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Definition of a fresh bagel?

Yesterday morning I was thrilled to find this cute Malibu gourmet shop selling the famed H&H Bagels of my previous New York life. They were stacked at the deli counter and I happily bought a bag of them to contribute to the house brunch I was heading to.

I asked an employee twice if they were fresh because I just couldn't believe my luck. The employee said, yes they are, they're made every morning (maybe they are shipped in par-baked?), and the day-old ones are sold as such by the other breakfast pastries. Well you can't just bring bagels to a house, so I picked up a brick of Philadelphia cream cheese and some salmon lox too.

Everyone at brunch was thrilled about the bagels, knowing of H&H, and someone reached into the bag and did something I should have: he felt one. It was hard. They all were. So I called the market and told them what happened. They unsympathetically insisted these bagels were made fresh that morning, and said after sitting on the counter for a few hours will get harder. I replied "I am from the land of bagels, and I've had bagels that were sitting out for most of a day and they weren't this hard." The cold person on the phone said she didn't know what else to tell me. Well!

At that point I looked at my cream cheese brick and noticed the $4.50 price tag, and also noticed the salmon cream cheese container that was made up for me was left half empty probably for the same price as being full.

What I'd like to know is, besides making the mistake of not paying enough attention at the market, am I crazy? A 2-hour old bagel will not be as hard as a day-old bagel, right? My friends and I decided to halve and toast them all for the heck of it, which produced a product similar to a thick wedge of melba toast. Hard to the teeth, and a big waste of money. Unless something about making bagels in LA makes them dry out faster. Anyone have any ideas?

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Malibu Kitchen & Gourmet Country Market
3900 Cross Creek Rd, Malibu, CA 90265

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  1. Personally, I've always wished H&H would make a harder bagel -- they're too soft and puffy when fresh. Still, your description does suggest they were stale by H&H standards.

    1. Nope. No way. No excuse for that. Either they were a lot older than that, or greatly over-baked at a low temperature. Could be caused by holding them in a very warm area for a few hours. I don't see any way around it, since the rule with fresh bagels is essentially the same for fresh bread. After it bakes (or boils and bakes for bagels), it should be cooled in open air, then wrapped in something airtight to stay soft. You should probably just not go back.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Jemon

        Exactly. I was going to tell all my friends about this place, but now I won't, and won't go back. The bagels were sitting out on the deli counter, not airtight. They were not hard as rocks but hard like day-old bread, with the tiniest amount of give when you press on it and too hard to easily take a bite.

        1. re: Jemon

          Bagels really aren't supposed to be soft. One of the most popular bagels in NYC (Ess-A-Bagel) is so hard it actually reminds me of a stale sandwich roll.

          1. re: a_and_w

            Wow I've had completely experiences with Ess-A-Bagel: I ate one a week for six years and they were always very soft! To me bagels should have a shiny hard layer of crust, with a soft, yet bready and chewy interior.

            1. re: marlyd

              I'll defer to your greater experience, but the ones I tried were on the hard/dense end of the spectrum. I was a Murray's guy, myself.

            2. re: a_and_w

              I'm sure the OP knows that a bagel shouldn't be soft like a donut, obviously. But there is generally an accepted texture for bagels, and I'm sure everyone kind of knows what that is. Bagels should be (in my experience) soft enough to give a little when you apply pressure, but are possibly the baked good with the firmest crumb that I know of.

              1. re: Jemon

                As a regular at Ess-A-Bagel, marlyd knows his/her stuff. But given what passes for bagels in LA -- e.g., Noah's Bagels -- I don't think you can assume anything. The fact that people celebrate H&H as an example of good bagels makes me even more skeptical. H&H tastes like Noah's to me -- soft, puffy, and sweet.

                PS: Things get even more complicated when you consider Montreal bagels. But that's a topic for another board...

                1. re: a_and_w

                  I loved Ess-A -Bagel when I was a med student at NYU. My gosh I haven't enjoyed a bagel anywhere nearly as much since 1989.

            3. re: Jemon

              imho,
              once a bagel has been 'wrapped in something airtight,' it will no longer have that hard outer layer that is critical for a bagel to have proper texture.

              what may be "acceptable" after it has sat in your house for a day, is not at all acceptable coming 'fresh' from the purveyor.
              (i was brought up in NY and have moved back and forth between the two cities in my adult life.)

              also, that 'through and through' softness that western bagel has, is, in my mind, an unacceptable variation that was engineered so that the bagel makes a better sandwich. when you bite into a sandwich made with a bagel that has the proper crispness/hardness on the outside and the proper softness on the inside, all the sandwich filling will get pushed to the side of the sandwich that you are not biting.
              by making the bagel soft-soft-soft through and through this can be prevented, but, imho, it sacrifices the 'essence of bagelness.'

            4. I used to be a fan of the Brookly Bagel Factory, but more modernly prefer the Western Bagel Co. The bagels are firm but if left out overnight turn hard. Although Western gives you plastic bags for your left over bagels they con't help. I have found that by putting them in one of the plastic storage bags that seal such as a ziploc and they retain their freshness for up to five days. Western can be found at most major supermarkets but they are not as good as the ones you get freshly baked at a Western Bakery but are not a bad substitute.

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              Western Bagel
              21749 Ventura Blvd, Woodland Hills, CA 91364

              1. $4.50 for a brick of cream cheese? That alone would keep me away from that place.

                1. I had H&H bialy's at Barney Greengrass in Beverly Hills. It was an awful bagel.

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                  Barney Greengrass Restaurant
                  9570 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90212