Boiled Bagels vs. Steamed – How to SPOT the Difference

    While the bagel has seen many incarnations since the Middle Ages in Poland, one key constant remains the traditional process of boiling the raw bagels before baking them. At SPOT Bagel, this time-honored step is the 6th step in our 8-step artisan production process.  Here’s how to tell the difference between boiled and steamed bagels:
    1. Shine and Shape
      Boiled bagels have a shiny golden crust from being bathed in boiling water whereas steamed bagels have a dull, dry finish. The shape of a boiled bagel is round because it’s baked on both sides, while a steamed bagel is usually elliptical and flat on the bottom as it’s not turned over in the baking process.

    2. Inside and Out
      If you cut a boiled bagel in half, you should see two distinct textures, a crispy crust from boiling and a soft, chewy, dense crumb on the inside. You should be able to pull the skin (crust) apart from the crumb.

      The texture of a steamed bagel is its biggest giveaway. It is fluffier – more like bread or even cake. While some people prefer this (and hey, it’s your choice), all of us at SPOT believe that following tradition helps create a truly great bagel.

    3. Toppings
      The best boiled bagels usually have toppings on both sides of the bagel. After boiling, bagels are placed on aluminum boards covered in wet jute (burlap). The toppings are applied to the jute, the wet bagels are gently placed on the jute, and then covered with more toppings.

      On the other hand, steamed bagels have toppings applied to the raw dough before they enter the steam injection oven. Most often, the toppings are inexpensive and dehydrated, unlike the fresh and organic toppings we use at SPOT.

    From mixing rich and unique ingredients right in the dough, to boiling, to thoughtfully preparing and liberally applying  toppings, we aim to deliver a “real” bagel: one that will satiate your palette and gratify your soul. Decide for yourself if “an unboiled bagel is just a roll with a hole”…check out one of our sumptuous flavors near you!


    Liz Roberts
    SPOT Bagel Blogging Babe
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    Lauren’s Log: Inside SPOT Bagel Bakery's First Months

    Hey bagel lovers, this is the start of my new “Lauren’s Log” series. I’ll be sharing what’s going on “behind the curtain” at SPOT’s bakery from my perspective as a baker. I intend to reveal a lot…maybe too much…including how we’re obsessed with crafting delicious bagels, staff food fights, and even gossiping about who got locked in the walk-in refrigerator. Hope you find this interesting. Please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear what’s on your mind.

    I have a history of working with new restaurants and businesses, but while I enjoy the problem-solving and getting my hands dirty, the overwhelming hard work in SPOT’s first months felt like sheer insanity. Everyone was forced to jump in and help out with everything from production to development, marketing, and even cleaning (everyone’s favorite task, of course).  We were all working frantically and so sleep deprived that you can imagine some of our slap-happy times in the bakery. 

    Of course we took our bagels seriously, but we also enjoyed exploding bags of blue cornmeal all over each other (I had an aura of blue dust around me like Pig-Pen from Peanuts), found a claustrophobic trainee locked in a walk-in refrigerator that had no lock, and made lots of sticky messes with 50 pound buckets of with molasses, barley malt, and honey. When it came to water, we were really out of control; an overflowing kettle, out of control water hoses spraying chaotically, and powerful streams of water ricocheting in the general direction of my face. For the record, I’m a big advocate of water conservation, but at the time we were all pretty klutzy.

    Now let me advise you on running a bakery. If you aren’t a glutton for punishment, save yourself the trouble and just deprive yourself of sleep for three days, put on a hair net, jump in the shower fully clothed, dust yourself with a few pounds of flour, roll in honey, and sprinkle on some poppy seeds for good measure.

    I hope you enjoy the bagels we’ve worked so hard on!
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    SPOT & The Jewish Food Maven: Our Interview with Joan Nathan

    SPOT Bagel spoke with Joan Nathan, author of ten cookbooks—including the award-winning Jewish Cooking in America—and host of the acclaimed PBS series called Jewish Cooking in America. In short, Nathan is the internationally recognized expert on Jewish food culture. Alice Waters calls Nathan "a writer, historian, anthropologist, and extraordinary cook, but above all she is a tireless custodian of a wonderfully rich culture."

