Why Are Bagels Boiled?
Bagel lovers enjoy the chewy crust and slightly dense inside of the breakfast treats. Bagel bakers have long known that the secret to creating that combination of textures is to boil the bagels before putting them in the oven.
It seems counter-intuitive to many people to put bread in boiling water. The goal with most bread making is to allow water to evaporate and to dry out the inside of the bread to some degree.
Breads such as bagels and pretzels are made by boiling them first because boiling sets the crust before it is placed in the oven. The starch on the exterior quickly gels and forms a barrier. This keeps the water from penetrating very far into the bread. Bagels are usually boiled for 30 to 60 seconds per side.
Since the crust is already set before bagels are put in the oven, the bagels don’t rise very much. This, in addition to the high-protein flour that is used, gives bagels their popular dense, chewy insides.
Boiling bagels briefly gives them a thin and fairly elastic crust but still allows them to rise a good amount in the oven, creating a softer texture. Boiling them longer creates a thicker crust but does not allow the bagels to rise much at all. This produces a very dense interior.
Some bakers add lye, barley malt extract, or baking soda to the boiling water. These ingredients help the crust get brown in the oven and give the crust a distinct flavor.