Q: If we accept the
significance of the water in bagel making,
at which step does the water matter most: in
mixing the dough, in boiling the bagels, or
A: Maybe it’s a cop-out to say both, but
both it is — in the making of the dough
water is important because there is less of
it in relation to the flour than in ordinary
bread, and of course the boiling is
all-important to retaining the bagel’s shape
and — by gelatinizing the starch on the
surface — to creating the distinctive glossy
crust. As to whether New York City water is
the all-important ingredient — the bread
scientists I consulted were not convinced.
Q: In other countries, I’ve seen street
vendors carrying bagels on long poles —
which would explain the need for a hole. In
New York, I’ve never seen this. Why, then,
maintain such a design?
A: It is the other way round: the
poles are needed because of the hole! I have
seen pictures from the beginning of the 20th
century of baskets like these in New York.
And in fact until the ’70s, bagels were
distributed on rope or string from the
wholesale cellar bakeries around the city to
delis and supermarkets.
As to why the hole in the first place: It
allows the bagel to cook faster, since there
is a greater surface area for the volume of
dough. It also means that you get more crust
for the same amount of dough. And then there
is the intrinsic attraction of the ring
shape. It’s a draw for children, both
because it is easy to grasp and because you
can play with it.
And the hole itself has intimations of
eternity in the way it goes from being a
finite space in the middle of the dough to
an infinite space once you have finished
eating the bagel! Heady stuff.
Q: Is a toasted bagel more popular than
the untoasted bagel? When were bagels first
sliced and ingredients placed in the middle
akin to a bread sandwich? I can’t get my
mouth around some of the monster-size bagels
being produced these days, but I’ve given
some to my daughters as bracelets, and after
a day they do quite well as such as long as
it doesn’t rain!!!
A: These days I get the impression
that people reach for their toaster even
with fresh bagels — which is a shame.
Toasting day-old bagels, on the other hand,
makes all the difference In the days before
toasters and fluffy bagels, the only way to
deal with stale bagels was to dip them in
tea or some other beverage.
Like the bagel bracelets — you could always
shellac them to keep them from going soggy
in the rain. In the 1970s, you could have
picked up shellacked bagel jewelry in
Q: Regarding why bagels are round —
perhaps they were indeed hawked on poles by
bakers at the market; I’ve heard that the
word “bagel” is Yiddish for bangle. As to
the bialy — they hail from the town of
Bialystok. As to cinnamon, blueberry, bacon
bagels and the like — grounds for jail time.
Some crimes against cuisine must be stopped!
A: They were indeed hawked on poles
and on ropes, at the market and on street
corners. Lots of pictures and words to
confirm. The word bagel comes from the
Yiddish beigen, which means to bend.
Q: What is an objective set of standards
for judging bagels? (I.e., not the circular
logic of “The best bagels come from New York
City because New York City makes the best
bagels.”) Where would those objective
standards come from?
A: Everyone has his or her own
particular standards, but for me the crust
has to be shiny and crunchy; the inside
consistency chewy and slightly damp; the
taste should be yeasty with a tangy bite,
and the overall effect of eating a bagel
should be that you feel like a stone has
landed in your stomach — in the best
possible way, of course.
Q: In my opinion, H & H and Ess-a-Bagel
dominate the New York City bagel scene.
After numerous attempts at homemade bagels,
I can’t come close to replicating the
perfect ratio of crusty outside to fluffy
inside (using the traditional boil and bake
method along with many others). I’m a
decently skilled chef, and the bagel is the
one item that I always seem to duff. …
What’s the secret to perfect homemade
A: One thing I would try is
“retardation,” or the process of stopping
the dough from rising by putting it in cold
area (a fridge or pantry if it’s
fall/winter) before you let it rise and then
boil and bake. I have been told that this is
what gives the crust its heft and also the
taste its bite, since the process of
retarding the dough creates lactic acids.
See what you think!
Q: Do you have a favorite bagel
A: We used to buy day-old bagels.
They were so hard we had to hammer the
butter on. Then my uncle came up with a
brilliant idea. He went to Israel and made a
fortune selling Cheerios as bagel seeds. If
you believe either of the previous, there’s
some border property along the Golan Heights
I’d like to sell you.