The Ultimate Bagel Experience

The Ultimate Bagel Experience

With so many flavors to choose from, how do you create the ultimate bagel combo? Our head baker, Tom Gumpel, reveals how to make every piece fit together perfectly.

When you’re pairing food and drinks—any food and drink—there are guidelines you need to consider. Just like wine pairings, you want a drink that will stand up to the food, like a hearty red wine that holds up to roasted meats. That’s true for coffee and bagels with cream cheese too. Each has a particular role to play, and when you balance the flavors and textures, it’s that much better of an experience.

To start out, think about the type of bagel you’re ordering. Some of our lighter, fruitier bagels, such as Blueberry, do really well with a light-roast coffee—something that doesn’t drown out the nuances of the fruit. If you drank a dark roast with it, or a hearty, nutty hazelnut coffee, that would stomp all over your palate—you couldn’t appreciate the other flavors. But an Asiago Bagel, with its strong, cheesy flavor and sourness and fermentation, can play really nicely with a heartier-roast coffee: They’re equally assertive, so there’s no competition for your taste buds.

Cream cheese is a whole ’nother element, and that’s when you can really start to play with flavors. We have a variety of cream cheese spread flavors on the menu, and one thing nobody thinks about—but that’s important—is that they’re almost all reduced-fat. Fat can mask flavor, so by backing off the fat on a lot of these cream cheese spreads, we can let the other flavors—the fruits, the nuts—come forward. This even plays into drink pairings: You can pair a bagel and cream cheese spread with a plain cup of coffee, or you can bring in a specialty drink, like a latte, that has a lot of milk in it. Because most of our cream cheese spreads are already reduced-fat, you’re not dulling flavors if you opt for more dairy.

Here are a few of my favorite combinations:

1. Asiago Cheese Bagel with Reduced-Fat Roasted Vegetable Medley Cream Cheese Spread and Dark Roast Coffee

This combination jogs your palate awake, especially when you toast the bagel. The heat evaporates and brings flavors up through your nose, elevating spices and herbs—so it amplifies the flavors. Darker-roast coffees pair well with toasted bagels, and you really don’t need cream in your coffee—there’s plenty of dairy in the Asiago and cream cheese spread. The overall effect is bold and hearty: You’ve got the toasting of the bread, the cheese that’s caramelized and heightened and then the sweet, roasted quality of the veggies.

2. Plain Bagel with Reduced-Fat Honey Walnut Cream Cheese Spread and Light Roast Coffee

You don’t need to make it complex to have a great bagel experience. Starting out with a good ol’ plain bagel, especially our sourdough-based bagels that have a little acidity to them, is like working with an artist’s canvas: It’s mellow and low-key and allows you to pick up all the flavor nuances from the cream cheese spread and coffee. Nuts and honey and coffee are a classic flavor profile—they work really well together.

Tom Gumpel

Tom Gumpel

Head Baker, Panera Bread

Favorite bagel pairing?

“Asiago Bagel, by far. Kind of boring, but I like the plain, full-fat cream cheese spread with that—with the Asiago Bagel, it’s all about the cheese.”

Best bagel memory?

“Teaching my daughter when she was three years old to make New York-style bagels at home—hand-forming them and letting them chill in the refrigerator, then boiling them the next morning. She’s always loved bagels, and I think it started with that.”