Bagels made the old-fashioned way

For the bagel connoisseur, there is nothing like the crunchy outside and the dense, slightly moist, texture of a freshly baked bagel. But they are becoming harder and harder to find. What passes for a bagel in most food establishments is basically a roll with a hole in the middle. Big difference. To find out why, I ventured behind the counter of my local bagel shop.

Rosenfeld’s Bagels first opened in 1972. At the time, there were many more small, individually owned bakeries in the Boston area. “It was before all the chains,” recalls owner/bagel baker Mike Lombardo, who started working at Rosenfeld’s twenty-one years ago. He has been there ever since.

Rosenfeld’s is small. There is hardly any room for the customer to stand in line to buy bagels or pick up a quart of cream cheese. Unlike chain eateries, there is no room to sit and eat. Newton has a large Jewish population and Rosenfeld’s does a brisk business. “Friday is a more religious crowd,” Mike tells me. “The Kosher people come here all the time but because of the Sabbath you have people buying challahs. It’s a very community oriented place.”

Though he himself is not Jewish, Mike and his wife Jennifer run a kosher bagel shop, with oversight by an orthodox rabbi. The bagels do not come in contact with any meat or dairy products. On Fridays, a blue tarp is draped over areas separating the bagel making area from any utensils, mixing bowls involved in making cream cheese.

A place must really be set up to do bagels, which are a specialty item. “I learned how do make bagels from somebody who learned how to do it from people who learned how to do it in Eastern Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.” Here at Rosenfeld’s, the bagels are made the way they traditionally have been made for centuries: Bagel dough is boiled before being baked. No shortening is used (traditionally, bagels are made without any shortening). The only ingredients are high-gluten flour, water, salt, malt syrup, and yeast. Once the bagels are formed, they must “rest” for 24 hours. This allows them to rise slowly in a refrigerated environment.

A critical step is boiling the bagels before baking them.

The last step is baking the bagels in the oven. This being a kosher place, the oven has been lit by an orthodox rabbi.

“The beauty of bagels as a bakery item is once they are baked, they’re done.” No laborious icing or decoration need be done.

Mike makes the distinction that athough the entire process of producing bagels is simple, it is not easy to do. “There are ample opportunities to screw things up at every step.”

So, next time you order a bagel at Dunkin Donuts or grab a bag of frozen bagels at the grocery store, keep in mind that they are mass-produced offsite, shortening has been added to the dough because it is so heavily machined, and they haven’t taken that obligatory dunk in boiling water before being baked. Ignorance is bliss. Once you’ve tasted a real bagel, there’s no going back.

All photos by Maggie Holtzberg. Rosenfeld’s Bagels is located at 1280 Centre Street, Newton Centre, MA. 617-527-8080