Arson In The 1st: The Crime of Bagel Toasting

An interview with Maria Balinska, the author of "The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread."


The essay "Real New Yorkers Don't Toast Their Bagels" tackles the question of bagel-toasting with eight prominent bagelers and critics. Read the full interviews for more on bagels, cream cheese, and who has better bagels, New York or Montreal.

Maria Balinska's interest in bagels started in Poland, the Jewish bagel's likely birthplace, when she first saw an obwarzanek, the bagel’s older and similar Christian relative. Over the years, this former journalist for the BBC continued to gather notes and research about the bagel. Her work culminated in a book published by Yale University Press, The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread.

Balinska's theory about the origins of the bagel may surprise you. It may actually be a cousin of the pretzel, something that Jewish bakers had created before they migrated to Poland from Germany in the Middle Ages. Then again, it may have developed alongside the obwarzanek, a favorite at the Polish royal court. One thing Maria Balinska is certain of? Toasting a fresh bagel is a crime. Read on for the full interview with this bagel expert.

 

New York or Montreal?
New York. I also have a very good source of hand-rolled in London!

 

What's your favorite kind of bagel: everything, sesame, pumpernickle, poppy, plain, etc.?
It’s a toss-up between sesame and poppy.

 

Bialy or Flagle?
Bialy, definitely!

 

Nova or lox?
Nova.

 

Sable or whitefish?
Not qualified to answer!

 

Favorite place for a bagel?
At Avi and David’s 24-hour kosher bagel shop at 1046 Third Avenue. And in London, Carmelli in Golders Green.

 

Some people swear by toasting. Others claim it destroys the integrity of the bagel. To toast or not to toast? Why?
If the bagel has just come out of the oven it’s a crime to toast it because you miss out on the sensation of tearing into the steaming dense dough. But if it’s over 12 hours old then the bagel benefits from being heated up again.  

 

Favorite type of cream cheese?
Plain.

 

What should never be a cream cheese flavor?
Chocolate chip.

 

Anything different you notice about bagels now from those of your youth?
Too big and fluffy now.

 

If there's one question you wish you were asked more about bagels, what would it be?
Who are their bread cousins?

 

Are you:
a) A fan of the L.E.O.?
b) LEO who?

Oh dear, I am going to have to say Leo who? Although I like Leo's Bagels from downtown New York City!


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