As anyone who's lived in New York City and then moved away can attest, it's pretty close to impossible to find a decent bagel outside of Gotham .
The recipe, of course, is hardly a secret. After all, the bagel is legendarily the twin sibling of the croissant, both created by grateful bakers to commemorate the late-17th century victory over the Turks who'd been besieging Vienna . The bagel was supposedly formed to resemble a riding stirrup, horseriding being a favorite pastime of Jan Sobieski, the Polish king who swooped in with his cavalry and routed the Ottomans.
So the formula for a perfect bagel's been around for a long time, yet you can't seem to get a good one unless you live in the area codes 212, 718, 646, 347 or 917. (Yes, every once in a while you'll meet someone with a 917 land line.) That's why Melissa Wagenberg Lasher's piece on Chowhound, "How to Make the Ultimate Bagel," must seem heavensent to New Yorkers-in-exile.
Lasher runs down the three major sins of modern bagel makers.
First of all, as many people have noted, bagels have become bloated monstrosities, forsaking flavor for the appearance of fullness. It's not a good trade.
Second of all, too many bakeries steam their bagels instead of boiling them, as a labor-saving step. It saves time, but it also pretty much guarantees you won't get that essential crackly crust.
Finally, that cause of 90 percent of 21st-century America 's ills, corn syrup, rears its ugly head again. Corn syrup and sugar have been edging out malt syrup as the sweetener of choice for bagel makers, meaning that today's saccharine toast circles are lacking the subtlety of the real ring things.
But does Lasher's piece mean that Bagel Resistance cells will begin popping up all across the country, working to dethrone pretenders like Bruegger's and Einstein Bros.? Will people start to realize that bad bagels are worse than no bagels?
Probably not. I speak from experience when I say that making bagels the right way is a pain in the ass. Could you imagine today's bottom-line corporate mentality not cutting corners when its business is selling baked goods and every penny counts?
Worse, the vast majority of the country simply has no idea what a proper bagel is supposed to take like, and doesn't feel gypped when they ask for a poppyseed bagel and get a kaiser roll with a hole punched into it. They don't know what they're missing, so they'll never complain.
If you live outside New York City and have a go-to bagel place that you swear is good, please let me know. I want to make up a list to carry with me when I travel and get a hankerin' for bagels, just in case. I've never finished an Au Bon Pain "bagel," and hopefully I'll never have to.
Michael Y. Park is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. He studied medieval history as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, and journalism as a graduate student at New York University. His stories have appeared in publications including The New York Times, the New York Post, and the Toronto Globe and Mail.
The Epicurious Editors' Blog
Food News and Views From All Over
Video: Fried Egg Over Easy
How to make a fried egg, over easy
Sexy Coffee Shops Spread
As if Starbucks didn't have enough on its hands
A Toaster with Skills
The folks at Breville aim to eliminate burned bread
Video: French Toast
Tanya Steel, Epicurious editor in chief, demonstrates crème brulee French Toast