What Is It that Makes Stopsky’s Bagels So Superior?

The delicatessen’s master baker explains.

By Christopher Werner June 30, 2011

Masterful: Stopsky’s onion bagel.

After Stopsky’s Delicatessen took first place in Nosh Pit’s bagel taste test, I was curious to learn what it is that makes their rounds so dang tasty. So I asked the eatery’s baker, Andrew Meltzer.

It doesn’t have to do with the water he uses—many a bagel buff has speculated the reason New York is so holey is because of the city’s H20 supply. That’s hogwash, said Meltzer, adding anybody who considers shipping the stuff from there is just nuts. And no, he doesn’t employ any “super-secret” techniques.

All Meltzer sets out to do is bake real chewy rounds with a fine crumb and no large holes. Without getting too technical, here’s how that happens:

To start, let’s compare bagels and ciabatta bread. The latter is made with wet dough, thus the more active yeast bears a lot of large bubbles. The dough is handled gently so not to disturb these bubbles; barely any kneading is involved. Bagels are mixed aggressively with a strong, stiff flour high in protein. The intense kneading introduces oxygen, then the dough is pushed even more to yield a fine texture and that distinctive white color.

Next the rounds are divided and rolled by hand—that’s rare these days, most shops rely on machinery—then allowed to slowly ferment. This step is key, giving the bagels more flavor and introducing acid to keep them fresh longer.

After that it’s to the vat (at 4am!), where the bagels are boiled for under a minute (also a critical step most bagelries bypass, according to Slate’s Explainer). How long exactly depends on how much the dough has risen, and the method is crucial to producing the perfectly chewy texture few bakeries boast. The water is spiked with sugar to help give them a shiny exterior, and the quick cooking contributes to a masterful crust.

Following this comes a traditional technique Meltzer learned used as an instructor at the CIA in New York: The bagels, still damp from the boiling, are placed on a wooden board covered in canvas (it’s at this point any toppings are added), then into the 475-degree oven they go. Once ten minutes or so have passed, the board is removed, the bagels flipped, and they sit naked on the floor of the oven for another 18 tickers.

And there you have it. Now go get a Stopsky’s bagel, you’ll be happy you did.

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