These bagels appear just once a week at the East River Bread booth in Smorgasburg, but they’re worth the wait. The lovely, chewy seeded ones ($2) are covered in a salty glitter of sesame, poppy, caraway, and fennel seeds, and they’re best loaded with as much of East River’s plain cream cheese as they’ll hold. (Made from a mix of milk and heavy cream from Battenkill Valley Creamery, the spread is creamy without the tacky texture of commercial cream cheese, and so delicious you can eat it with a spoon.)
East River Bread is a one-woman-operation run by Melissa Weller, a serious baker who grew up in central Pennsylvania. Her first taste of bagels was the frozen kind from Lender’s, but when she was in charge of the breads at Per Se, Weller started rolling and boiling her own for the restaurant’s staff meals. Later, as head baker at Roberta’s, Weller did a bit more tinkering, and this time the bagels were at the mercy of a wood-fired oven.
Weller’s years of experimentation have paid off. She brings a baker’s understanding of the fermentation process to bagel-making, adding a sourdough starter to the mix, using less yeast, and letting the bagels develop their flavors slowly. The result is a delicious, well-structured, pleasingly chewy bread.
Production is currently quite small — Weller is baking out of Hot Bread Kitchen just once a week — but she’s on the lookout for a new kitchen space where she might be able to meet the demands of wholesale requests. Great news, since 300 of these per week isn’t nearly enough for all the bagel lovers in this city.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 30, 2013