Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In search of the perfect Bagel- tuesday tirade

Growing up in New York, there are two things I learned at an early age. One, how to avoid falling into an open Manhole, and Two, what constitutes the perfect bagel. I am totally a bagel snob too... with a strict criteria about what separates a bagel from a "roll with a hole". When I moved to New Orleans, I sadly found out that not all of America was as discerning in their Bagel needs as I was. (The same held true for pizza, but that's a rant for a later date, I think.)

The bagel is a Polish invention. It was brought to the United States sometime before WWI by Polish-Jews getting out of Europe while the getting was good, which is why the bagel is so heavily identified with the Jewish-American culture. In New York City, a Bagel Bakers union formed to ensure hand made quality in all the Bagel bakeries in  the city. The Lenders baking company worked out an automated system for producing frozen 'bagels' in the 60's and introduced the things to the rest of the country, allowing housewives in middle America to think that they were spicing up their breakfast routine with these weird ethnic rolls that were almost but not completely, unlike bagels in every measurable sense.

A good Bagel (capital B) is all about the texture. it should ideally be like a soft pretzel without the salt... Chewy on the inside, the skin just a little tough, but not so much that dipping it in coffee won't soften it. A real bagel is boiled first in a brine of the purest water you can find (although it has been rumored that NYC tap water is special somehow, any sufficiently pure water will yield the same results) mixed with kosher salt and barley malt. then you pull it out of the brine and bake it. If it isn't boiled, it doesn't matter how good your bread recipe is, it's just a roll with a hole. I also know that letting the dough rest in bagel form for at least 12 hours before boiling is a big part of the process, supposedly making the dough tough enough to be boiled first. A true Bagel does not need any toppings such as poppy, sesame seeds, or garlic to shine. It does not need your fancy onion infused spreadable cheeses. It's awesome by itself.

It amazes me that so many places around the country that sell "bagels" (small b) can't seem to work this out for themselves. Really great Bagels are a thing of beauty... the perfect food for breakfast, lunch or even dinner if you add some salmon and cream cheese to it. Even big eaters like myself will have trouble eating more than one at a sitting.

Like I say, I take Bagels very seriously.

Occasionally, a local bakery will open up run by a NY expat that makes really good bagels, but never Bagels. This drives me insane. It's always a situation where they get something minor wrong that spoils the whole mess for me. Either the crust isn't quite tough enough to the bite, or the interior isn't quite the right texture. If I complain about it, the baker always looks at me like I have three heads, and need to get a life.

Not an option, lady.

We all have our comfort foods. One of mine is a rally good Bagel. Nothing speaks to me of simpler, peaceful days sitting on the ferry on the way to school like a bagel with cream cheese and a cup of weak, terrible coffee from the local bagel shop. Is it really too much to ask that now that I live in part of the country that makes an outstanding cup of coffee that I have a good Bagel to go with it?

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