100-YEAR OLD TRADITION OF BAGEL-MAKING THRIVES IN OAKHURST: HOT BAGEL BAKERY + THE 3 SECRETS TO A PERFECT BAGEL
Proof the delicious tradition of artisan bagel-making can be found at the incredible Hot Bagel Bakery in Oakhurst. With almost 35 million bagels served to probably 100,000 fans since the bakery’s founding, this family-run business – morphing sculpture with precise chemistry – is a local treasure.
In 1979, brothers Dan and John Grimes moved to the Jersey Shore to learn the art of bagel making from their cousin and a former member of the Bagel Bakers Local 338, the New York City union founded in 1900 that oversaw the handmade bagel process for 50 years. Until the late-1950’s, only chosen members of the union were taught the strict standards and practices to hand-making a true bagel.
Like the ones found at the Grimes’ bakery.
What is the secret to a perfect bagel, each one a handmade work of art? Is it the water, flour or yeast? The debate can end here. Actually, it’s a closely-held combination of all of the above as well as wood, precise timing, machinery and the intangible that the Grimes family simply knows after 37 years.
“The process we use for making our bagels is identical to the way it was done 100 years ago,” said Dan Grimes, co-owner. “It’s a combination of a lot of small old-fashioned touches that we bring together to create our bagel. We use the same type of machine to mix the flour that we did when we opened our doors and every bagel is stretched by hand. The hand stretch is what gives our bagels a crust that you can’t find anywhere else.”
Bite into the perfectly chewy crust to reveal the dense, soft inside and the difference is deliciously clear. The Hot Bagel Bakery’s top seller is the classic plain bagel, followed closely by egg and then everything. Cinnamon raisin (a “newer” flavor introduced about 25 years ago), whole wheat and sesame. My personal favorite is a toasted egg everything bagel, topped with the perfect Grimes mix sesame, poppy, salt, garlic and onion.
The Difference Isn’t Just the Dough
“We use the best flour available and mix it for a precise amount of time depending on humidity and other factors,” said John Grimes, co-owner. “Sometimes we tweak the recipe by the day, sometimes by the season. Being near the ocean creates variables in how we prepare the dough.”
Dough is made 300 pounds at a time and quickly hand-rolled by the Grimes brothers and their children Patrick, Jessica, Dave and Kyle. Thirty seconds or a minute could mean the difference between a perfect bagel and one that’s not up to the family’s standards.
Overall, a Hot Bagel Bakery bagel takes three to four times as long to make than most others.
“Our proofing system – the natural chemical reaction between the yeast and the flour – for the dough takes days, not hours like other places,” said Dan Grimes. “Each step in the way we develop the dough is critical and results in a better – some say the best – bagel. It makes an important difference in the taste.”
After the proofing process is complete, the bagels are boiled and then immediately baked on hand-cut, aged, rare wood boards wrapped in burlap that are rotated out of use every six months.
Technology in the 1960’s introduced by the Lender’s Company created the opportunity eliminate steps or speed up the bagel making process. Most mass-produced bagels are steamed instead of boiled and proofed for hours instead of days, resulting in a product more resembling a roll than an artisan bagel.
The most challenging bagel to make is the cinnamon raisin because the main ingredient’s variables impact the natural leavening process.
“We found that the oil potency of the Indonesian cinnamon we were using was affecting the yeast,” said Dan Grimes. “For any batch of dough, we can tell within three minutes if everything is up to our standards.”
Since its founding, the Hot Bagel Bakery has been certified kosher under the supervision of the Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate charity.
“If you looked at a photo of our bakery from thirty five years ago it would look almost identical to what you see today,” said John Grimes. “We have the same types of machines, tools, ingredients and hand-made process. Most businesses are looking for ways to change and cut corners. We are doing everything we can to stay the same. Our family takes pride in offering a product that remains pure to its original roots.”