Food Science: Why Bagels are Boiled

Emma Christensen wrote . . . . . . . . .

We grew up on bagels, and taking a bite of that warm, ultra-chewy bread is still one of our favorite food experiences. Ask any good bagel baker and they’ll tell you that the key to that chewy crust and slightly dense interior is boiling the bagels before baking. The question is, why?

It feels very counter-intuitive to most of us to throw bread in boiling water. The point of most bread baking, after all, is to let water evaporate and dry out the interior to a certain extent.

Boiling breads like bagels and pretzels effectively sets the crust before it goes in the oven. The water doesn’t actually penetrate very far into the bread because the starch on the exterior quickly gels and forms a barrier. Bagels are typically boiled for 30-60 seconds on each side. The longer the boil, the thicker and chewier crust.

In the oven, the fact that the crust is already set means that the bagels don’t rise nearly as much. This is partly what gives bagels their signature dense, chewy interiors. (The other part is using high-protein flour.)

Again, how long the bagel was boiled will affect the interior texture. A brief boil gives bagels a thin and fairly elastic crust that will still allow the bagels rise quite a bit in the oven, resulting in a softer texture. A longer boil and a thicker crust prevents the bagel from rising very much at all, giving you a very dense interior.

Sometimes lye or barley malt extract are added to the boiling water. Both of these additions help the crust brown in the oven and also give the crust a distinct flavor. These days, baking soda is often substituted for lye.

Source: Kitchn

Kosher Bagels


1 medium potato
2 cups water, or more
2 and 1/4 teaspoons Gefen Dry Yeast
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (if you have only regular Shibolim Whole Wheat Flour, use half white and half whole wheat)
1 tablespoon salt
1 egg whole plus 1 egg, separated
3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon cold water


poppy seeds
sesame seeds
dried onion
dried garlic
cinnamon sugar
coarse salt


  1. Peel the potato and cut into chunks. Put in a pot and cover with water, making sure that you use at least two cups of water, since some will evaporate with the cooking. Boil for about 15 minutes, or until the potato is soft. Measure out one cup of the water. Put the potatoes aside for lunch! (I usually put up a full pot of potatoes and use them for different things.) Let the cup of potato water cool to lukewarm. Proof the yeast in 1/2 cup of the potato water with one and a half tablespoons of the sugar.
  2. Put the flour into the bowl of the mixer. Add the salt. Stir the yeast mixture into the flour. Add the whole egg, one egg white, remaining 1/2 cup of potato water, remaining sugar, and oil. Mix all together to make a firm dough, adding more flour if necessary. Knead for 8–10 minutes or until the dough springs back when touched. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, coat the top with a small amount of oil (or oil spray) to keep it from drying out, and cover with a towel. (I like to put the bowl into a plastic bag and then cover with a towel). Let the dough rise until it is doubled, about one and a half hours. The dough is ready when you push it down with two fingers and the indentations remain. If they spring back, let it rise a bit longer.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). Bring three quarts/liters of water to boil in a large pot.
  4. Punch down the dough and knead for two to three minutes. Cut into 14-15 pieces for medium-sized bagels, or 10 pieces for large bagels. Roll each piece into a rope about 7 inches (17 cm) long. Kids enjoy rolling their “snakes” on the counter. Don’t worry about the proper length. This is not the time to be professional! Remember everyone is having fun together! Form each rope into a ring, moistening the ends if necessary, so that they stick when turned into each other. This is important if you want them to maintain the bagel shape. Let the rings stand about 10 minutes on a piece of Gefen Easy Baking Parchment sprayed with oil spray.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, slide each bagel into the pot of boiling water, being careful not to crowd them too much. They will float after a few seconds. Boil for two minutes on each side. Remove the bagels with the slotted spoon and place them on baking sheets, lined with parchment paper and sprayed with oil spray. They will be very slippery. Let them air dry for a few seconds.
  6. Mix the remaining egg yolk with the one teaspoon of water and glaze each bagel with a pastry brush. Dip them into toppings of your choice. (You can put the toppings into small individual plates or even on Gefen Easy Baking Parchment Paper).
  7. Bake for 20–25 minutes until golden brown. Cool. Store in plastic bags, as they harden quickly.

Makes 10 large bagels.


In Pictures: Bagel Sandwiches

The New York Bagel: A Myth or Reality

Nishita Rai wrote . . . . . . . . .

