There are only so many names for a bagel. I recently discovered “plumper,” an utterly delightful term coined by the folks at LA-based bagel truck Yeastie Boys that, for me, evokes the image of an adorable, round baby. There are, perhaps, other idioms, but my favorite has to be “roll with a hole.” It rhymes, which is always nice. Moreover, it simply and elegantly describes what makes a bagel special. A bagel is a sort of roll, sure, but this term rightly claims it as a truly singular food, and identifies its hole as essential to that distinctiveness. So you can imagine how confused and upset I was when a friend informed me she’d recently purchased a bagel without a hole, a thing that I previously didn’t know existed, and which I immediately insisted must not continue to exist.
Where do you even get a bagel without a hole? My friend bought hers at Panera Bread. This was not, I have since come to understand, some kind of freak accident on Panera’s part, but an actual product that has been developed with the intent of being sold to human beings. In addition to its standard “roll with a hole” offerings, Panera’s website attests, it also hawks several holeless atrocities in such flavors as “pumpkin pie” and “cinnamon crunch.” Panera Bread is a chain restaurant with about 2,000 locations across the United States and Canada, which means that probably millions of people, including, presumably, some perfectly decent Canadians, have eaten these things. I shudder at the very thought of it. If a bagel is holeless, it is soulless. And if a bagel has no soul, there is simply no reason for it to be made.
Why do bagels have holes anyway? Maria Balinska, national treasure and author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, says the hole “allows the bagel to cook faster, since there is a greater surface area for the volume of dough.” Further, she says, it “means that you get more crust for the same amount of dough.” But the hole is not strictly a practical concern. According to Balinska, there is an “intrinsic attraction” to the ring shape. Beyond that, “the hole itself has intimations of eternity in the way it goes from being a finite space in the middle of the dough to an infinite space once you have finished eating the bagel.” There is a saying that you can see the entire universe in a single drop of water. The same might be said of a bagel but, of course, you need the hole to do so.
In the days since the stunning Panera revelation, it has come to my attention that in some dark corners of the internet one can actually find recipes for holeless bagels. Over at Successful Homemakers—an ironic name in this case, I’m afraid—Laurie Bostwick begins her recipe for no-hole bagels with a disclaimer: “I know, I know, a true bagel has a hole in the center.” But that doesn’t stop her from going on to provide her truly tragic recipe anyway. She justifies her truly horrifying culinary decision this way: “Some of the goodness that you put on that bagel can slip right out of that hole! My Honey used to love cheese bagels and the cheese would melt and drip down onto the bottom of the toaster oven. So, instead, I make bagels with no holes!”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the bagel hole described as something akin to a leak in a sinking ship. In the Huffington Post article “Why The Bialy Is Better Than Any Bagel You’ve Ever Had,” Rebecca Orchant argues, shockingly, that bialys trump bagels in part because they are holeless. “You know the RAGE you feel when cream cheese falls out of the bagel hole? The bialy has no hole, only a slight depression to hold more goodies,” she writes.
To answer that rhetorical question: No, Rebecca Orchant, I don’t know that rage. If cream cheese falls out of the bagel hole, we mustn’t despair. In fact, it is our duty to keep calm and scrape on. Like a delicious forklift, the bagel serves as an impromptu scooper of rogue cream cheese globules. Ensuring no cream cheese is ever left behind is one of the many joys and solemn responsibilities that come with eating a bagel. To characterize it as some kind of chore is a grave mistake.
“Have you ever wondered why bagels have a hole in the middle instead of more bagel?” Orchant writes at the beginning of her essay, making yet another tragic fallacy in her understanding of the bagel hole. The fact is, of course, that the bagel’s hole is not the absence of bagel, but rather its very essence. To have “more bagel,” as it were, at the center of a bagel, would really mean having less of a bagel.
What do you call a bagel without a hole? An abomination. A holeless bagel, moreover, is not simply a bad bagel. It is not a bagel at all.