Fine Bagels Goes to America Part IV: Rosenfeld’s Bagels

If you’ve kept up with installments I-III of Fine Bagels Goes to America, you might have noticed a hole in our eating. Or, rather, a lack thereof. The trip involved so many deli sandwiches. So many pickles. Such an unreasonable amount of chopped liver. All this and yet…no bagels. Whilst in America, shouldn’t we have been hitting up bagel shops with the same sort of compulsion we wander suburban Targets? No, reader. No. We’ve said it before. If there was a Rosenfeld’s Bagels in Berlin, we never would have had to start making our own bagels. And so, when Fine Bagels went to America, there was only one stop for bagels. One stop, oft repeated. So now, a treat: the bagel portion of Fine Bagels  Goes to America. In which we try to keep our cool around a true bagel master. DSC_1421Rosenfeld’s was opened in 1973 in Newton Centre and to this day, there is still just the one location where everything is baked on-site, open Wednesdays through Sundays.  Most of the place is bakery, packed with equipment and ovens, and the rest is a small storefront with the essentials: cream cheese fridge, bagel display, and piles of challah, babka, and coffee rings. In case there was any doubt, these are proper NY-style water-boiled bagels. (“Montreal bagels are hideous. No salt. No taste at all.”)DSC_1370DSC_1390Mike, the guy who runs the place, was good enough to indulge our super fandom and went out of his way to take us around the bakery, explaining everything from equipment to ingredients. Mike started working at Rosenfeld’s in 1988 on the week of Thanksgiving. His first day was a rainy one and when it rained back in those days, the stairwell behind the bakery would flood. Result being that his first job at the bakery was bailing water with a coffee cup. (Mike took us back there to show us). But he figured it wasn’t as bad as construction work so he stayed with it, planning to stick around 6 months. Nearly thirty years later, after working his way into every aspect of the business and process, he takes care of the whole baking operation.

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Now, here is where we think it’s important to clarify. Mike doesn’t just manage the place, but also one of the four bakers. He has his hands in the dough every day and is constantly modifying, adjusting, and improving. He fiddles with water temperatures, dough saturation, yeasts, and braiding techniques. Anything to get a better bagel. A more perfect loaf of challah. As Mike himself says, “One of the funnest aspects is that it’s never exactly right. There’s always room for improvement.” The point we’re trying to make is that this is no laissez-faire way of running a bakery. Mike cares about what he does. DSC_1420Mike’s keeping things old-fashioned, in the best way possible. The place is something of a modern reflection of the old immigrant-run basement-level bagel bakeries of the Lower East Side where the bagel developed into what it is today (or rather, what, under ideal circumstances, the bagel is today). DSC_0988 (1)And when we say modern reflection…well…Mike says, “I like that you can come here and it’s still like 1975.” Which is fantastic. Because we at Fine Bagels hate change. Particularly with the aesthetics of a beloved institution.

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Rosenfeld’s Bagels in the ’70s.

Mike told us that if we wanted to know about the kind of place Rosenfeld’s was back in the day, this video captures the essence of both the kind of place and the kind of guys who were making the bagels. And indeed, it was well worth the watching, if only to hear spoken the line,”These people in the Midwest wouldn’t know a bagel from a doughnut. Only reason they ever saw a bagel was one fell off a truck.”

Despite it’s ubiquity, the bagel took a quality downturn in the late twentieth century. Us at Fine Bagels were largely sheltered from The Great Bagel Crap-ization. We come from a coddling and protective family. In our bubble of privelege, we assumed all bagels were on par with a toasted Rosenfeld’s onion bagel lathered thick in vegetable cream cheese. But all the while, this was a bad era for the bagel. As Mike says, “What the bagel became in the 1990’s was a big soft sweet hamburger bun with a hole in it. And that’s not what a bagel is.” Oh yes. YES. Thank you, Mike. We’re going to adapt that phrase, substituting “the 1990’s” for “Berlin,” translate it to German, and shout it aggressively from the front step of Fine Bagels. DSC_1394DSC_1397DSC_1407Rosenfeld’s makes thousands of bagels a day and the most popular flavor is plain, followed by everything and sesame. They’ve got all the good flavors…garlic, onion, salt, egg, pumpernickel, caraway…even the unicorn that is a a potato bagel. We visited on St. Patrick’s day. For those of you anthropologically unfamiliar with Boston, the holiday is observed primarily by adding green food coloring to otherwise ordinary objects. Rosenfeld’s did not disappoint.

