Back to the Future
Since my book came out I’ve been doing a lot more interviews about bagels than I ever thought possible. One common theme among interviewers and callers (to radio phone-ins) is a lament for the bagels of ‘the good old days’ … Read More
Since my book came out I’ve been doing a lot more interviews about bagels than I ever thought possible. One common theme among interviewers and callers (to radio phone-ins) is a lament for the bagels of ‘the good old days’ – the ‘concrete doughnuts,’ the ‘jaw breakers’ of legend.
Of course it’s true that the mass production of bagels has resulted in a product which is very different from what you could get in Brooklyn in the 1950s. The holy grail of ‘long shelf life’ means that preservatives keep the bagels chewable for much longer. The downside is that the crust of such a bagel is to the crust of a Brooklyn bagel of yore what a net curtain is to a velvet curtain. ‘Feh!’ as my three year old (who learned this Yiddish all-purpose diss from her 91 year old grandmother) would say. And then of course there are the complaints of bagels being too big and too billowy. Mimi Sheraton said it best when she wrote in 1981:
…Not even in my most pessimistic moments did I imagine it would come to this. What used to be a fairly small, dense, gray, cool and chewy delight that gave jaw muscles a Sunday morning workout had become snowy white, soft, puffy and huge
But there is a flip side to this. And that is with the proliferation of bagels or the ‘bagelization’ of America, more people are getting to know bagels and therefore more people are wanting better bagels. Sales of frozen bagels, for example, are down year on year for the past seven years. What’s exciting for this bagel maven is the resurgence of the hand rolled bagel.
Does hand rolling really make a difference? I can’t prove it scientifically but the idea of shaping the dough with human skin and muscle rather than cold steel would seem to give it a little something extra. Certainly to my mind the best bagels in New York these days are the ones made by a friend of mine, David Teyf, whose grandfather was a famous matzah baker in Minsk. David didn’t go into baking to begin with, but, having become fed up with what he felt were inferior bagels, he became converted to the idea of re-invigorating the hand rolled product. Today he’s supplying hand rolled bagels to Manhattan food landmarks like the 2nd Avenue Deli and Russ and Daughters.
Maria Balinska, author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, spent the past week guest blogging on Jewcy. This is her parting post. Want more? Buy her book!