The first time I received notice that Rebelle Artisan Bagels was hosting a Bagel 101 Workshop was in the middle of Lent, and I promptly deleted the email because it was too torturous to fathom: I’d given up eating yeast, sugar, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, meat, fish and fried food for 40 days, and even the picture of 10 people gathered around a metal table with a slab of uncooked dough between them was enough to make me drool.
Shortly after Easter, when I was back to my normal diet of “No Carb Left Behind,” I was interviewed by the You Can Do It Do It (YCDIDI) podcast. (I’m going to take this moment to shamelessly promote their podcast — not only for myself, but also because you’ll find Milena Pagan, the owner of Rebelle, among their episode list.) It was during the pre-interview that one of the podcasters asked me if I’d attended the Bagel 101 Workshop because if not, I needed to do so ASAP. “It’s incredible,” he said. “You should do it (do it).”
Thus, when the June Newsletter landed in my inbox, I signed up immediately. The spots are capped at 12 people per workshop, and I decided to be adventurous and sign up solo, mostly because the fewer people witnessing my culinary skills, the better.
It was a hot June day when I arrived wearing long pants and closed toed shoes (as instructed), with my hair pulled back. At first I was afraid the workshop wasn’t at the store on Doyle because the doors were locked, the lights were off and I didn’t see anyone else. I walked slowly around the building looking for a second entrance, aware of how much I resembled a burglar, but thankfully by the time I returned to the front door, there was light coming from the kitchen and someone was there to let people in.
We washed our hands, and once inside the kitchen, we were greeted by a happy assortment of chilled IPAs. (We also could choose from tea, lemonade, ice water, etc.). Our group consisted of a healthy mix of men and women, ranging in age from mid-20s to 70. We were given an apron and a nametag, and then we went around the room introducing ourselves and naming our favorite type of bagel.
Our fearless leaders, Michele and Molly, talked us through each stage of production. They’d already measured out a giant pickle-barrel’s worth of the flour, sugar, water and yeast we would need, and filled an industrial- sized mixer with the ingredients. As the mixer kneaded the dough for us, we learned some of the secrets that make Rebelle’s bagels different from other bagels. When people started asking questions about how to make their own high-gluten flour and the significance of Diamond kosher salt as opposed to other types of kosher salt, I realized this was not my typical peanut-butter-and-jelly crowd.
We let the dough sit, continuing Q&As, and then Molly demonstrated how to cut bagel-sized portions using a small sharp knife while Michele ran the rest of the dough through a super impressive cutter; not only did it divide the dough into 18 evenly sized pieces in a microsecond, but it also made it look like artwork. Then the real fun began: shaping the dough into bagels.
There’s definitely an art to it, and Michele and Molly made it look easy — the advantage of hand rolling thousands of bagels per day. This was the point in which I began to feel like a real baker. After making eight or so, I was ready for a victory swig of my drink and a break. As a group, we completed two large greased pans’ worth of bagels, but it’s likely only half of the ones we shaped could pass for sellable bagels.
Then came the boiling, topping and baking. Based on our favorite types of bagels, which we stated in our intros, Molly filled giant pans with onions, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and “everything.” While the bagels were still hot from the boil, we plopped them into the trays, coating them, working as quickly as possible so the toppings would stick. This was where I excelled, as I appear to have lost all sensation in my fingertips for reasons unknown. Then, the bagels baked.
The whole experience took only a couple of hours, and we left with a half dozen beautiful (and delicious) creations, and a laminated recipe sheet so we can make these at home. While this was perhaps the true intention behind the workshop — learn to make artisan bagels for yourself! — there is something to be said for people like me who will likely never go forward and produce their own bagels: I now have a greater appreciation for something so seemingly simple as a plain breakfast bagel. Each item here is handcrafted and thoughtfully produced, and in a world where robots are becoming production assistants, it’s nice to know where I can find some heart and soul behind the process.
Rebelle’s next Bagel 101 Workshops are set for July 7 and July 14. Sign up online for their newsletter to learn about future events, and I highly recommend the experience, whether you’re a chef, a baker or a simply bagel enjoyer.
Rebelle Artisan Bagels: 110 Doyle Ave, PVD; Sign up for their newsletter: rebelleartisanbagels.com; Follow: @rebelleartisanbagels