The Build-A-Better-Bagel Workshop

May 25, 2012 | By | COMMENTS

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Our friends Patty and Lauren, who visited us recently from New York, did us the huge service–a mitzvah, as the Jews might say–of bringing along bagels from Murray’s Bagels. We’ve been experiencing something of a bagel blight here on the west coast (remember those Bagel Bombs I made?) and these bagels came as a great relief. We put them in our freezer and decided to break them open only in the case of severe bagel emergencies; one such emergency arose last weekend.

Here’s Patty on the left and Lauren on the right gifting Diana (another bagel-less former New Yorker) with her New York bagels too:

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I’m not sure what Diana’s done with hers, but when the time came to eat ours, here’s what I did.

I took the bagels out of the freezer the night before and put them in a ziplock bag to defrost on the counter. My thought was: if I just left them on the counter to defrost they’d get stale. So into a bag they went.

That next morning, the bagels were unfrozen and I sliced through them carefully with a serrated knife:

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Meanwhile, I’d also left a packet of cream cheese out overnight to come to room temperature (it’s ok: I saw the Barefoot Contessa do it once on T.V.):

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With my bagels and cream cheese at room temperature, I was ready to build my bagel.

Fact: toasting a Murray’s Bagel bagel is a big no-no if you live in New York. Ask them to toast a bagel when you’re there and they’ll laugh at you with deep contempt.

Fact: we’re no longer in New York and these bagels needed heating up. They also needed toasting to deal with some slight staleness. So into the toaster they went and out they came, golden brown and warm:

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Here’s where this post turns instructive: if you want to build a better bagel at home–and by a “better bagel,” I mean an authentic New York City Jewish person bagel–you have to start with mounds of cream cheese. A thin layer just won’t cut it. I’m talking a big schmear:

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If you don’t generously apply the cream cheese, your bagel becomes an exercise in restraint rather than a celebration of abundance. And bagels are all about abundance.

Once you’ve piled on the cream cheese, lay on your smoked salmon:

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The next step is key. You must–I repeat you MUST–add rings of red onions. The onions can’t be chopped, they can’t be sliced, they have to be cut into rings:

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If you’re worried about your breath, you clearly don’t understand the key rule of Jewish person bagel making: the worse it makes your breath, the better the bagel. (Hence all the garlic and onions on the outside of an everything bagel too.)

After that, lay on a slice of tomato:

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Even if tomatoes are out of season, this is still essential. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had a high-quality tomato on a bagel like this; it’s just the note of red and the gush of juice you’re looking for when you bite in.

Finally, sprinkle on some capers:

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They’ll add a note of brininess and play nicely off the salmon.

Close up your bagel:

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And there you have it. A bagel so perfect, so joyously indulgent, I’m thinking about keeping a fully assembled one like this in a glass case next to my bed with an axe next to it. Then, when I wake up in the middle of the night screaming with visions of roll-like L.A. bagels flashing through my head, I can break the glass and find deep comfort in that essential taste from the land of my birth.

Other Bagel-Related Posts:
Way Beyond Bagels
Bagelworks, Boca Raton
Whitefish Salad
High Drama and Warm Bagels at Ess-A-Bagel
Adventures in Bagelmaking (from the old Amateur Gourmet Community Blog)

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Categories: Essays

  • Anonymous

    Adam, I found your site from the bagel bomb post; as a recently-transplanted Brooklyn boy in Los Angeles, it looks like salvation for me (I routinely go back and forth between NY and LA, and usually travel with 6 dozen bagels in my checked bags – JetBlue finds me hysterical).

    The bagel bomb post led me somehow to this one, and I must say that I’m shocked and appalled to see that you’ve toasted your bagel for this post. SHOCKED, I tell you!

    Consider this as an option. Wrap the bagel in tin foil, set the oven to 250 and let it go for about 5 minutes. If the bagel is frozen, you’ll need to go more like 10-15 minutes.

    When it’s done, the bagel is hot and fresh like an Ess-A-Bagel on a Sunday morning. Or an H & H. Or, in my case, a Bergen Bagel (Park Slope, Brooklyn).