© K Martinko — A basket of fresh-baked bagels

When a pizza oven has enough leftover heat to bake other foods the next day, why not start a second business?

Nestled in the village of Dorset, Ontario, right on the boundary between Muskoka and Haliburton counties, is a wood-fired pizza company called Pizza On Earth. It was founded by my sister Sarah Jane seven years ago as a small summer business, but has grown into a successful seasonal company that churns out over 100 gourmet pizzas daily and garners rave reviews from countless returning customers.

After spending part of the year working as a bagel-maker at the European-style Georgestown Bakery in St. John’s, Newfoundland, my sister added fresh bagels to the pizza shop menu this summer season. Because I’m visiting for several days and am new to the bagel-making operation, Sarah Jane gave me a tour, which you can see in the pictures below.

© K Martinko — Johnny and Jessica shape the bagels by hand.

The bagels are baked in the morning using the residual heat in the oven from the previous evening’s pizza-making; this means that they’re essentially baked with waste heat, no new wood required. I am fascinated by this idea of creating a second business of bagel-making from almost no new inputs; it reminds me a bit of nose-to-tail or root-to-shoot cooking in that does its best to incorporate every piece of the puzzle into the finished product.

© K Martinko — This two-year-old pizza oven, built by my father, is named Etna. It’s held at 750F the night before for pizza-making, and is still at 450 F by morning, which is perfect for bagels.

The slow-fermented dough is started two days in advance in the form of a sourdough poolish (starter), which adds depth of flavor. One day before, a yeasted bagel dough is prepared and combined with the poolish.

There are two types of bagels, Sarah Jane explained. These are Montreal-style bagels, which means they’re rolled out as a rope and coiled into a circle, then boiled in brown sugar water to add a touch of sweetness and chewiness. The other kind of bagels (available in conventional bakeries and grocery stores) are usually made by shaping a round, bun-like piece of dough and punching a hole in the middle. These are not boiled and have a fluffier texture.

© K Martinko — Shaped bagels await the pot of boiling water © K Martinko — The bagels boil for 90 seconds in a sugar-water mixture.

While still wet from boiling, the bagels are tossed in sesame or poppy seeds or left plain. Then they’re baked in the oven, which measures 450 F, despite it being more than 12 hours since the last pizza came out.

Sarah Jane said it would be “much cooler” to bake the bagels directly on the stone floor of the oven and lamented her use of a baking pan, but said it’s for ease of flipping for perfect brownness – and to contain the seed mess.

© K Martinko — The final product, ready to be eaten!

She told me she read somewhere that bagels were invented in Poland many years ago for women to bite down on to help cope with the pain of childbirth. Whether that’s accurate or not, I suppose we’ll never know, but if those original Polish bagels were as delicious as these, I do not doubt they gave those laboring women something to look forward to (aside from their infant’s impending arrival, of course).

A visitor last week presented himself as an "expert bagel assessor" who believes that the best bagel store in the world is in Melbourne, Australia. After sampling a bagel my sister handed him and consulting with fellow travellers, he told her, "The best bagels in the world come from Melbourne… and yours are every bit as good!"

It’s only been a week since bagels joined pizza on the menu, but already Sarah Jane can’t keep 10 dozen in their baskets; they sell like hotcakes or… hot bagels, rather. And, as if she doesn’t have enough on her hands, she throws in the occasional batch of almond or orange-buttermilk scones, too, all baking in the residual warmth of the wood fire.

© K Martinko — My mid-morning treat