Deep underground in Oakland, CA, a bespectacled scientist is hard at work on his latest and greatest experiment. As soon as he gets home from his day job at a local seafood restaurant, he gets straight to isolating variables and testing the effects of black-body radiation, conductive and radiated heat transfer, and varying levels of corrosive chemicals. The scientific masterpiece he’s hard at work on?
The perfect bagel, that is — expertly engineered to have the ideal combination of bagel attributes: a crispy exterior and soft, chewy interior; a strong, doughy flavor; and a golden-brown surface. Using the kind of careful calculations more often found in the lab than the kitchen, Dan Graf has been laboring to create this ideal bagel. And his exacting method has paid off.
Graf’s bagels are slowly crushing the local California competition and giving the storied bagels of New York a run for their money. Graf’s one-man baking company, Baron Baking, now has three San Francisco Bay Area restaurant clients and is getting a lot of buzz in the local press. But Graf didn’t get into the bagel biz for fame and glory — he just harbored a nerdy fascination with the whole process and a determination to engineer a better bagel.
Scouring online scientific forums and studies, Graf focused on a chemistry-based approach to bagel making, rather than a recipe-based one. Two features of his top-secret method include an extended, double-stage fermentation stage that allows the dough to develop a rich flavor and the addition of lye to the water in which the bagels are boiled. Small amounts of this corrosive chemical augment the water’s pH level, yielding a crispier, browner crust. The end product is a slightly crunchier, richer version of an East Coast bagel — a version that’s been called “perfect” and is gaining quite the legion of devotees on Chowhound and beyond.
As with any company looking to succeed in the relatively cut-throat world of bagel-making, Baron Baking knows sound science is only half of the equation — to survive, it needs a fierce, proud attitude and a manifesto to match. “Not only can good bagels be made in California (it’s not the water), but we feel our bagels are better than most places back East,” the website proclaims. “We may not be what you remember as the perfect bagel, but we plan to change that.”