History of the bagel

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the bagel can be defined as ‘a firm doughnut-shaped roll traditionally made by boiling and then baking’. The word itself is described as steming from the Yiddish word beyg, from Middle High German böuge ring; akin to Old English bēag ring or būgan meaning ‘to bend’. That said, the origins of this bread seem nebulous. One popular fable attributes its origins to an offering made to a Polish King – Jan Sobieski, who saved Vienna from Turkish Invaders in 1683. Local bakers produced a bread in the shape of a stirrup to honour the king after battle. Balinska refutes this legend and highlights the mention of this bread 70 years before the Battle of Vienna. She describes the first written account of a bagel in regulations issued by the Jewish Council of Krakow back in 1610; this body was responsible for overseeing all aspects of community life in the region. Bagel regulations were issued at that time and provided guidance around who may consume bagels and on what occasion. Circumcision of a baby boy, successful birthing by midwives and mothers were some occasions considered significant enough to gift bagels made from wheat – a more expensive grain compared to rye. The glory of the 1600s faded and gave way to tougher times in Poland but the bagel continued to enjoy a central place in Jewish parables and traditions serving as an object of value, luck and comfort in the community.

The bagel came to New York sometime between 1881 and 1914, when Jews migrated in large numbers from Eastern Europe to America and the community wanted kosher food. By 1900, the lower east side of Manhattan was flooded with several bakeries that had sprung up and produced the popular bagel. However, the appalling working conditions in these bakeries in the early 1900s led to the formation of the Bakery and Confectionary Workers International Union, with the Bagel Bakers Union Local 338 chapter being formed in 1937. Members of this union dominated bagel production in America until the 1960s, with bagel making passed on to those who were especially trained in the art of making this bread. The next few years saw a dramatic transformation in bagel making with automation being introduced to the production process. The popularity of this bread in America is attributed to the Lender family, who in the 1950s started freezing bagels baked in their New Haven bagel bakery and supplying to supermarkets. Coupled with this, Daniel Thompson’s invention – the Thompson Bagel Machine – in 1958, transformed the ability of bakers to produce bagels. Automation made it possible for bakers to mass produce this bread.

The recipe and technique

What once was a carefully guarded recipe passed on by those who were apprenticed to members of the Bagel Bakers Union is now easily available online and in cookbooks. The basic ingredients remain the same the world over – bread flour, water, malt and yeast. On examining bagel recipes from New York, Poland and the UK, one comes across a few differences in procedure followed and additional ingredients. The first difference is the use of malt barley in the bagel dough and in the water used to boil bagels; this approach seems to be popular in America, especially New York, versus other parts of the world, such as Poland or the UK. Malt syrup is known to aid yeast fermentation and bread texture. When added to bread dough, malt syrup, which is high in maltose, ferments slowly compared to other sugars and ensures that gases are produced through final proofing of the dough. When added to boiling water, malt lends a golden brown colour to the bagel.

The other major difference seems to be the absence of egg wash after boiling in New York recipes compared to bagel recipes in the UK. Egg wash is typically brushed on products such as breads and pies to provide shine. Another recipe departure seems to be the use of baking soda to replace lye – a chemical used to make commercial soaps – as a common addition to the water in which bagels are boiled. Baking soda found in most New York recipes, is said to increase alkalinity of the water and impact the overall browning and crust texture of bagels during baking.

Finally, the fourth and most significant difference observed between recipes seems to be duration of fermentation practiced by bakers in New York and other parts of America versus the rest of the world. Fermentation of dough begins once it has been mixed and kneaded and allows the dough to strengthen while the added yeast convert sugars available – glucose, fructose and maltose – to carbon dioxide and other gases. Slow, cold fermentation and dough retardation help to build significant flavour profile of the dough. The cooler temperatures slow down yeast activity and activate heterofermentative bacteria resulting in enhanced flavour compounds that might be the secret to the New York bagel.

Beliefs surrounding the New York Bagel

There have been a number of quests in the media to discover the secret of the New York bagel. Balinksa highlights the return of the bagel to Poland as a result of its popularity in North America and compares it to the journey of a successful immigrant who returns home. The role of New York water in producing the perfect chewy and dense bagel seems to be the most popular and widespread belief among bagel purists. The mineral content of water has been shown to impact fermentation and strength of dough. Ideally water should be neither too soft nor too hard as hard water can make the dough too strong and elastic, whereas soft water makes dough slack and sticky. New York water is considered to be soft with lower levels of calcium and magnesium but there is not sufficient evidence to prove that this is what separates the pride of New York from the others. According to the American Chemical Society, while New York water does have an impact on bagels produced in the city, it is not as significant as other differentiating practices, such as long fermentation times, which enable the development of significant flavour profile, and boiling the bread before baking, which pre-gelatinises the starch expanding the crumb and creating a crust on the bread.

