The bagel and schmear is a respected combination—revered, even. But are these two meant to be equal partners, or is there instead some sort of golden ratio between them? Exactly how much cream cheese should be served on a bagel?
It’s a question that has divided the public and launched online debate pretty much since the dawn of the internet. Some feel that the cream team is the dream team, but others say moderation is the key to a perfect bagel. Where do you stand?
Just a schmear of cream cheese, please
Like butter on toast, cream cheese is meant to enhance your bagel experience, not overshadow it. When I bite into a bagel, I want a 3:1 ratio of bagel to cream cheese. This specific split provides enough cream cheese to add flavor but never leaves you biting into just a mouthful of spread. Think about it: When you spread butter on toast, you would never go for a 50/50 combo. I love butter, but it’s meant to play a supporting role in this production.
Bagel shops often get it wrong when it comes to a bagel sandwich with both cream cheese and additional fillings. I get it; the shop doesn’t want its specialty—the actual bread and spread—to be outdone by the rest of the sandwich fillings. But as a result, I’ve noticed most businesses will overcompensate by globbing on a layer of cream cheese so thick that when you bite into the sandwich you get most of it on your face, like when you bite into a cupcake and end up with more frosting on your nose than in your mouth. Most of the time now, I end up scraping off some of the good stuff because I just want to be able to bite into my sandwich and appreciate everything in it.
I love cream cheese, but there’s a balance to be had. Bring the harmony back to my bagel, please. — Angela L. Pagán, staff writer
The more cream cheese, the better
I don’t live in a bagel paradise. While Chicago has some fantastic bagel shops, they are admittedly fewer and farther between than you’ll find in New York City. (On this one point, I admit NYC’s superiority.) Consequently, the average bagel I eat on a given day tends to come from decidedly more subpar sources: Starbucks, Dunkin’, Einstein Bros., Panera—you know, the whole airport terminal gang! Given these grim options, an excess of cream cheese can only add to the experience. The pure flavor of the bagel, in these cases, isn’t what I’m here for.
If I were a person who ate her cream-cheese-laden bagels by bringing them up to her mouth for a sandwich-style bite, then yes, a heap of cream cheese would probably only get in my way. But I am, in fact, a little weirdo who eats her bagels more in the manner of a rat. I begin by pulling apart the halves of the bagel, with (ideally) plenty of cream cheese on each one. Then I reach underneath to the dry, un-cream-cheesed underbelly of the bagel, rip off bite-sized chunks without cheesin’ up my fingers, and bring each of those open-faced bites tidily to my mouth. This makes it easy to pile each bite high with delicious, flavorful cream cheese!
In the perfect world, I’d only ever consume bagels whose flavor was worth savoring, with minimal distraction. In this all too real world, I’ll take as much cream cheese as they’ll give me. —Marnie Shure, managing editor