Give Fluffy Focaccia the Bagel Treatment, Feed a Crowd

June 14, 2018

I’ve been to a lot of lot-of-people bagel brunches. Usually, these people are my family and, usually, it goes something like this:

Grandma gets lox at Costco (and a hot dog while she’s there). My aunt cuts the tomatoes (and eats the end pieces as she does). I insist that we need more onion (yes, more than that). My mom brings plain and scallion cream cheese (everyone has an opinion).

But whoever buys the bagels has the toughest job of all. A lot of people want everything—you know, the seasoning. Others would prefer everything whole-wheat. Or just whole-wheat, can you text me when you’re there? Probably one plain. A couple onions. A few poppy seeds. Lots of pumpernickel. Oooh! Love pumpernickel! an onion-er exclaims as we unpack the bag. Can I have one of those instead?

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Now, someone has to cut them. And toast them, either one-by-one in a toaster or, more practically, in the oven, where no one can agree what temperature or whether we should use the broiler or how long they should be in there. When they first come out, they’re too toasty for someone, not toasty enough for someone else.

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I have an alternative to all of this: pumpernickel focaccia.

Think of it like a giant, family-style, slab bagel. Because it’s homemade, no one can complain about it (that’s how it works, right?). It’ll make brunch so easy, you’ll barely know what to do with yourself.

I started with the focaccia recipe from our contributor Alexandra Stafford’s endlessly inspiring book Bread Toast Crumbs. Then I messed with it. A lot.

Pumpernickel flour is “the rye equivalent of whole wheat flour.” But when you hear pumpernickel in the context of a bagel or loaf of bread, we’re talking about a lot more than flour. Some usual suspects:

  • That signature, deep, dark mahogany color doesn’t just come from whole grains. It mostly comes from syrupy molasses and cocoa powder.
  • Cornmeal adds a little heft and textural oomph.
  • And caraway seeds! So many. These are what pings your brain and says, You’re eating pumpernickel. Lucky you.

When I added all of this to a basic focaccia, just what you’d expect to happen happened: It turned out dense and thin, almost like a cracker. While white flour breads effortlessly become light and fluffy, we’ve got a lot working against us here. So I increased the yeast. And then I increased it again. And then I increased it again. And then I went too far, which is exactly when you know you’re close—somewhere between the two.

Because the recipe uses instant yeast, this all happens much quicker than you’d think, so you can assemble and bake the morning-of.

Now, you’re the host, so you get to decide what goes on your slab not-bagel. For me, it’s easy: Ultra-thick, whole-milk Greek yogurt, which spreads sooo much easier than cream cheese, and offers more tang. Lox. Slivers of red onion. Spunky little capers. Fresh dill.

You could also do whitefish spread, whisper-thin cucumbers, and oil-cured olives. Or butter, smoked trout, and chopped pickles. Or egg salad, sprouts, and baby arugula.

Whatever you do, cut into as many or as few slabs at the table and ask: Who wants a corner or edge or middle piece? This should cause just enough chaos, which it wouldn’t be brunch without.


What's your go-to bagel order? Tell us all the details in the comments below.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


juwu_eats June 15, 2018
Eric K. June 14, 2018
The recipe says "Serves 12," but can I eat this all by myself in one sitting?