Lye Bagels: The story of how Polish dough came to rule American palates

Bagels. Beugals. Old Yiddish bread. Whatever the name, Bagels have a special place in the American gastronomical history. Originated in Poland, the bagels migrated to United States and Canada along with the Eastern European immigrants. Traditionally, a round-shaped yeasted wheat dough which is boiled and baked, bagels are dense and chewy inside and brown and crispy on the outside. Popular in almost all Jewish settlements, bagels first made headway into New York with the Local 338 – an association of American bagel makers. Later, Local 338 expanded to all counties and towns, making bagels one of the most favorite of American food items.

Connection between lye and bagel: It is not known whether lye plays a role in the making of all modern bagels, but it certainly does with the old Yiddish bagels. Like Pretzels, bagels are boiled in lye water before baked to attain the desired end-product. Lye, as we know, is the strongest of alkalies which is very caustic and extremely harmful on skin and body. If so, why should one use it? It is lye which hydrolyzes the proteins in the flour to make them brown and chewy. In other words, it is lye which makes the yeasted wheat flour tasty, crispy and brown in color. But to achieve this, lye should be handled with care and caution should be used while mixing it with water to prepare the lye bath.

How to make bagels with lye: Below is a recipe for bagel making, adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg. This recipe uses lye bath to boil bagels and later bake them to their final shape.

1. Ingredients: To make lye bagels at home, you will need the following: 7 grams of Dry Yeast, 10 ½ ounces of water at 115 degrees F, one tablespoon of honey, 20 grams of sugar, 10 grams of salt and 1 pound 4 ounces of flour. Note that all the ingredients are measured by water – small quantities in grams and large quantities by ounces.

2. Equipments, protective gear for handling lye: Get your lye protective gear – like goggles, gloves, mask (if required), long sleeves and other equipments like container for kneading flour, wooden paddle, baking equipments etc.

3. Mix the first set of ingredients: First, take the honey, salt and sugar and mix together in a mixing bowl. Add yeast to the mixture, and stir until it is fully dissolved.

4. Add flour to the mixture: Next, add flour (about ¼ cup or more) to the mixture and then paddle well till it is heavy and dense. If it is not dense, add more dough and knead again for 5 minutes.

5. Let the dough double, make bagel shapes: Cover with a  plastic wrap and heat for about 60 minutes on top of your water heater for 85 degrees F. Let the dough double for making bagel shapes. Once the dough is ready, start carving bagel shapes out of it. Cut into 2 inch rounds and poke a finger in the middle to form the bagel ring.

6. Prepare lye solution: Mix 2 teaspoonfuls of lye with 2 quarts of water and prepare the lye solution. Do not let a lot of water evaporate. Make the lye water in the desired consistency.

7. Boil in lye: Then, boil the bagels in lye water, say 3 bagels for one minute. Use chopsticks for this purpose. Wear all your protective gear before you touch lye.

8. Apply toppings and bake: Apply toppings like sesame seeds, dried minced onion, dried minced garlic and poppy seeds to the boiled bagels. Then, bake for about 10 minutes (without convection) at 450 degrees F. Cool on the wire track till the bagels are ready for use.

You will get yummy brown bagels, like the original Jewish kind, when you use lye instead of baking soda in your recipe. The crispiness and taste are also better than the baking-soda ones.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 at 8:00 am and is filed under Food Processing, Uses of Lye. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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