What’s a Bagel Without It?

March 8th, 2011 | george | Comments Off on What’s a Bagel Without It?

One of my favorite weekend breakfast rituals is to go to the neighborhood bagel shop, and get a warm bagel with the traditional “schmear” of cream cheese on top. Gauging from the proliferation of bagel shops, I am in good company with people who enjoy this morning fare. I do not delude myself into thinking cream cheese is a healthful food choice . . . but without it, a bagel is just a bagel!

Cream cheese had its origins in New York as early as 1872. While the ingredients are quite simple, the process to making the product is anything but. In most cases, cream cheese is made from a combination of milk, heavy cream, and emulsifiers or lactic acid to solidify the product. The mixture must be heated to a narrow temperature range to achieve the optimum consistency. Because cream cheese is not aged and is unripened, the shelf life of the product is comparatively quite short.

Cream cheese is an indulgent product. The USDA requires no less than 33% milkfat and no more than 56% water. A tablespoon of cream cheese typically contains around 100 calories. A minor piece of good news is that while high in fat, cream cheese contains no trans-fats.

The versatility of cream cheese is evidenced by the many uses of the product in the kitchen. In addition to a great bagel topping, most good cheesecake recipes require cream cheese. Carrot cake typically uses a thick icing made from cream cheese. Many types of dips can also be made from the product, and fruit or veggies are often added to create variety. For those concerned with their amount of fat intake, low-fat versions of cream cheese are also available.