“If water was the main thing that happened to a bagel that makes it great, there are about five bagel stores around my store here — they would make as good of a bagel as we make,” says Utopia Bagel shop co-owner Scott Spellman on the myth that New York City water is what gives its bagels the reputation as the best in the country.
“It’s what you do with the water. It’s how much water you put in, it’s how much, when you proof, [when] you let in the air,” Spellman says. “Those are the things that are not talked enough about… It’s those techniques that make our bagels what they are.” The wildly popular Queens, NY shop is famous for its fresh bagels with soft, airy dough and a crisp crust. Spellman attributes his shop’s notoriety to two things: Having skilled workers make bagels by hand, and keeping everything — from the ingredients, to the kettle, to the oven, to the baking techniques — the same as they were 40 years ago when the shop first opened.
Another element that Spellman believes is absolutely necessary to making a good bagel is hand-rolling the dough, versus having a machine create the round shape. A machine, he explains, pumps the dough over and over again, tightening it up. “It’s the rolling that really keeps it soft. And rollers are a dying breed…It’s not like there’s a school for bagel rollers,” he says standing over one of his employees, Henry, who has perfected the art of bagel rolling during his 27 years at the bakery.
“[For] any craft, making it by hand is special. It takes an individual to be at the top of his game to make it good,” Spellman says. “The one problem you’re going to have with my bagel, is once you eat it, you’re just not going to want any other bagel.”
Watch the full video to see more of what goes into Utopia Bagel’s process.