A toasted bagel can be a beautiful thing for those who love toasting, but there are some who scoff at toasting bagels. Most New Yorkers and food writers treat bagel toasting with great disdain due to the chewy texture created by its unique cooking method — first being raised, boiled in sweet water and then baked — which they feel is destroyed by toasting.
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However, not all bagels are created equally, and toasting vastly improves some. Technique is important, though, and knowing how to toast bagels in ovens is a winning method.
Montreal vs. New York Bagels
For true bagel aficionados, two bagels soar above all others: the Montreal and the New York. The Montreal is a thinner bagel with a denser crumb and larger hole in the middle. The New York has more heft, but both have a shine outside from being boiled in water that has honey or malt syrup before baking. Then there are all other bagels, many of which are not even made with the basic rise-boil-bake method. They're often very bread-like with nearly no hole and very thick with no shine on the exterior.
When you have lucked into securing true, fresh New York or Montreal bagels, store them for up to two days in a zippered plastic bag in the fridge or for three days or longer by wrapping each one individually in foil and then putting them in a plastic bag and freezing them. (Thaw them on the counter for an hour or two before you'll need to eat.)
Be aware that whatever method you use, the Montreal bagel with its slim figure is far less forgiving to being reheated than the New York is. Other "almost" bagels will fare just fine in the toasting or reheating phase.
Sliced in a Toaster
Sometimes, you just want a crispy, toasty bagel, and that's OK. Some toasters have wide slots that might accommodate a New York or bigger bagel. Most toasters should take a Montreal bagel, but a toaster oven will take them all. Whatever the appliance, for the sliced and toasted method, carefully slice it width-wise so the hole remains intact on both slices.
Some toaster ovens have a "bagel" function. You could indeed slice the bagel for this, or you could be radical and try the whole method.
If slicing the bagel, just pop it into the toaster or toaster oven on medium and toast until you're ready. Then, bust out a schmear of cream cheese or lox or a dollop of butter and spread your topping around. Now, you're ready to chow down.
Toast a Bagel in the Oven
The sad reality with bagels is that they're an otherworldly bready delight within an hour of being baked. It's all downhill from there. The oven method of "toasting" the bagel can go two ways. You can slice it and lay it under the broiler until toasty, which is as simple as it sounds, or you can go the purist route and use the "whole bagel" toasting method. The whole method is the way to resurrect your bagel and get it hot, chewy, crusty and delicious, like it just popped out of the oven down at the bagelry.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the whole bagel unsliced — preferably under three days old or fresh from the freezer — into the oven on the center rack with no baking tray or anything and heat it for four to five minutes.
Once it has been heated, it's time to slice it open — it's hot, so use a clean tea towel to hold it — and apply your favorite cream cheese to enjoy as you like. You'll find this method will get you the tastiest bagel with the best texture inside and out while also reversing any staleness that may have set in.