The debate over which city makes the best bagel never ends, with some people believing with all their heart that the only bagel worth eating is a New York bagel. Others stan for Montreal bagels. And there are even a few who swear by bagels from Charlottesville, VA. But if there's one thing that bagel lovers across the country can agree on, it's that stale bagels suck, regardless of their origin. There's nothing more disappointing than going to bite into a bagel only to worry that your teeth are going to break in two because it's so hard.
The good news is that it's not that difficult to store bagels correctly. According to the bakers at Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, MI, fresh bagels are best stored in a paper bag at room temperature. "Paper leaves the crust and flavor intact, and while the bagels do get chewier, they’re perfectly fine within a day of buying them," they write, adding that you can also keep the paper bag of bagels in a plastic bag. "This’ll keep the bagels for four or five days—no problem," though you will probably have to toast them before eating.
While keeping bagels in a paper bag is a fine storage solution if you plan on eating them within 48 hours, your best bet to ensure long-term freshness is to freeze bagels as soon as you get them home from the store. Executive chef of Black Seed Bagels Dianna Daoheung recommends putting those bad boys in the freezer as soon as you get them. "Slice before freezing, and pop right into the toaster after taking out of the freezer," she explains in an email, adding, "Refrigeration does keep them slightly fresh but freezing is the way to go for optimal freshness." That's because the fresher the bagel that goes into the freezer, the fresher it'll taste when you thaw it out. And if you let the bagel sit on your counter for a day or two before it goes in the freezer, it'll taste like a bagel that was sitting on the counter, not one that just came out of the oven.
If you do have a bagel that you did accidentally let go stale on your counter, you can try to bring it back to life. "It won't be as great as its original state," notes Daoheung, "but if you pop it in the oven, and spritz a little water on it will come close." Zingerman's Bakehouse recommends "reviving them in a 350ºF oven ‘til the crust comes back and they’re warm in the middle." Just remember that once you defrost a bagel or bake it to bring the moisture back, you won't be able to re-freeze them, so only take bagels from your frozen stash that you're planning on eating then and there. And be liberal with the cream cheese, of course.