Get to know this fluffy, only sort of bagel-like oblong bread
“The Jerusalem bagel and the New York bagel only share a name and the fact that they have holes in the middle. But other than that they’re really quite different,” Gadi Peleg, owner of Nur in New York City, told me. “The main difference is that the Jerusalem bagel isn’t boiled, and a real New York bagel has to be boiled. What you find in texture and flavor is quite different. The Jerusalem bagel is fluffier, airier, less doughy, while a New York bagel is heavy, dense, and more doughy.”
Peleg explained that the bread’s name comes from the way they’re sold, in big piles from a wooden cart at the entrance to the city. As a child, he would eat the bagels by taking one from the top of the pile along with a piece of newspaper filled with za’atar. “That’s the most traditional serving of the Jerusalem bagel, opening the piece of newspaper, ripping off a piece of the Jerusalem bagel, and dipping it in the za’atar,” Peleg said. “You get this incredible flavor, and it’s kind of cool to dip bread into a dry rub rather than into something that’s more of a sauce.”
Jerusalem bagels are made with a simple dough of yeast, flour, sugar, salt, milk, and baking powder. The dough rises once before it’s cut into pieces and shaped into oblong rings. The shape is created by poking a hole into a dough ball and then stretching the mixture until it’s several inches long, or by rolling a long rope of dough, cutting it into strands, and then pressing the two ends together. The bagels are then dipped in sesame seeds, and baked. To get a wonderfully crispy bottom, the bakers at Nur drop uncooked bagels onto a preheated sheet pan before tossing them into the hot oven.
Though Jerusalem bagels are classically eaten with dry spices like za’atar or cumin, the bread is an excellent vehicle for the dips in a Middle Eastern mezze. “While pita is cool, sometimes it just doesn’t cut it and you want something a little more flavorful, a little more sophisticated,” Peleg said. While it wouldn’t be traditional to fill one with cream cheese and lox, nor with bacon, eggs, and cheese, I can tell you from experience that it would not be a poor choice.