Bagels are one of the more curious items of the bread world. Small, hard, chewy and dense, they’re just about everything good bread isn’t supposed to be. But what can I say, that’s the aesthetic of bagels. Good ones, like this one from one of my favorite West Village spots, have a nice glossy golden exterior and (very important) a hole you can actually see through. Under the hood we’ve got a (mostly) tight crumb filled with (mostly) small bubbles:
This tight crumb is the key to a bagel’s firm texture, and what makes it slice and toast so well. Some truly hard-core bagel makers, in fact, might fault this particular baker for not having a more consistent, tighter inside. But then there’s a lot of variety in New York, everything from the fluffy Einstein Brothers’ dinner roll to the old school steel-belted radial. The main difference between them isn’t so much technique, but water content (I’ll explain more about that later).
Of course there are toppings, though I confess I like mine plain. A good bagel should be a good bagel without the toasted onions, cheddar cheese or (shudder) sun dried tomatoes and pesto. I mean, that’s what the cream cheese and lox are for, am I right? Some things are best when they’re simple.