Another reason cited in the literature that might differentiate the New York bagel from other bagels is flash boiling. While boiling bagels is not unique to the American or New York recipe, it does seem to be an important step that is skipped and replaced with steam. Boiling bagels gelatinises the starch in the dough, which results in swelling of the starch molecules, breaking down the intermolecular bonds and allowing hydrogen bonds to form with all the available water. However, because this is done for a brief time (typically 30 seconds to 2 minutes) only a thin crust forms adding to the chewiness of bread, yet still allowing the bagels to rise later on in the oven heat.


It is difficult to say whether the New York bagel is truly a unique bread. While there do seem to be a few differences in the recipes used in New York and elsewhere, it is not clear whether these make the New York version of the bread distinct from bagels from other parts of the world. Slow and cold fermentation of the dough is certainly a distinct feature of the American recipes as are some other additions, such as malt and baking soda.

Source: Food Science And Technology

Experimental Blood Test Detects Cancer up to Four Years before Symptoms Appear

Rachel Nuwer wrote . . . . . . . . .

For years scientists have sought to create the ultimate cancer-screening test—one that can reliably detect a malignancy early, before tumor cells spread and when treatments are more effective. A new method reported today in Nature Communications brings researchers a step closer to that goal. By using a blood test, the international team was able to diagnose cancer long before symptoms appeared in nearly all the people it tested who went on to develop cancer.

“What we showed is: up to four years before these people walk into the hospital, there are already signatures in their blood that show they have cancer,” says Kun Zhang, a bioengineer at the University of California, San Diego, and a co-author of the study. “That’s never been done before.”

Past efforts to develop blood tests for cancer typically involved researchers collecting blood samples from people already diagnosed with the disease. They would then see if they could accurately detect malignant cells in those samples, usually by looking at genetic mutations, DNA methylation (chemical alterations to DNA) or specific blood proteins. “The best you can prove is whether your method is as good at detecting cancer as existing methods,” Zhang says. “You can never prove it’s better.”

In contrast, Zhang and his colleagues began collecting samples from people before they had any signs that they had cancer. In 2007 the researchers began recruiting more than 123,000 healthy individuals in Taizhou, China, to undergo annual health checks—an effort that required building a specialized warehouse to store the more than 1.6 million samples they eventually accrued. Around 1,000 participants developed cancer over the next 10 years.

Zhang and his colleagues focused on developing a test for five of the most common types of cancer: stomach, esophageal, colorectal, lung and liver malignancies. The test they developed, called PanSeer, detects methylation patterns in which a chemical group is added to DNA to alter genetic activity. Past studies have shown that abnormal methylation can signal various types of cancer, including pancreatic and colon cancer.

The PanSeer test works by isolating DNA from a blood sample and measuring DNA methylation at 500 locations previously identified as having the greatest chance of signaling the presence of cancer. A machine-learning algorithm compiles the findings into a single score that indicates a person’s likelihood of having the disease. The researchers tested blood samples from 191 participants who eventually developed cancer, paired with the same number of matching healthy individuals. They were able to detect cancer up to four years before symptoms appeared with roughly 90 percent accuracy and a 5 percent false-positive rate.

The new study “offers several interesting approaches in the quest for a blood-plasma-based cancer-screening test,” says Colin Pritchard, a molecular pathologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. It will be important, though, for another research team to independently validate the findings in a different group of people before the test can be considered for clinical use, he says.

Usha Menon, a professor of gynecological cancer at University College London, who also did not participate in the study, observes that Zhang and his colleagues’ method provides a robust, preliminary baseline test—an “essential first step” toward a commercial cancer-screening product. “The authors are not suggesting that they have a test that can be used clinically at this stage,” she says. “They are clear that what they have is a robust preliminary demonstration of early detection of multiple cancer types four years prior to conventional diagnosis.”

Most likely, such a test would first target high-risk populations, Menon says. And it would require devising a second panel of tests to enable clinicians to determine the specific cancer type and rule out false positives.

Zhang believes such a feature could be developed with more work, and he agrees that further studies are needed. Given the challenges in repeating an effort of this magnitude, a government-industry partnership, he says, would ideally undertake the follow-up research. An ideal test would target the most common cancers, as Zhang’s study did, as well as the deadliest ones. “There are cancers where early detection can make a really big difference,” he says. Pancreatic cancer, for example, is the next target Zhang and his colleagues are working on.

If and when cancer blood tests do become available, Pritchard warns, they probably will not be able to detect all cancers before they become symptomatic. “One cancer might have a very long lead time, where another is very short,” he says. “Cancers that grow very quickly might not be detected even if someone is, for example, doing an annual screening.” It’s possible, too, that some types of malignancies may never be detected by blood tests because they do not produce a measurable signal in blood plasma.

“We are still a ways away from having an accurate blood-based ‘pan-cancer’ screening test. But it is not impossible to achieve,” Pritchard says. “There are several large efforts underway, with some promise for the future.”

Source: Scientific American

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