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The Art and Mastery of the Wondrous Wood-Fired Oven

A Closer Look at the Cornerstone of Spread’s Success – A Main Ingredient That’s Often Overlooked

 
You can’t take a deep dive into the world of artisanal baking, without talking a close look at the wood-fired oven, which stands alone as a legendary symbol of tradition, craftsmanship, and unparalleled flavor and texture. Bagel connoisseurs around the globe tend to be vocally passionate about the unique qualities of bagels baked lovingly among the flames and embers. In this post, we delve into the art and science behind this methodology exploring its unmatched qualities and the reasons why the practice resonates with award-winning bakers and foodies/influencers in-the-know alike.

The allure and mystique of wood-fired ovens can be found in their historic roots. Dating back centuries, these beloved ovens have been used to bake various goods, including bagels. By opting for this method, bakers connect with the rich culinary heritage, preserving ancient techniques that have been passed down through generations. The first ovens date back to the earliest period of human history, the time of the first permanent human settlements. The oven developed with the first food humans knew how to cook: grilled cereals, then flatbreads and finally leavened bread. Leavened bread is said to have been invented by accident some 5000-6000 years ago in the Near East. The anecdote goes that flatbread dough, which had been put aside for some time, began to naturally ferment, and rise before it was cooked. Since then, through different periods and cultures far and wide, humans have continuously improved techniques for baking a variety of breads eventually creating the wood-oven we know today. From a primitive past to a modernized method, the visual lure to onlookers has not changed.


One of the primary reasons why bagels baked in a wood-fired oven reign supreme is the unmistaken desirable taste that is a bi-product of ingenuity. The combination of the warmth of the wood and the unique curved architecture of the oven delivers a distinctive smoky essence, enhancing the flavor profile of the bagels throughout. This aromatic quality simply cannot be replicated in modern electric or gas ovens.


Wood-fired ovens are known for their ability to generate intense heat pretty quickly. The high temperatures promote rapid oven spring, giving the bagels their characteristic chewy exterior and a soft, fluffy interior. Achieving this perfect texture can be tricky in conventional ovens, making wood-fired baking the preferred choice for devoted bagel aficionados.

“I’d say that our wood-oven is really our main ingredient,” confides Brooks Tanner, Spread’s COO. “It’s at the center of everything we do, and we just wouldn’t be Spread without it. That being said, our bakers are truly our heroes who are incredibly faithful to their craft. They’re constantly on a mission to perfect the process and wrangle the flames which can be challenging at times,” he added.


Wood-fired ovens excel in distributing heat evenly throughout the baking chamber. This uniform heat distribution ensures consistent baking, preventing any undercooked or overcooked areas on the bagels. The result is a batch of bagels that are uniformly golden, visually provocative and enjoyed by those who are willing to wait a bit longer for perfection.


Steam plays a vital role in the bagel baking process. Wood-fired ovens produce natural steam from the moisture in the burning wood, creating a humid environment within the oven. This steam production aids in crust formation, giving bagels their characteristic shiny and crispy exterior.


Choosing wood-fired over gas or electric ovens can contribute to environmental conservation. Wood is a renewable resource, and many ovens are designed to be highly efficient, minimizing emissions and reducing the overall carbon footprint of the baking process. At Spread, we’re proud of this attribute. We are conscientious not only about our equipment but also our packaging as well. It’s part of our initative to be kind to the environment and thoughtful when we procure food and non-food items for our locations.


Achieving the perfect bagel crust is a hallmark of a skilled baker. Baker training at Spread is rigorous and challenging, but also quite rewarding. Wood-fired ovens, with their intense heat and steam production, enable master bakers to harness a crust that strikes the ideal balance between good crisp and satisfying chew. The crust forms rather quickly, sealing in moisture and ensuring the bagels retain their freshness for longer. But don’t be fooled, our bagels don’t have a long shelf-life. In fact, our bagels are best enjoyed right out of the oven.


While bagels are the stars of the show, Spread’s wood-fired ovens are also the secret behind our tender brisket, and they also are responsible for making a great grilled cheese and pizza bagel unlike any other!

To toast or not to toast? We say no. Here’s where science comes in. Toasting actually removes the exciting contrast between the thin, crackly exterior and the chewy, dense center. Toasting a bagel might also change the flavor of exterior ingredients like sesame seeds, garlic, and onion. A subtle smokiness is good, but an over-char can be bitter and/or have a unwelcome burnt taste. We feel that a fresh bagel should never be toasted, but slicing and then toasting is a good option for a day-old bagel that needs a bit of TLC. But if you must toast, please indulge…we won’t judge!


Baking bagels in a wood-fired oven is an art form that brings together tradition, skill, and an undeniable appreciation for exceptional flavor. Many customers tell us that the wood-oven element in our stores evokes a hominess and a welcoming comfort which contributes to the Spread vibe.

The amalgamation of heritage, authenticity, and tried-and-true dough recipes makes wood-fired bagel baking a choice that sets itself apart in the world of baking. Watching a skilled baker paddle piping hot bagels out of the oven is entertaining, but also informative. It’s an immersive experience that tells our guests exactly when the bagel was baked, how it was baked and by whom. This is a distinctive differentiator at Spread and one that everyone enjoys. From the young, to the young-at-heart, our goal is to spread joy (and a little magic) one bagel at a time.