In Northern California, East Coast transplants are producing crunchy, chewy, dense bagels on either side of the Bay. The water may not be New York's, but some argue that the bagels are as good.
Dan Graf, a genetics major who dropped out of Rutgers University, founded Baron Baking in Oakland after working in a delicatessen. Blake Joffe and Amy Remsen, transplants from Philadelphia, opened Beauty's Bagel Shop, also in Oakland, a few months ago. And a former Brooklynite, Deepa Subramanian, and three friends started Schmendricks, which has sold bagels at pop-up sites around San Francisco that recall bagels from the Bagel Hole in Brooklyn.
Graf, the son of a Bergen County, N.J., contractor, grew up accompanying his father to jobs on weekends. Stopping for bagels was part of the ritual. After moving to California, he worked for two years at Saul's Restaurant and Delicatessen in Berkeley. Fascinated by baking, he said, he "tried my hand at bagels, but they didn't taste like what I ate at home." So he turned to "Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers" and "Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavors," both by Peter Reinhart, and a website called The Fresh Loaf.
Peter Levitt, an owner of Saul's, encouraged Graf to take some time off and experiment with the recipes. Graf baked in his tiny apartment until he took a batch to a community meeting at Bar Dogwood in downtown Oakland and impressed the owner enough to be invited into her commercial kitchen in Berkeley.
When he took some bagels to Saul's, his former boss was delighted. "They have a shiny crust like a real bagel," Levitt said, flicking his finger against one to show the blistering and cracking.
Saul's became Graf's first commercial account.
There are all kinds of bagels; Graf's has a chewy bite and an almost pretzel-like crust.
He starts with a high gluten organic flour from Central Milling Co., mixing a poolish, or starter, of yeast, flour and water, which he lets sit for about 10 hours.
"To the poolish I add flour, more yeast, salt and diastatic malt that provides enzymes that help break down the carbohydrates in the flour to give it a sweeter taste and add natural sugar that the yeast can use," he said.
After forming the bagels (an art in itself, as he stretches the dough before cutting and shaping it into 3-ounce, 3½ -inch rounds), he refrigerates them for 18 to 24 hours.
"The long retardation is essential so the bacteria in the dough can grow," he said. "The bagel has a crispy crust because of the longer fermentation time."
Graf boils his bagels in a lye water sodium hydroxide solution, which makes the outside sticky, allowing toppings to adhere better. (For the home cook, the accompanying recipe skips the lye and the fancy dough-pulling; the bagels are still great.) Rather than adding honey or malt to the water, which some purists think is the secret to a good bagel, Graf boils his bagels in heavily salted water.
The result: perfectly seasoned, brown, crusty, chewy bagels.