They’re ubiquitous in the States, and while bagels are yet to enjoy the same cult status here in Australia, they’re definitely on the rise.
“In New York, your Sundays are usually filled with fresh bagels, the New York Times, and coffee or orange juice. That’s just a classic Sunday morning,” said Michael Shafran, the Brooklyn-born founder of Sydney’s Brooklyn Boy Bagels.
After coming to Australia in 2001, Shafran did his best to completely immerse himself in the Australian food culture, but after nine short months, he found himself craving fresh bagels – a craving he found impossible to satisfy.
“I came to the conclusion that no one in Australia actually knew how to make a proper, traditional New York bagel,” he said.
After years of finessing his product, Brooklyn Boy Bagels came to fruition in 2013, offering bagels for both the retail and wholesale market.
“So there are three varieties of bagels: New York-style bagels, Montreal-style bagels and then there are disgusting bagels, which are the mass produced bagels,” Shafran said. “The main difference between New York and Montreal bagels is the baking and boiling process. Montreal bagels are made with a very traditional woodfired process whereas in New York, they’re baked on a stone in an oven.
“New York bagels are boiled with things like malt or molasses in the water, and for Montreal bagels they put honey in the water …Texture wise, New York bagels have a little more chew to them, whereas the Montreal bagels are a little lighter.”
Brooklyn Boy Bagels, which Shafran said has doubled its business in the last year, specialises in the New York variety, staying as true to tradition as possible.
“The best bagels are hand rolled rather than machine made,” he told Hospitality. “They’re always boiled. You can steam a bagel, but it only affects the outside of the bagel; it never affects the inside, whereas boiling changes the texture inside. They’re also given a long, cold fermentation which means that they’re getting natural flavour from enzymes. It’s also much healthier for you than quickly-made bread.”
Fellow Sydney bagelry, Smoking Gun in Woolloomooloo, is all about the Montreal bagel, and founders Dave Young and Mark Treviranus have invested a lot of time and money in respecting the traditional baking process.
“The original bagel shop in Montreal is called St-Viateur and we flew out their head baker. He was here for a month helping us with our recipe and then also working with us on our new oven,” Treviranus said.
Smoking Guns' bagel oven
“You can’t just bake bagels in a pizza oven. It has to be of certain dimensions and structure in order to bake at the right temperature. So we flew a couple of Canadian stonemasons across who specialise in building bagel ovens. They built it by hand and it took them about three weeks.”
While the baking process at Smoking Gun is a very traditional one, the business – which opened in May this year – is being a little more creative with how they’re served. Australians, unlike Americans or Canadians, prefer to sit and eat rather than eat on-the-run, and the offering at Woolloomooloo has been designed to cater to Sydneysiders’ more leisurely approach to eating.
“When you go to a bagelry in Montreal, it’s like a bakery. Usually you can’t sit down, they don’t serve you a bagel, people are just going in and buying six or 12 or 24 bagels to take home. But we needed to do something that would work in this market, where people like to go out and have breakfast and brunch and lunch. And that’s why we’ve got Australian inspired toppings on our bagels,” Treviranus said.
Examples include the scone roll with house-made rosella and riberry jam with Pepe Saya cream cheese, pickled rosella and lemon myrtle; and the Yidlife Crisis – woodfired chicken with charred avocado, kaffir lime and mountain pepper.
Schmucks' Vegemite bagel
Schmucks Bagels isn’t bound by tradition either. With two sites in Melbourne and further expansion on the cards, the brand is a tribute to founder Jeremy Marmur’s Jewish heritage, delivering Polski bagels – distinctly European in style – in a range of flavours, with “a cheeky twist.”
Marmur said Schmucks’ bagels are a mix between Montreal and New York varietals.
“Instead of going for the normal, traditional toppings, we’ve tried to [incorporate] restaurant style ingredients into the bagels. So you’re not only getting a fast casual dining experience, you’re getting a quality product at the same time.”
While the classic smoked salmon and cream cheese varieties are amongst the most popular at Schmucks, other top sellers include the Smokin’ Chicken which comprises smoked chicken, tarragon mayo, chicken breast crackers and pickled carrot, as well as the Vegemite bagel, which has the classic Australian condiment incorporated into the dough.
“We’re also seeing a rise in sweet bagels, probably because of the explosion of doughnuts and how wide they’re going with their offering. We do a blueberry bagel, we’ve done a Cherry Ripe bagel, we’re looking at a range of different, sweet bagels and I think it’s resonating with people quite well. I’d say that’ll be the next phase,” Marmur said.
While Australians have always been familiar with what a bagel is, Marmur said now they’re really being celebrated, by consumers and artisanal producers alike.
“People know what bagels are; they’re excited – you only have to look at social media. They used to be a novelty product and now I think they’re becoming a staple. We’re seeing customers coming in two or three times a week, when we initially thought they might treat themselves once a week. So that’s really encouraging.”