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Note the green bagels behind the hamantaschen.

DSC_1413Rosenfeld’s doesn’t just make great bagels, they make the best challah we’ve ever eaten. Ever. When we were in college in Medford, we’d take the Green Line, that disfunctional little trolley, all the way across the city just to get a loaf. This challah habit of ours culminated in the great challah binge of 2002, which we’re torn between never speaking of again or saving for an overshare. We were excited to discover that it was Mike himself who brought challah-baking to Rosenfeld’s. Now we know who to blame for those extra five pounds we could never seem to lose until the day we moved out of Boston.DSC_1409DSC_1393DSC_1417DSC_1381Before we left, we asked Mike why Rosenfeld’s bagels are the best we’ve ever had. His answer was simple. “Process. Skill. You can get a bagel anywhere, but you can’t get that anywhere.”

In case it didn’t come across by now, we walked away impressed. These bagels, we’ve known them our whole life and yet never knew anything about them. And sometimes, when you dig into these things, you’re putting that pedestal you built at risk for a crash. Heck, we half expected to be let down. After all, adulthood is full of disappointments. (Family motto on both sides). That’s why finding out that our favorite bagel place is really, truly, keepin’ it real, it meant a lot. There was no disappointment this day. As Mike said to us, “You have to do this to do this.” So almost thirty years in, he’s there on his day off counting cream cheese containers.DSC_1422

 

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Challah French Toast Sunday Part IV

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In the Fine Family, we all call challah chall-ee. We haven’t got a friggin’ clue why we say that. Here you can listen to Gertrude Cooper Klemens (our Great-Nana) talking baking and saying chall-ee. When we were young and still called challah chall-ee, Nana Fine used to get pan loaves of chall-ee sliced thin at the bakery and, if we were good, which we always were, she’d spread them thick with spicy brown mustard and fold the slice in half for a sandwich.  We’d peel off the shiny brown top crust because that was the bad part. (see: Fine Family Aquired Tastes)

When we got older, we had a boyfriend who made fun of us for saying chall-ee instead of challah. We felt stupid and since he went to M.I.T. and was in AEPi (just imagine), we figured he was right. So we changed our ways and years later, saying chall-ee instead of challah feels unnatural. And we’re a little sad about that. 

We guess all we’re trying to get at is that Holla! Challah French Toast Sunday Part IV is up again. Sunday, February 27th 9:00-15:00.frenchtoast

Baking: Babka

At Fine Bagels, we like to impress ourselves by making store-bought things. See: Hydrox Cookies and Rainbow Cookies. Since we suffer from something called “imposter syndrome,” we are pretty sure that we aren’t a real bakery despite evidence to the contrary. Still, everything has an upside, and because of this whole imposter syndrome, we delight in surprising ourselves with things that can pass themselves off as coming from real bakeries. And therefor tricking people. And therefor keeping up our bakery ruse for just a little bit longer. This is how we came to spend our Saturday night making babka.DSC_0827 (1)Babka is the best thing in the world. We can also now verify that it is effective for eating away pain, standing-in for human contact, and keeping you company better than a house cat but worse than a puppy.

Because our Georgia was pastry-neglected in childhood, she asked us what’s a babka. We told her it’s what happens when a rugelach (explitive)s a challah. Since she’s well-trained in that she can tell a rugelach from a challah, she knew this mule of the Jewish baking world was a good thing and showed appropriate enthusiasm.

We used the Smitten Kitchen via Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem recipe everyone is going on about. If no one else is afraid of this sticking to their hips for seven years, we’ll keep those feelings to ourselves. Here it is and here is it again. If you’re making this in Germany like us, use 405 Weizenmehl and cut down a bit on the instant yeast as ours behaved a bit more enthusiastically than the recipe indicated. Should we make this again, we’ll roll it a little thinner and twist it a little more to have even more chocolate ripples. The Smitten Kitchen suggestions to add cinnamon to the filling and to then chill the rolled logs in the freezer briefly before slicing were killer. Do it.

