Intro to the Cement Doughnut

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.

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