Where to Find Canada’s Best Bagels (and How to Make Your Own)

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We dive into Amy Rosen’s latest cookbook Kosher Style: Over 100 Jewish Recipes for the Modern Cook to explore her love for bagels and how to make her signature recipe at home.

I eat at least half a toasted bagel every single day. It is my lifeblood. It is my heritage. It is usually my breakfast.

There are many Jewish dairy restaurants in my hometown of Toronto that specialize in baked goods like bagels, challah, babka and the rest of it. Back at the turn of the 20th century, when boatloads of observant Jews were arriving from eastern Europe to escape persecution, “dairy” meant kosher (because no meat was in the mix, the fear of non-kosher meat, or the mixing of milk with meat, was eliminated), and kosher meant home. One restaurant that serves only dairy, United Bakers, was founded in 1912 and is still thriving, while Harbord Bakery has been baking the world’s best challah and cheese Danishes since 1945. The city also has countless dedicated bagel spots, from Gryfe’s to Bagel World to Bagel House to the new pisher, NU Bügel in Kensington Market, where Toronto’s Jewry first laid roots.

In the mid-1990s, I was attending school in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a journalism degree along with a tight class of about 36 students. Dave, a nice guy from a Toronto suburb, was one of them. I didn’t eat pepperoni pizza and that’s what the gang always ordered, so Dave, who I believe was secretly in love with me, always had a bagel and mini packet of spreadable cream cheese on hand for me in his dorm room. One evening, a bunch of us were gathered at Dave’s for an impromptu post-exams pizza party, Dave dutifully preparing my bagel and schmear. All dark hair and deep brown eyes, he suddenly looked different to me.

July 24, 2020
Bagel production at the famous St-Viateur Bagel shop in the Mile End of Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel, Montreal.   Photo: Gunnar Knechtel

Even in Halifax, where many pronounce them bah-gel (shudder), Dave knew that this was a meal I could eat and enjoy. He didn’t steal those bagels from residence for himself; he stole them just for me. This was a guy who was thoughtful and giving and knew me so well. It might have been the cream cheese talking (though more likely the beer) – but it did make me wonder if he could be my beshert (my destiny)?

Bagels unify us, their doughy circles connecting Jews like a chain-link fence across the Diaspora. There’s breaking bread, and then there’s breaking bagels. For non-Jews, it’s the gateway drug to Jewish cuisine.

My friend Ilona is not Jewish but is deeply fascinated by Jewish food customs. I would go to a bar mitzvah brunch and she’d ask, “What did they serve?”

“Bagels, lox, cream cheese, tuna and egg,” I’d say.

I’d go to a bris. “What did they serve?” she’d ask.

“Bagels, lox, cream cheese, tuna and egg,” I’d say.

I’d go to a shiva. “What did they serve?” she’d ask.

After a while she just stopped asking.

But here’s the thing: A fresh bagel is so delicious and comforting that it never gets stale. And once you try it with a fresh schmear and some lox, it’s game over, bubeleh. You officially become part of the inner circle.

Exterior view of the St-Viateur Bagel shop in Montreal during the winter
A sunny Mile End street in Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel, Montreal.   Photo: Gunnar Knechtel
Mile End, Montreal.    Photo: Etienne Delorieux (Unsplash)

Where to Find the Best Bagels Across Canada

  1. Kettleman’s Bagels, Ottawa, Ontario —

    Kettleman’s Ottawa location has no doubt influenced these perfect rounds, halfway between a slim, doughy Montreal and a fluffy, crusty Toronto-style bagel. And their tagline, “We never stop” means 6,000 bagels a day, 365 days a year.

  2. Gunn’s Bakery, Winnipeg, Manitoba —

    This has been Winnipeg’s Jewish bakery since 1937. They offer 18 types of bagels including regionally specific styles, from New York to Philadelphia, Boston to their Original Egg, where challah meets bagel.

  3. Solly’s Bagelry, Vancouver, British Columbia —

    The caramelized cinnamon buns at this 25-year old Vancouver bakery are legendary, but so too their soft and yielding bagels, boiled and baked, as well as a plethora of Jewish holiday specialties, including Passover’s matzo bagels.

  4. Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel, Montreal, Quebec —

    I’m not about to step into the fray regarding whose bagel is best in a town famous for its bagels. Suffice it to say Montreal-style bagels are the platonic ideal, sweet and chewy and absolutely lousy with seeds.

Amy Rosen in a white sweater with a floral design using a rotary phone
The cover of Amy Rosen's cookbook "Kosher Style: Over 100 Jewish Recipes for the Modern Cook"
   Photos: Ryan Szulc

How to Make Homemade Bagels

Easier than you’d think! More delicious than any you’ll know! These bagels are a cross between a slightly sweet and chewy Montreal style and a petite, light Toronto Gryfe’s bagel. In other words, they’re the best of both worlds.
 

Ingredients

  • 3½ cups flour

  • 2 (¼ oz) packages active dry yeast 1½ tsp sea salt

  • 1¼ cups warm water

  • ½ cup honey, divided drizzle of vegetable oil

  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tbsp water, for egg wash

  • ¼ cup sesame or poppy seeds

 

Directions

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Slowly add the water and ¼ cup honey. Knead on a low setting for 5 minutes, until the dough comes away from the sides and a soft, smooth ball forms.

  2. Lightly oil a medium bowl, and place the dough ball inside, turning it over to make sure it’s fully coated in oil. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes.

  3. Lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough into a long snake, then cut into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 8-9 inches long. Pinch the ends together, then roll with the palm of your hand to seal the ends and form a bracelet— a bagel bracelet. Cover the bagels with a tea towel and let them rest on the floured surface for 15 minutes.

  4. Place an oven rack on the lowest position and preheat the oven to 450°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

  5. Bring a large pot of water (at least 10 cups) to a boil and add the remaining ¼ cup honey. Lower the heat to a simmer, then add four bagels at a time, simmering for two minutes, flipping each one over, and simmering for two minutes more. Remove the bagels and place on the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with two more batches of four bagels at a time.

  6. Divide the bagels equally between the prepared baking sheets. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle each bagel with some sesame or poppy seeds (or place the seeds on a plate and gently press the bagels, one at a time, into the seeds).

  7. Bake one sheet at a time for 18–20 minutes, or until cooked through and deeply golden brown. Let cool, then slice and schmear! They also freeze well.
     

Excerpted from Kosher Style: Over 100 Jewish Recipes for the Modern Cook by Amy Rosen. Copyright © 2019 Amy Rosen. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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