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Baking: Black and White Cookies

Funny thing. We always thought Black and White Cookies were the same thing as Half-Moons. We’re from Boston. Have we mentioned that? Yes. And in New England, there are Half-Moons, not Black and White cookies. Since there are about a million other cookies with which we’d rather jump into a disordered-eating relationship, distinguishing between the two never bothered us. In fact, the last time we had a Half-Moon was five years back at a dairy house on the edge of a cow pasture in a Massachusetts town far beyond the familiarity of Rt. 95 and therefor forgettable. While  the town was forgettable, the cookie was not. See, the sole purpose of getting the cookie was to buy our way into the rest room. We’re familiar with this purchasing strategy and estimate that up to 40% of our sales at Fine Bagels are based on toilet-guilt. Whatever works. So there we are, buying a cookie we don’t really want, only to find out that the bathroom is out of order. In the end, we’re stuck sitting on an overturned milk-crate chewing a stale Half-Moon cookie while we mull over how it would go to have our first outdoor pee in a decade in a waste-deep hay field peopled entirely by Lyme-disease ridden ticks. That cookie sucked. But we remember it.DSC_0881

But back to that funny thing. Turns out that Half-Moons aren’t the same as Black and White Cookies. They’re only mostly the same. From what the internet tells us, the New York City variety, the true Black and White Cookie, differs from the Half-Moon in the maturing process. While the New England Half-Moon becomes intolerably stale after 48 hours and has a typical shelf life of 2 weeks, the New York City Black and White Cookie becomes intolerably stale after 48 hours and has a typical shelf life of 3 weeks. We’ll let the New York Times take it from here:

The black-and-white cookie, that frumpy and oversize mainstay of New York City bakeries and delis, has not endured by dint of its taste. Unlike other edible icons, like New York cheesecake or bagels, there is no such thing as a delicious black-and-white cookie. They are either edible or inedible. Fresh-baked and home-baked are the best.

That’s from an article where they published the Zabar’s recipe for a black and white cookie. Here it is. And here’s what happens when you follow it:DSC_0702DSC_0713DSC_0729 (1)DSC_0768DSC_0782DSC_0834 (1)

Sabich Day at Fine Bagels

As is our frequent and deliberately antagonistic theme, Israelis don’t know from bagels. To be fair, we don’t know from Sabich. Hell, we didn’t even know from Israeli Salad until our Pop Fine’s funeral when our Auntie Adele took charge of the delicatessen platters. We weren’t sure what was so Israeli about cucumbers and tomatoes but so be it. Our energy is better conserved and prioritized for origins-of-hummus arguments. This all leads to Part II of our bagel-sabich eugenics series: Gordon at Fine Bagels. In which the boys from Gordon make delicious, delicious Sabich on pita or bagel. (Slow on the uptake? See Part I: Fine Bagels at Gordon)

DSC_0616DSC_0624Now, this is Central Europe where people fear spice and flavor with the same terrified passion we reserve for air travel, German Shepards, and emotional commitment. Result being that many unwisely chose to eat their sabich without skhug, the spicy green Yemenite sauce that we suggest drinking straight, like one of those algae-based health smoothies. Recipe for the best part of the sabich here. DSC_0618DSC_0614DSC_0611Except for the one sabich bagel some weirdo ordered on a cinnamon raisin, it was one of the tastiest, drippiest, spiciest, and eggplanty-est days at Fine Bagels we can remember.

Cafe Style: Tony’s Chocolonely

The summer before last we went to Amsterdam. We had much too much to drink in a Belgian beer bar much too early in the evening and then went on to have the more fun in a supermarket than we ever thought possible. The end result was walking out with a stack of Tony’s Chocolonely that would make us alternately happier and crankier in the days that followed as our candy bar consumption habits err on the irresponsibly gluttonous side. Anyway, this is how it came to be that Fine Bagels had to have a shelf of Tony’s.DSC_0670We liked it that night in the Dutch grocery store because it is creamy and delicious and has matte packaging and comes in impolitely large portions. We should have also liked it because it’s slave-labor free. But we didn’t really know what that had to do with chocolate so later we watched this video. Oh dear. DSC_0682We use a lot of chocolate at Fine Bagels. Crap.DSC_0668Tony’s is the only chocolate bar we sell. That’s partially because Europe loves to talk smack to an American who loves a Hershey Bar. We’ve got no patience for that. But we’ll now retroactively say it’s because it’s nice to support a socially conscious company.

More about wonderful Tony’s Chocolonely here.