What Makes New York Bagels Different?
New York bagels taste different than bagels made anywhere else. While many people attribute this to a difference in New York’s water supply, that is not the true reason for their unique taste.
It is true that New York’s public water supply is different from that of many other metropolitan areas. New York has very soft water with low concentrations of calcium and magnesium. The hardness of water enhances the strength of gluten, the compound that contains protein and toughens baked goods. This is why many people believe that New York’s soft water is what makes the difference.
However, the truth is that the difference in New York bagels has more to do with the process that is used to make them. New York bagel makers generally poach their bagels before they bake them. They allow the bagels to simmer for a few minutes in a pot of water before putting them in the oven. This pre-gelatinization process produces a bagel that is chewy on the inside and slightly changes its flavor.
Many bagel makers in other places skip the poaching step because the equipment needed to boil bagels is costly and takes up precious kitchen space. Instead, they brush a small amount of water and baking soda on their bagels and blast them with steam in the oven. Since steam cannot reach the bottom of a bagel in the oven, the bottom will be significantly darker and harder than the rest of the bagel.
New York bagel makers generally ferment their dough slowly in wooden containers, which allows the yeast to produce more than 50 flavor compounds. The chemicals permeate the dough, as well as the containers, creating a taste that can be difficult to replicate in newer bakeries. Many other bagel makers skip the fermentation process.