When you’re invited to meet the Executive Chef at Bruegger’s Bagels, get an up-close viewing of the bagel-making process, and nosh on an array of bagels and cream cheeses, it’s hard to say no. To be honest, I wasn’t all that familiar with Bruegger’s Bagels until they hosted a blogger event last year. And it wasn’t until December, when I realized I had a coupon that needed to be used ASAP, that I had a true experience with their food and their service. I’m now smitten, and hoping someone opens one closer to me!
Bruegger’s Bagels invited a group of bloggers in for a media event to celebrate their 30th Anniversary. Philip Smith is the Corporate Executive Chef for the entire Bruegger’s Bagels line. It’s his responsibility (with his team) to come up with new flavors and recipes, to source ingredients and tools, and to help maintain the standard of quality that people expect. As you can see, Laurie Cates, one of their PR team members, and Philip were having a good time at the media event!
It was a little hard to concentrate surrounded by all of these yummy bagels.
Chef Philip explained a lot about how they choose and source ingredients, opting for high standards of quality. I recently wrote about the importance of remembering the people behind the products we use, and this was another great example. You may take it for granted that your cinnamon raisin bagel is delicious, but did you know that a significant effort goes into making sure you have a raisin in every bite? These people are passionate about their product. In addition to creating great products, Bruegger’s Bagels maintains a home-grown vibe. I love the sense of humor evidenced on the label of the Light Herb Garlic cream cheese container above.
Rosemary olive oil bites. I could live on these. I might try making some!
I thought I knew a lot about bagels. I understand the basics of making bread and how gluten works, and I’ve made bagels in the past. I learned a lot from Chef Philip about making bagels, though, and I might have to put it into action this week. Once we finish the bagels that Bruegger’s sent home with us, of course. Bruegger’s Bagels uses five core ingredients in their bagels: flour, water, barley malt, yeast, and salt. That part was familiar to me. What I did not know is that the best way to get the "egg shell crust" on the outside of the bagel is to refrigerate them for several days before boiling. Chef Philip was showing us how the outer crust on the bagel should "snap" when you crush it.
Here are the bagels in the refrigerator, awaiting their turn in the kettle "bath." They sit in the fridge for a couple of days while the yeast gets to work.
The Brugger’s Bagels location that we visited in Melrose, MA (thanks, guys!), has a team of just 10 people who make everything happen. This is John. He makes the bagels in Melrose. Philip explained that the bakers have to track all of the bagel inventory as it rotates in and out of the refrigerator, gets boiled, covered in toppings, and then baked. John has been doing this for about two years, but I thought he looked like he was born doing it.
The bagels are slid from the trays into the boiling kettle.
I chuckled at the warning on this pot of BOILING WATER, but then I saw John nearly stick his hand in to poke at a bagel. I should have asked him how many times he’s been burned, but I didn’t think of it at the time…
Chef Philip told us that cooking the bagels is truly an artisan process and that it takes practice to be able to see and feel when the bagels have been boiled and baked long enough. Here John is showing us how the bagels should be getting firm on the inside, but still be doughy on the inside when they come out of the water.
Out of the bath and ready for toppings…
Each one is hand-dipped in the appropriate toppings and then placed top-down on linen covered boards that have been soaked with water.
Ready for baking. They explained that they start out face down because they are eventually flipped off of the boards so both sides cook evenly.
Into the 400 degree oven. If you’re familiar with any kind of mass baking process, you’ll recognize these rotating ovens which allow for baking large numbers of items at a time.
New linen boards getting rinsed down for the next batch of bagels.
Would I stick my hand in a 400 degree oven to touch a bagel? Not likely. But John needs to touch the bagels to make sure they are cooked to his satisfaction.
Now the bagels are flipped off the boards so they can bake on the other side.
While we waited for our bagels to finish cooking, we got to sample some of Bruegger’s Bagels sandwiches. This is my favorite, the Herby Turkey. It has turkey and the Light Herb Garlic cream cheese, but it also has a sun-dried tomato spread that is divine. Sadly, they don’t/won’t sell the spread by itself…
Bruegger’s Bagels does, of course, sell a nice variety of cream cheeses, including some seasonal varieties like the fabulous Vermont Maple cream cheese. I brought a tub of that home and I don’t expect it to last very long! The cream cheeses at Bruegger’s come from Franklin Foods who has been making dairy products in Vermont for over a 100 years.
Chef Philip also shared a recipe with us for using bagels, especially those that may have started going stale. Bruegger’s Bagels have no preservatives and are best eaten within 3-4 hours of being baked! I didn’t sample the Smoked Salmon & Dill Strata, but it seemed to be a hit with everyone else. Brugger’s has a few recipes on their site, including a Cinnamon Raisin Bagel French Toast Casserole. Seriously.
I had the chance to ask Chef Philip about the lack of nuts in the bagel menu. I was wondering if it was by coincidence or deliberate choice. He gave me the answer food allergy parents (and sufferers) love to hear, "I could certainly make a great bagel with nuts, but I can also make them without." (OK, I paraphrased that a bit, but you get the idea!) While there are products served at Bruegger’s Bagels with peanuts and tree nuts (including peanut butter and sauces), none of the bagels have nuts in them. The cream cheeses are manufactured in a facility with tree nuts (in fact, Bruegger’s carries the Honey Walnut cream cheese), so you may need to avoid those. But if you’re serving brunch to your family, you can bring home a bundle of nut free bagels. I would just make the choice to slice them at home to avoid cross contamination and, of course, let your server know, so they can be extra careful in bagging your items.
And then the moment we were all waiting for… fresh out of the oven (literally), "our" bagels arrived. A hot bagel right out of the oven smeared with cream cheese? Yes, please!
But, of course, I did take a minute to snap some pictures to share with you first. Happy 30th Birthday to Bruegger’s Bagels!
Disclosure: This is a non-compensated post, but I did receive free samples and coupons. There was no promise of a positive review and the opinions contained in this post are my own.