Thursday, February 9, 2023

Isaac’s Bagels: An Appreciation

I got to know Isaac Henrion his second week distributing bagels at the Burch Ave community garden. I introduced myself, him in his trademark leather jacket, bandana, and occasionally incomprehensible UK accent. Thinking I was out to compete with him, he was suspicious of my interest in his business, and his bagels. What he later learned was that it was actually an obsessive interest in bagels and baking that made the connection.

From that time on, we would periodically meet to discuss his business prospects and his strategy leading to his hoped-for bricks and mortar.  As a more seasoned baker and entrepreneur, I gave him what advice I had, and counseled him to keep his head up in the short down period between the end of the Queeny’s residency and his entry to the Durham Farmer’s market. I also got to bake with him one morning at the commissary, which was good fun (he lost his van keys in walk-in right before market lol). Now, with a storefront being built, I think it would only be fitting to this blog to run through the things I think his bagels do very well. Controlling the variables of any bake process is very hard, and especially bagels, since the boil creates a multi-step cook/bake where many things can go wrong for a novice. It is expensive and more time-consuming the way he does it, but I think it’s completely worth it. These bagels are better than your typical New York bagel, which I find to be satisfying, but generally too squishy, over-sweetened, and underfermented.

1. He uses a special method to pre-hydrate part of the flour, leading to moist, supple, dense crumb.  
2. He uses copious liquid sweetener in the boil to give the crust the requisite sheen and caramelization.  
3. He doesn’t skimp on seeding, seeding both sides of the bagel completely.  
4. He uses a long fermentation process to yield maximum flavor.  
5. He uses a proprietary flour containing whole wheat that gives the bagels more depth of flavor than your typical all hi-gluten white-flour variety.
6. He has an excellent everything bagel mix, and uses high quality rock salt.
7. All bagels are rolled by hand.