I describe myself as Jew-ISH as opposed to Jewish. The point, as I am sure you appreciate, is that I don’t have a drop of Jewish blood but I have plenty of chutzbah, talk loudly, over-feed guests, and love a good bagel. It can have a schmear of cream cheese, a blob of chopped liver, a liberal coating of lox (with raw onion and capers if you please) or it can be plain. I will eat a good bagel any way it comes but what I won’t eat is a bad bagel.
What is a bad bagel?
A bad bagel is the same as bad bread: It is made with highly processed flour, full of unnecessary additives and preservatives, and is made too quickly. It is spongy and doughy and tastes a bit like cotton wool that has been soaked in a sugar and vinegar solution. It’s fat and it will make you fat too. It comes in different flavours (cinnamon raisin! onion and garlic! cheese and olive!) to disguise the underlying dreadfulness of the bagel. Enough said.
What is a good bagel?
A good bagel is the same as good bread: It is made with gorgeous, tasty flour, has only the necessary ingredients, and is made slowly to allow the flavour to develop and the bagel to become more digestible. It is soft and chewy at the same time (you have to CHEW it) has a particular “bagelly” crust (from having been boiled before being baked), and has a mellow yet complicated flavour. It is not fat and it won’t make you fat. My mother always told me, “never eat anything bigger than your head.” This applies to bagels as well as muffins, cakes pies, and steaks. She may even have included broccoli and cauliflower. She certainly included potatoes. The point is this: a bagel should not be supersized. It should weigh around 150 grams. Any more than that is selling substance over style.
Montreal bagels versus New York bagels
There is a massive difference between Montreal and New York bagels. Montreal bagels are smaller, flatter and denser than New York bagels. They have a large hole in them (due to how they are shaped), are boiled in honey or molasses water, and traditionally have sesame seeds sprinkled on them. Not poppy. Never poppy. Also, I can tell you where you can get a good Montreal bagel: the St Viateur and Fairmount bagel bakeries in Montreal. They are reason enough to visit that great city but if you cannot visit the city you can learn to bake bagels by taking a course with us.
New York bagels are fatter, doughier, and have a smaller hole (due to how they are shaped), are boiled in plain water, and traditionally have poppy seeds sprinkled on them. I cannot tell you any more where to get a good New York bagel (and it is NOT the freezer cabinet of your local supermarket) so if you want a good New York bagel you will have to just come along and learn to bake bagels by taking a course with us.
And if you are intrigued by the bagel course that says “Learn to bake bagels in three ways” well, there is always a third way: and in this case it is a tiny, crunchy bagel from Syria. Perfect for people who like crispy, crumby things. It’s called Ka’ak and it’s well worth learning how to bake not only because they are GREAT but also because they store well, just like crackers, so you can keep them for weeks in an airtight container!
So, that’s a little story of bagels – bagels in three ways. As ever, it is up to you – real bagels, like real bread take some time and some care but are fundamentally simple and are extremely fun to make. Come and learn, you won’t regret it.