The Making of Bagelsaurus’s Pretzel Bagels
In our second annual Starch Madness bracket, you voted for your favorite carb dishes around Boston. Read about the Wheat Conference winner and overall runner-up, Bagelsaurus’s pretzel bagels, below, and check out the full results of Starch Madness 2016.
For the employees at Bagelsaurus in Cambridge, creating the shop’s signature pretzel bagel plays out much like a chemistry experiment. With gloves, goggles, and plastic-wrapped working spaces, the steps to get that pretzel color and flavor go beyond just popping the dough in the oven and waiting for it to rise.
Owner Mary Ting Hyatt takes a more scientific approach to combine two ultimate breads: bagels and pretzels. It begins with a special ingredient, lye.
Lye is sodium hydroxide, and it’s known to be corrosive or caustic on its own. But before you turn running, it’s important to note that food grade lye is FDA-approved and is commonly used in baking. It won’t kill you. In fact, it’s the traditional way to bake Bavarian pretzels.
Lye dissolves easily in water, and at Bagelsaurus, it’s diluted in cold water before dipping and baking. “When you bake something, the baked good releases CO2, which reacts with the lye,” Hyatt explains.
“What lye does, flavor-wise, is speed up the browning reaction, what [we] call the Maillard reaction,” Hyatt says. “So that’s why the pretzel bagels are a lot darker than, say, the plain or the salt.”
Hyatt knew about the pretzeling processes from prior experiences, so she decided to apply the same German-style technique to her sourdough bagels.
“[The sourdough starter] gives bread complex flavor, better keeping quality, and makes it easier to digest,” Hyatt says about her choice to use sourdough in the shop’s bagels. While it’s not typical to use sourdough in bagels, Hyatt says it’s gaining popularity for those reasons.
Making Bagelsaurus’s pretzel bagel is a 24-hour process. After the team mixes basic bread ingredients with their special sourdough, they allow the dough to ferment at room temperature before shaping, Hyatt explains. The fermentation helps the dough build strength and flavor.
The bagels are typically shaped and boiled, before being placed in the oven. “For most bagel makers, what makes a bagel unique is the boiling process,” says Hyatt, adding that boiling is what creates a bagel’s shiny crust.
But for the pretzel bagels, there is no boiling involved. Instead, the bagels are dipped in lye. The team starts the pretzel bagels first thing in the morning, in order to get the chemicals out of the way. To make the breakfast deadline, a solo baker arrives in the kitchen as early as 3:30 a.m.
Step one is covering all the tables in plastic, and the baker donning goggles and gloves. The bagels are then tipped into the lye solution.
“We dip and drain [the bagels] onto a grate over a sheet pan, then transfer them to trays,” Hyatt says. Malt and sea salt are added as finishing touches, then the bagels go into the oven.
After baking at a high temperature for about 15 minutes, the pretzel bagels are ready.
Hyatt recommends Bagelsaurus’s honey rosemary spread for a sweet and salty breakfast; the pretzel bagel is also a prime choice as the base of an egg sandwich. If you want to keep it classic, the go-to spread for the pretzel bagel is the shop’s homemade mustard butter.
Dying to get your hands on the starchy goodness? Don’t delay. The item sells out quickly during the week and weekend, usually before noon—and that was before it won the wheat conference in Starch Madness 2016.