by Jonathan Zeller, 06/17/2014
Photos: Tagger Yancey IV
It's a given that New York City bagels are special. We've all read the roundups, most of which hit the same key roll-with-hole purveyors. But what are the factors that give a real New York bagel its distinctive character?
By now, you know the basics: an NYC bagel is boiled and then baked—not, perish the thought, steamed in the manner of some mass-produced imitations. It's usually sweetened with malt or honey, although one of the bagels we tested used brown sugar. The resulting product has a crunchy, shiny shell and a chewy interior. Back in the day, New York City bagels were the size of hockey pucks or fists—but now, as times have changed, many have ballooned in size.
Until now, to our knowledge, no one has tried to objectively capture the greatness of New York City's bagels by the numbers. How heavy are they? What is their circumference? Their density? How big are the bagels' holes? And how do they compare in those categories to popular mass-produced renditions?
Fear not: nycgo.com's Scientific Bagel Testing Lab (SBTL) is on the case. Using a food scale, a ruler, a measuring cup, a tub and some string, we spent a day analyzing some of our favorite versions of the venerable breadstuff-one bagel per shop. As controls, we used specimens from Dunkin' Donuts and an everyday bagel cart. With the disclaimers that we work in an office with desk surfaces that are not perfectly even, that there is some natural variation in any handmade food product and that it's really hard to measure a bagel's hole using a standard ruler (so our numbers are emphatically estimates), we still hope you'll find the results entertaining and illuminating. And now, when someone asks you why you love your favorite bagel, you'll have the numbers to back up your case.