Since it’s a trip home and not really a vacation, you wouldn’t think I’d bring home many souvenirs for myself when I visit Montreal. Usually, this is true, but this time I had a moment of bready weakness and brought back dozens of fresh bagels.
Explain to me how anyone can walk into a place like this and not leave with as many bagels as they could carry. I’m grateful they didn’t have shopping carts, or I may have bought more. The staff was very understanding of my need to take pictures of their bagel oven. Apparently they get that all the time. See those long flat boards? They use those to get the bagels into and out of the oven, and they slide the hot golden bagels off the boards into the big bin you see on the right, where they get scooped out and put by the dozen into paper bags for the customers waiting in line.
|Brossard Bagel, in Greenfield Park, QC
One dozen of the delicious bagels I imported were to share with my coworkers, because I thought it would be a welcome change from the boxes of saltwater taffy that always appear in the break room whenever someone gets back from vacation. Also, we’re a pretty seriously carbohydrate-loving group.
I sent out an excited “OMG you guys!! Montreal bagels for everyone!!” e-mail and then spent the rest of the morning trying to answer “what’s a Montreal bagel?” And that’s a difficult question. All I know is that they’re dense, they’re delicious, and I can’t find anything like them around here.
So, in the interest of educating the world, I acquired different types of bagels so that I could proceed with:
A Comparative Anatomy of Bagels
I started with one sesame bagel from Brossard Bagel, and one poppyseed bagel from Wegmans. I was going to get one from Panera, but I was grocery shopping anyway, and the Wegmans ones looked exactly like the Panera ones I’m used to, so I think it’s a good example of a generic “bagel” available in this area. I specifically did not buy the packaged Thomas Bagels in the bread aisle, because I wanted to compare a fresh-baked Montreal bagel with a fresh-baked generic bagel from this area. The guy at the counter at Wegmans assured me that they bake them fresh, so we’re on more or less even ground there.
First, let’s have a look at them.
|Left: Montreal bagel. Right: Wegmans bagel.
The first thing that you notice is that the Wegman’s bagel looks a lot bigger than the one from Montreal. It’s taller, and while it’s about the same diameter, it has a much smaller center hole, making it look a lot less dense. But is it less dense?
Here’s a look at the insides.
|Left: Montreal bagel. Right: Wegmans bagel
They both show evidence of bubbles inside, but the ones in the Wegmans bagel are bigger. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s less dense, but I noticed a big difference in texture just by poking them. The Wegmans bagel is much, much more squashable.
I crushed the bagels with my girly pink dumbbells to demonstrate the squash factor. Using a 5-pound weight on each bagel eliminates the possibility of me pushing harder on one or the other.
|Left: Montreal bagel. Right: Wegmans bagel
As you can see, the one on the left barely deforms at all, and the one on the right looks like a Tempur-Pedic commercial. I’m going to let this stand as my test of bagel density, because calculating bagel volume is a little too intense a task for me, and I’m not in the mood for math.
I told my coworker that I was doing a bagel experiment, and she generously offered to get me a couple of bagels from a Jewish bakery in her neighborhood, to give me a third data point. Fantastic!
I didn’t squash the bagel from the Jewish bakery, because I was too excited about jamming it into the toaster so I could eat it, but I did take a photo of its insides for you.
|Bagel from Jewish bakery
It looked very much like the Wegmans bagel, both inside and out. It was fat and fluffy-looking, and it had many large bubbles inside. The biggest difference was the smell – much more yeasty than the Wegmans bagel. I also noticed that the texture was denser, but not as dense as the Montreal bagel. Many of the little holes had doughy threads across them, making me think there’s a lot of gluten in this bread.
The Taste Test
I toasted the bagels in my cheap two-slice toaster, and then tasted them both with butter and plain cream cheese. I also tried the bagel from the Jewish bakery with some veggie cream cheese, which is a specialty of that deli. It seemed like the right thing to do. The bagels were tested at least a half hour apart. I am so very very full of carbohydrates.
It got crunchy on the outside, and remained very soft and bready on the inside. It felt like it took a long time to gain any brown color. Where I cut the toasted bagel in half, the knife flattened the bagel completely. It tasted bland, vaguely yeasty, like a big soft chunk of white bread. No dominating taste or smell. Not entirely different from a dinner roll.
Much more difficult to cut in half because of its density, so my halves were uneven. If ever there was an appropriate time for those safety bagel cutter things
, it’s with Montreal bagels. It turned brown much more quickly than the first bagel. The Montreal bagel had a much sweeter taste, and I posit that the higher sugar content led to faster browning. Incredibly chewy, with a crunchy crust. Coworkers commented on the sweetness of the bagels I brought in, and how chewy they were.
Its browning speed fell somewhere between the other two. The smell and the taste were very yeasty, and it was chewier than the Wegmans bagel by far, which surprised me given how similar they look. It was nowhere near as dense and chewy as the Montreal bagel, though, so although it was good it didn’t win my taste test. Yes, I’m biased. I admit it.
So why are Montreal bagels so dense? I’m not sure. Wikipedia has the following to say about how Montreal bagels differ from the “generic bagel”:
- The bagel dough includes egg and honey.
- Honey is also added to the water used for poaching the bagels before baking.
- The bagels are baked in a wood-fired oven.
All these things make them so much more delicious than any other type of bagel I’ve ever tried. I don’t know why they haven’t spread out and become more popular across Canada and the United States – you’d think the sweetness would be a great selling point. There are some recipes I’ve found online for “Montreal-style bagels”, and one of these days I may give that a shot, but for now, I have dozens of frozen bagels to tide me over.
Oh, before I close this out, I have one more reason why Montreal bagels are better. Check this out, from the same Wikipedia article:
Montreal-style bagels are currently the only style of bagel to have ventured into in space. Gregory Chamitoff, who grew up in Montreal, took three bags of sesame bagels with him on his assignments to STS-124 as passenger and ISS Expedition 17 as crewmember.
That’s right. I thought I was a hardcore fan because I dragged dozens across the border in my Honda Fit, and here I learn this guy brought them to space. We loves our bagels, what can I say.