Tuesday, March 2, 2010

we're not going to talk about judy at all


I can't yet tell you how to make bagels.  I'm working on that.  These aren't perfect.  There was some weird pocking in the first pan's worth (see the back row, third bagel from the left), resulting in uncooked bits of bagel below the topping, which seems to have been corrected in the second pan's, because I flipped the bagels halfway through.  Because I used so many "this is what I have in the house" substitutions for these bagels (notice there are black sesame seeds instead of regular, and I used pizza flour!), I wouldn't want to share this recipe with you.

If you haven't been to the northeast, it's very possible you haven't had a real bagel. They're not impossible to find -- both Bloomington, Indiana, and New Orleans had real bagel joints -- but you won't necessarily know them if you don't know what you're looking for.  Just because a chain is a bakery or carries bagels doesn't mean they have real bagels, for instance -- as far as I can tell, Panera doesn't boil theirs, and the fact that their bagel flavors skew so heavily towards ridiculous nonsense like "French toast bagels" says a lot about how they see the bagel, as basically a short yeast-raised muffin.

Aside from the fact that French toast isn't a fucking bagel flavor, here is the thing about bagels: they must, they must, be boiled before they are baked.  This is the defining characteristic, and it's the one generally neglected.  Magic tapwater doesn't matter, though ideally the boiling water should be alkalized with lye or baking soda, and should have malt syrup added (I used a bottle of beer).

Bagels are really about texture: the outside has a well-defined crust which, unlike the crust of many loaves of bread, is incapable of flaking off; the inside is chewy and dense, not light and bready.  A bagel is completely and absolutely inappropriate for a hamburger -- that's just physics -- and for most any sandwich apart from the classic lox and cream cheese.  The bite necessary to carry your teeth through a bagel would compress a sandwich and shoot its contents out the other end.  Peanut butter and jelly, sure, that's fine.  Roast beef?  Yeah, I ordered the roast beef from Bruegger's plenty of times, and it was a mistake.  Bagel sandwiches are just dumb marketing.  They're unnecessary.  They're plenty filling and plenty caloric with just the cream cheese, you don't need to dress them up much to turn them into lunch.

When I ordered belly lox from Russ & Daughters, I froze most of it, separated by pieces of parchment paper to make it easy to thaw small portions at a time.  This is why, the classic combination of salt and fat and carbs:

Bagel, creme fraiche, dill pollen, belly lox

That's creme fraiche instead of cream cheese.  I'm out of cream cheese, and the truth is, Philadelphia-brand cream cheese isn't very good for bagels, but is my only supermarket option.  So I figured I would give creme fraiche -- made by heating cream to just-warm (90 degrees or so), stirring in active yogurt, and letting it sit in a warm place for a couple days -- a whirl.  That's dill pollen on top.

The color of the photo is correct, by the way.  I made the creme fraiche with pasteurized cream instead of ultrapasteurized.  Ultrapasteurized cream is paper-white and tastes like supermarket milk but thicker; pasteurized cream is cream-colored and tastes like cream.  It's hard to find, but Whole Foods had it, for a pretty penny.


  1. Like many, I'm of the opinion that bacon makes everything better. When I was in college near New York City, I would get a bagel, spread some cream cheese on both sides, and then smoosh some crispy bacon slices (which would break up well enough into pieces to make it work) or pieces (and real bacon pieces, not bacon bits) between the two sides. Not great for the cholesterol, by my mouth sang. I imagine you'd fancy it up a bit, but it was one of the few things that worked as a bagel sandwich with real bagels.

  2. An interesting read. I like that you have a great knowledge of bagels. I work for Bruegger's and am proud that we are the only national bagel chain that offer's the only boiled, then baked bagel. I do get that sandwiches are hard to eat on a bagel but certainly not that hard. Have you tried our softwich? I know, i know, it's not a round shape. However, same dough, same boiling process, same baking process and perfect for a sandwich. Hence the quirky name.

    Also, I'm trying your idea to use creme fraiche on my weekly bagel. Sounds delicious. -Holly

  3. Holly - I LOVE Brueggers. When I lived in Massachusetts, I lived across the street from one and got a bagel with cream cheese almost every day.

    I think the veggie sandwich works, I just don't think bagels lend themselves to sandwiches otherwise -- but I don't think they need to, either! I think the things that are good about bagels are exactly the things that make them not work as a sandwich bread. It's all about that texture and chew, everything the supermarket bagels lack. That said, I haven't had the softwich.

    Alan - you're right, bacon would work! It's really when you try to layer on deli meats that the sandwich doesn't work, I think.

  4. My secret diary... there are pages missing.