    SPOT Bagel: How did you and your family eat bagels growing up?
    Joan Nathan: I first tasted bagels when I lived in Larchmont, NY. When I was very little, my mother would bring back bagels whenever we’d go to the Bronx. We also got bagels from Berman’s Deli in New Rochelle. They were thinner, smaller bagels than today’s bagels…more like the original bagels, I suppose. It was a treat that we’d have for Sunday breakfast. It wasn’t an everyday thing.

    SPOT Bagel: What’s the craziest way you’ve ever eaten a bagel?
    Joan Nathan: I’m a purist so I haven’t had anything really crazy. I’ve had French toast bagels in Plymouth, MA. In Los Angeles, at Nate 'n Al's, I had bagels where you first scoop out the inner dough, then toast the outside; they’re crunchy and quite good.

    SPOT Bagel: How do you feel about the lore of great bagels using only New York water?
    Joan Nathan: It’s probably malarkey… a really old legend that probably emanated from Jewish jokes. It’s like the soda water thing for matzo balls. [Joan Nathan's Jewish Holiday Cookbook explains, “it's a myth that soda water lightens matzo balls.”] I think people are probably looking for the kind of bagels they grew up with, when bagels were put through a cold fermentation process.

    SPOT Bagel: SPOT uses a cold fermentation/aging step. Do you think it makes an impact?
    Joan Nathan: I think it probably does. I think that creates the chewiness and that’s probably why I liked them. In NY, they would twist them and refrigerate them during the week and bake them on the weekend. New York bakeries didn’t have freezers in the ‘40s.

    SPOT Bagel: Why do you think people have such a strong opinion about bagels compared to other foods like muffins?
    Joan Nathan: I think it’s the history of opinions about everything in the Jewish community. Historically, bagels have always been the butt of lots of jokes. Bagels are something you can chew on, and they're not sweet, … they’re a snack food, so they’re a little funny…you can put them on a string or do whatever you want with them.

    SPOT Bagel: Have bagels in America changed over time?
    Joan Nathan: Today, many people like steamed bagels. I remember there was a bagel testing in Washington and steamed bagels won, which shocked me. Steamed bagels are just awful.

    SPOT Bagel:  How do you like your bagels?
    Joan Nathan: Smallish and chewy. I like them toasted and with butter and a little salt. And smoked salmon, too. I like poppy seed the best.

    SPOT Bagel: Why have bagels, versus other Jewish foods, become so popular in the US?
    Joan Nathan: Bagels, by their very nature, are a cultural crossover food. Most people don’t even know the bagel originated as a Jewish thing… it has become American. Why? Because everybody’s frustrated in their lives, especially in the world we live, but you can bite into a bagel and feel you are impacting something! 

    For more information about Joan Nathan:

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    Bagels Gone Wild - The Frida Bagel

    If you're tired of boring bagels, look for SPOT's Frida bagel inspired by where Frida Kahlo lived, foods indigenous to the area, and the foods Frida Kahlo enjoyed eating. SPOT's Boulanger Supreme, Holly Pugliese, researched Frida Kahlo's life to create this bagel.

    The recipe, now in its third incarnation, is still being tested and refined. Chef Holly says she is close to getting it just right. She currently includes fresh roasted mild chiles, a special blend of spices, and switched from using hominy to blue cornmeal when she learned about Frida's home, Casa Azul. Originally, Chef Holly didn't realize making bagels could be this cool. 'Making bagels is a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. I get to be very creative.'

    The Frida bagel is just one of SPOT Bagels' flavors coming to the San Francisco Bay Area this year. Ask for SPOT bagels at your local supermarket and cafe and keep in touch.
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    Taste Chef Holly's Schmears with SPOT Bagels at Williams Sonoma, San Francisco

    Don't miss Chef Holly's demonstration of her unique bagel schmears, served with SPOT Bagel samples on Saturday, June 4th from 12-2 at San Francisco's Williams Sonoma flagship store in Union Square.

    Williams Sonoma is showcasing SPOT's Boulanger Supreme, Holly Pugliese, as part of its guest chef series focusing on local talent in our community. Chef Holly will share her special bagel spread recipes, including a roasted strawberry and balsamic cream cheese and a savory cream cheese spread, as well as Williams Sonoma jams and spreads paired with SPOT bagels.

    You'll learn Chef Holly's tips and techniques so you can prepare your own amazing spreads at home. Boost your breaducation and say hello to Chef Holly!
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