You’ve gotta hand it to the folks at Ore-Ida, makers of the classic Bagel Bites Pizza Snacks. The brand successfully convinced a generation of kids that bagels cooked in the microwave make a delicious and acceptable meal for any time of day. As an adult with expansive bagel (and pizza) research under my belt, I can admit that the concept is genius, even if the cooking technique is deeply flawed. Ore-Ida’s spongy, microwaved saucers were too soft, with measly toppings and barely any bagel-y flavor at all. Seeing that we’re in the middle of a ‘90s cultural renaissance, I think it’s high time for a reboot. Here are my tips for mastering the all-ages pizza bagel.
What you need
Step 1: Choose your bagel.
Go as basic or gourmet as you like here. Plain bagels work great, but a sesame, everything, or jalapeño bagel will just add more flavor to your “crust.” You can feel free to use a bagel from your favorite local spot, but, for nostalgia’s sake, this technique was designed using run-of-the-mill grocery store bagels.
Step 2: Split, oil, and toast.
A good pizza bagel must have three things: crispy edges, a toasted (unsoggy) bottom, and a chewy midsection. To avoid the dreaded soggy bottom, I like to split the bagel in half and brush a bit of olive oil onto each cut side. Arrange the two halves, cut-side-up, on a foil-lined baking sheet, then slide into a 425°F oven until evenly golden-brown, 5–8 minutes. (Alternatively, you can use a toaster oven set to the same temperature.) This step will result in a well-toasted base that holds up well to sauce and other toppings.
Step 3: Sauce and top your bagel.
Once the bagel is toasted, switch the oven to broil. You won’t need to cook the bagels much longer, just enough to melt the cheese. To the cut side of each toasted bagel half, spread some marinara sauce all the way to the edges. Too much sauce will result in a soggy pizza bagel, so aim for 1–2 tablespoons per half, depending on the size of your bagel. Next, top each half with shredded cheese (about ⅓ cup per side) and your toppings of choice. Mini pepperoni looks especially cute on a bagel, but go as classic or high-brow as you like. For proteins, try salami, soppressata, crumbled bacon or sausage, anchovies, or prosciutto (the latter is best added post-oven). Pickled jalapeño slices, pineapple tidbits, mushrooms, caramelized fennel, roasted tomatoes, thinly sliced summer squash, or roasted butternut squash will take your creation to the next level. For a final touch, after baking, drizzle on some honey, balsamic, or a nice quality extra-virgin olive oil to make your bagel pizzas sing. Griffin Baker, NYC pizza maker, recommends also topping pizza bagels “all the way to the edges, so the perimeter doesn’t burn before the cheese caramelizes." Return to the oven and broil until the cheese is melted and starting to brown in spots, 3–5 minutes more.
Step 4: Garnish and devour.
As with a regular pizza, certain toppings are best applied to pizza bagels once they’re out of the oven. Fresh herbs, crushed red pepper flakes, grated Parmesan, honey, and balsamic vinegar all fall into this category, so add these right before eating. Let your pizza bagels cool for a minute or two before serving to children or diving in yourself. (Pizza bagel mouth burn is a memory best left in the ‘90s.)
Notes on Storage:
I can’t lie, part of the appeal of the pizza bagel is the pre-made, frozen factor. Luckily, this convenience can actually be achieved at home—with a little planning. Just assemble your pizza bagels up to the point of broiling, then freeze them on a baking sheet (toppings and all) until solid. Transfer the bagels to a zip-top freezer bag or airtight container. Frozen pizza bagels will keep well for up to two months. To finish, just pop them in a 400°F oven until the cheese is melted and the bagels are toasty and heated through, 18–20 minutes.
Now that you know bigger, better-tasting pizza bagels can be made in about 15 minutes, you’ll be hard-pressed for an excuse not to eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or whenever the late-night craving hits. Consider this technique a basic framework for realizing your own wildest pizza bagel fantasies. While the classic cheese, pepperoni, or supreme varieties are the most nostalgic, the alternatives are truly infinite. Swap marinara for barbecue sauce, or nix the sauce entirely and replace it with ricotta for a white pizza vibe. Provolone, smoked gouda, or burrata will elevate your creation instantly. Scour the web or your favorite pizzeria’s menu for inspiration and let thy bagel be thy canvas.