Most every Sunday morning as I was growing up in NYC my parents would take me down the street to Absolute Bagels. Tearing into those fresh garlic-encrusted orbs of chewy carb-loaded goodness cemented my love for simple standbys crafted with love and experience. It wasn’t until later that I learned that bagels, from the Yiddish beygel, had become a staple in NYC around the advent of the 20th century with an immigration wave of European Jews. These mostly German and Polish Jewish bakers even formed a union, the Bagel Bakers Local 338, before they were largely replaced by mechanization in the 1960s. One thing holds, despite the mechanization: True bagels are made of nothing more than flour, water, yeast, malt and salt, and they must be both boiled and baked. Seems simple, but it’s still not easy to find a decent bagel.
I moved to Albuquerque in fifth grade and spent the first year living just a few blocks from the storied institution Fred’s Breads and Bagels, then located on Central between Dartmouth and Richmond. While their bagels were a far cry from the excellence that the Upper West Side of Manhattan afforded, their true-to-form approach and the bakery’s somewhat grimy interior provided me with a modicum of comfort in the high desert. Once Fred’s closed, Wolfe’s was the last source of true bagels in Albuquerque. Sadly, Wolfe’s, too, shuttered just a few years ago.
Enter Ruthie. A “real Albuquerque Jew,” she attended Highland High School; and while she has travelled around a good deal, this city is her home. Ruthie saw a niche to fill; I was not the only one in town kvetching about the lack of authentic NY bagels. And while she is not going to such extreme lengths as importing or attempting to recreate NYC tap-water (yes, this is a real thing) in an attempt to duplicate the traditional alchemy, Ruthie has mastered both the craft and the art of bagel making. She is now cranking out her own array of authentic masterpieces, made to order.
Arriving at the JCC, I ordered a full dozen of Ruthie’s rather plump yet uniform bagels. The “Lots ’o’ Everything” was a total winner with its heavy-handed assortment of sesame, poppy and garlic. The “Poppy Seed & Onion” was a lighter offering, with the poppy seeds and onion incorporated into the dough rather than applied on top. The “Great Garlic” will probably be my go-to, as I don’t mind walking around smelling of the “stinking rose.” And the “Hatch Green Chile” and “Chimayo Red Chile” are both something special; they deliver on the flavors that most every denizen of the state fiends for without letting you forget that you’re eating a bagel.
Ruthie’s doesn’t stop with bagels. This ambitious baker has developed a whole menu of Ashkenazy favorites. The knishes, a flaky-doughed snack with a nice helping of slightly chunky mashed potatoes in the center, were comforting and rich. By baking these weighty morsels instead of frying them, as is common in “the old countries,” Ruthie has achieved a lighter version that still delivers with full flavor. The knishes come frozen, but taste fresh upon re-heating. Ruthie’s challah, a braided sweet loaf integral to the Sabbath and to other Jewish holidays that allow for leavened bread, was just sweet enough and perfectly baked. Rugelach are small pastries rolled with fruit preserves that, when done right, will satisfy any sweet tooth. I went for the local apricot and the raspberry-filled varieties. They were exceptional. Just enough of the sugary jams had escaped the dough’s confines to caramelize the bottom of each pastry.
Whether you have been craving the real deal or if you have ever enjoyed Einstein Bros.’ “bagels” (steamed, not boiled!), I implore you to head over to the JCC (Ruthie’s Bagels are also available at La Montanita Co-Op) and grab yourself a baker’s dozen of these gems. Just be sure to follow COVID safety measures and order ahead, as each batch is boiled and baked in rapid succession while you are on your way!
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