Demonstrating that nothing is sacrosanct — not even our favourite bread — cream cheese giants Philadelphia have been messing with the basic shape of bagels.
In a marketing campaign, which they claimed was in response to customer feedback, Philadelphia persuaded Montreal bagel bakery St-Viateur to bake its speciality bagels without the essential holes, making them bagel ‘wholes’.
The bakery, founded by Polish Holocaust survivor, Myer Lewkowicz in 1957 is one of Montreal’s longest running bagel shops, and sits on the edge of the city’s Jewish quarter.
CBC News reported that the idea behind the controversial campaign was to create more surface area on which to schmear cream cheese. Not all bagel eaters have taken to the new shape, which more resembles a snail or pain aux raisin pastry. The news reporter compared them with Princess Leah’s iconic space buns.
“If there’s no hole it’s not a bagel’ was one customer’s reaction, who refused even to take a free one. Store manager Saul Restrepo admitted creating the ‘wholes’ “didn’t feel right”.
Jewish food historian Kat Rumanow of charity The Wandering Chew laughingly termed them unholy’, before going on to explain that there’s symbolism in the bagel’s construction: “Bagels in Jewish food culture have become a symbolic food as well where there’s no beginning and no end. It’s not a bagel if it doesn’t have a hole.”
There’s also a practical reason for the hole, which allows for more even cooking and historically allowed bakers to handle them using long poles or string.
Anyone wanting to sample the strangely shaped ‘wholes’ will need to be fast as it doesn’t look like the bakery will continue to sell them after the promotion.
The missing hole is possibly an even greater travesty for Montreal bagels which traditionally have larger holes than their New York cousins — the most similar style — as well as being sweeter and thinner. They’re boiled in honey water and dipped in seeds before being baked in a wood-burning oven for characteristic crisp outer texture.
Londoners wanting a flavour of a Montreal bagel – complete with requisite hole in the middle can head to The Good Egg, which bakes Montreal-inspired bagels at its cafes and delis.