Bagels were my first food love. On her living room mantel, my mom still has a picture of a 2-year old me, high-chair bound, trying to gum through a round. Almost every one of my breakfasts since that photo was taken – especially the ones after all my teeth came in – has consisted of a sesame bagel, un-toasted if fresh, topped with plain whipped cream cheese.
It all started with Montreal bagels. I was weaned on them during my early childhood in Canada: wood-fired, slightly sweet, crispy on the outside, dense and chewy on the inside. My family moved to Boston when I was in grade school and my good fortune continued as we settled close to Rosenfeld’s bagels (no relation) in Newton Center. Life is good when you’ve got a little chore money in your pocket and an iconic bagelry within walking distance.
When my co-founder, Jon Olinto, and I began dreaming about growing our own wheat and milling our own flour, bagels were definitely one of the first items we wanted to serve up. And now that One Mighty Mill is a reality—we are open for business in Lynn, MA!—I couldn't be more excited to bring our bagels – inspired by our favorite bakeries in Montreal, NY, and Boston – to the area.
Baking is not for dabblers. It’s a craft in the truest sense. I have spent my whole life cooking: I apprenticed in kitchens in Italy for a year, cooked at high-end restaurants in Boston in my 20’s, and then Jon and I co-founded B.GOOD, a chain of fast-casual, farm-to-table eateries on the East Coast, Canada, and Europe. But little of my lifetime in food focused on the nuance and precision of bread-making.
So I have been working hard to catch up, working feverishly on bread formulas, calling up baking friends at all hours of the night, and even venturing over to France for a bread course at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Though Jon and I might be new to the wheat game, we are committed to honoring time-worn tradition for our breads and baked goods: simple doughs (made of little beyond house milled flour, filtered water, and yeast), slow fermentation, hand-shaping, and stone-hearth baking.
The process for making our bagels follows these tenets. Every Monday, the wheat that’s grown at our partner farm in Linneus, ME, is delivered. And every day, starting at 5 am, we start milling. It’s mesmerizing to watch our custom mill do its thing: two 1200-pound slabs of Vermont granite grinding hard wheatberries into fluffy flour.
The flour we mill is very different than what you’d find in most bagels. Commercial bakeries generally use high-gluten flour that’s been stripped of its germ and bran. It’s resilient stuff; you can flip, twist and fold it however you like. But nutritionally it’s suspect. Our whole-wheat flour retains the fiber-rich bran and nutrient-dense germ. Because of this, it can be a little temperamental. A whole lotta love and care goes into making sure it rises nicely and bakes perfectly. But it tastes pretty wonderful and it rewards you with all the vitamins and minerals fresh milled wheat has always promised.
After milling the flour, the baking team and I start making the dough. We first create a loose dough of fresh milled flour, water, and yeast (a pre-ferment as it were) in one of our big mixers. We let that sit for 8 hours to develop depth of flavor. Then we add in local honey, organic barley malt, and some more flour to create the finished dough. After kneading the dough by hand, we use a combination of a former and our hands to shape 4-ounce balls into bagels.
Next, we ferment the bagels for 24 hours in a proofer, a big aluminum structure that creates an ideal environment for the bagels to both rise and to continue develop flavor. Bonus: the longer the dough ferments, the more nutritious it becomes. Fermentation helps increase bread’s foliate levels and makes it easier to digest. In commercial bakeries, speed is essential. So, most big bread companies skip the fermentation step which is another reason why their baked goods may land in your stomach like a cement block.
Finally, it’s time to bake. Before the bagels hit the oven, we give them a 1-minute boil in a steam kettle to give them a glossy exterior and chewy crumb. Then it’s on to our deck oven where the bagels bake on heavy Italian stones for 20 minutes or so until they crisp and brown. And that’s it!
Over time, we are going to work on making a whole lot of things with wheat. And I will write more about these in the coming weeks and months. But, for now, I encourage you to come to OMM in Lynn and try our bagels for yourself. A whole lot of passion and fresh milled flour goes into each one of these babies. I hope you love them as much as we do.