BraveTart: How to Make Legit Bagel Bites From Scratch

[Photographs and video: Vicky Wasik]

To be perfectly honest, my childhood in suburban Kentucky involved more Bagel Bites than legit bagels or pizza. So while it was with great trepidation that I tackled a recipe for Homemade Bagels, with Bagel Bites I've got the home-court advantage—pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at suppertime!

Okay, sure. The very notion is probably a crime against pizza and bagels, but only in certain jurisdictions. For those of us who grew up with English Muffin Pizza, Bagel Bites are a natural extension of that whole kitschy genre of processed breakfast foods turned into cheesy snacks.

By virtue of assembly, an English muffin pizza is at least semi-homemade, whereas Bagel Bites have strictly been a commercial affair thanks to the scarcity of miniature bagels. And with all due respect to the 71% of Serious Eaters who approve of pizza bagels, the joy of a Bagel Bite is its chubby, chibi size.

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Now, you can totally miniaturize any bagel recipe, but time is of the essence. If you don't pizza-fy mini bagels right away, they'll stale within a few hours. Toasting can revive them to a certain extent, crisping them up nicely but destroying their wonderful chew.

Happily, I've cracked the code to bagels that stay fresh for a few days, which makes the idea of DIY Bagel Bites much easier to tackle, since the bagels will keep a day or two in a paper bag.

The dough is mixed up the exact same way, but divided into smaller portions before boiling and baking. The trick is to bake the mini bagels on a wire rack that has been covered in parchment (to prevent sticking) and nestled into a half sheet pan (for ease of use).

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This setup slows conduction of heat to their core, keeping the mini bagels tender and moist while preventing their bottoms from baking to a crisp.

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The result is a teeny, tiny bagel with a crispy, blistered crust that's especially soft and chewy on the bottom, so that when they're baked again to melt the cheese, they can crisp up without turning too crunchy or hard. (Baking on a wire rack is also a nifty way to keep full-sized bagels tender on the bottom if you plan to split them for sandwiches.)

With the baking out of the way, you've now got a 48-hour window to finish the job. For me, that makes it easy to spread my efforts out over a few weeknights—making bagels one day, baking them the next, then making the sauce, and assembling the Bagel Bites at my leisure. Of course, there's nothing to stop you from knocking it all out in one go if you'd prefer a marathon day of Bagel Bite–baking.

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Truth be told, with the bagel part taken care of, you don't really need me to figure out the pizza half of the equation, but there are a few key points to keep in mind. First, you want to briefly toast the split mini bagels to keep them from soaking up the red sauce; they'll stay chewy and crisp instead of becoming soggy. Not so much toasting that they turn hard or brown, but enough to slightly dry the cut surface to form a barrier.

Second, you'll want a sauce that's simple but intense, as the subtle flavors that may shine on a delicate pasta will be lost to the carb-y bagel. I recommend Daniel's recipe for Italian-American Red Sauce because it's quick and easy, with a classic tomato flavor. Plus, at about five cups, the yield's spot-on for topping 32 mini-bagel halves with a few tablespoons of sauce each.

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Top the mini bagels with a big handful of cheese, nearly a third of an ounce each (not that there's any need to measure). I prefer finely shredded mozzarella, because it's so fluffy it actually takes a bit longer to melt, giving the mini bagels time to warm through and crisp along the bottom. Plus, the shreds that fall off turn into the sort of toasty, crispy, lacy bits that form on the edge of a grilled cheese sandwich.

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While you can find all kinds of Bagel Bites in the wild, the best sort are topped with diced pepperoni. The little cubes ensure you get a little bit in every bite, while also helping the pepperoni bake faster. Most importantly, dicing gives you Bagel Bites that look just like the real deal.

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After just about 20 minutes in a hot oven, you've got yourself a snack no child of the '80s can resist: crispy, cheesy, saucy, chewy, and basically everything I ever wanted in a trashy little canapĂ©. Not that I have to wait for a dinner party, or even a Super Bowl party, to enjoy them—when pizza's on a bagel, you can eat pizza any time.