Monday, September 28, 2015

Bagels (and cream cheese) from Panera Bread

Update Review, September 2015

If you didn't read my original Panera bagel review, I suggest you start there, and then return to this update, since I'm skipping the background this time around.  See "Original Review, April 2014" below.
Whole Grain Bagel. $1.25.
"Freshly baked bagel made from whole spelt flour, millet, flaxseed and other wheat flours, sweetened with honey and topped with rolled oats."

For some reason, I didn't love my bagel this time, even though it was my absolute favorite last time. The bagel was fine, I liked the oats on top, but, I think I screwed up with my toppings.

This was really a tragedy, as I opted to get not one, but two different cream cheeses (I couldn't decide!). I love the Panera flavored cream cheeses. I like this bagel. But combined? It just didn't work. I kept just wanting simple butter (and honey) to accent the healthy, hearty nature of the bagel, not flavorful cream cheese.
Wild Blueberry and Hazelnut Cream Cheese. $1.39 each.
I couldn't make up my mind about what flavor of cream cheese I wanted to try with my bagel. I knew the tubs were only 2 ounces anyway, which, yes, is enough for a full bagel with no problem, but I like to slather it on pretty generously. Bagel == excuse to eat cream cheese after all.

Plus, I knew I could save extra, so, I went for two: wild blueberry because I'd never tried it, and hazelnut, as I had a vague memory of liking it before. I really wanted the cheesecake flavor, but alas, they didn't have it.
Wild Blueberry Cream Cheese.
Panera's cream cheese is decent. Always quite soft and spreadable, not quite like the "whipped" cream cheese you can buy that is really fluffy and airy, but also not hard to spread without destroying your bagel like basic cream cheese.

It was a beautiful purple color, and loaded up with tiny little blueberries. The flavor was decent. It didn't scream "OMG BLUEBERRY!", but you could tell what it was. I would prefer fresh, larger berries, but, for what it was, it was fine, although I likely wouldn't pick it again.
Hazelnut Cream Cheese.
The hazelnut cream cheese was great. Little bits of hazelnut, tons of flavor, soft and spreadable like all the Panera cream cheese.

Honestly, I could kinda just eat this by the spoonful, like a cheesecake. I also brought the leftover home and used it like a dip with pretzels later. I think it would be awesome on a chocolate chip bagel, so you could get the whole chocolate + hazelnut thing going on. It was fine with my whole wheat bagel, but not a match made in heaven. I'd certainly get this cream cheese again though

Original Review, April 2014

I've reviewed the muffins from Panera before, but somehow, I never wrote up a review of the item I most commonly get from Panera: bagels.  Are they the most authentic, delicious bagels out there?  Of course not.  But, particularly here in the Bay Area, we take what we can get.  And I'm a sucker for flavored cream cheeses, of which Panera offers many.
Whole Grain Bagel, Honey Walnut Cream Cheese.  $2.87.
One Sunday morning, I was really craving a bagel.  Not something I usually care that much about, as I don't have a place in the city that I love, but I really, really wanted carbs slathered in flavorful cream cheese.  I decided to try Panera.  While I didn't like any of the baked goods I tried last last time I was there, I did recall their bagels being decent years ago when I tried them, and I remembered that they had numerous flavored cream cheeses.

I looked up their bagel flavors online before heading to the shop, fully intending on getting either the french toast or the cinnamon crunch bagels.  They seemed to be the most popular, and get pretty great reviews.  And when I saw them in person, they looked just as decadent as everyone described.  But ... something went wrong just as I was about to order.  I realized I really, really didn't want something sweet.  I know, I don't get it either.  I love my sweets.

I asked the girl taking my order if the french toast bagel was really sweet.  "Oh yes, it is incredibly sweet.  It is basically just syrup.  They should call it the maple syrup bagel instead of the french toast bagel."  Hmm.  So, I totally changed my plan, and went for perhaps the most boring, and complete opposite thing imaginable: the whole grain.  Yes, really.  Like I said, I don't know what had gotten into me!  I couldn't even tell you the last time I had a whole grain bagel when given any other choice.  I was in a weird mood.  At least I paired it with a sweet cream cheese, the honey walnut.  I figured the whole grains and honey flavors would go together nicely.

Described as "made from whole spelt flour, millet, flaxseed & other wheat flours, sweetened with honey & topped with rolled oats."

It turned out to be exactly what I was in the mood for.  Hearty tasting, with little bits of seeds and whatnot inside, giving it an interesting texture as you bit in.  I really liked the rolled oats on the outside.  It didn't really have much sweetness to it, which was fine with me.

Since I wasn't that hungry, I asked to only have half toasted, so I could take the other half home with me to eat later.  It was decently toasted.  I generally find bagel places under-toast for my liking, so I was happy to see it actually got a bit crispy.

Even when you dine-in, the cream cheese comes in a little sealed container.  I like that they don't apply it themselves, so you can put on the amount you actually want, but it seems funny to slice and toast your bagel for you, and then give you packaged cream cheese on the side.

The cream cheese was way too sweet for my mood however.  It was creamy, had a good distribution of walnut chunks in it, and did go well with the bagel.  I just wasn't all that into it.  I'm also amused that all of their cream cheese flavors, besides plain, are only available in reduced fat form.  Panera is not exactly known for being healthy (seriously, don't look at their nutrition stats.  I expected it for the baked goods and pastas, but was blown away when I saw the numbers for some of their salads and sandwiches.  The turkey sandwich has 49 grams of fat? Many of the salads have 40-50g fat, not including the dressing?  Yet all the cream cheese is reduced fat? So strange.)

I took the other half home and toasted it, and I decided to try other toppings.  I tried it 4 different ways, since I couldn't decide on what I wanted.  Yes, it was just half a bagel, so I cut it into quarters.

The first way I tried it was with my favorite peanut butter melted on.  That was actually pretty tasty, and the hearty flavor of the grains went well with the peanut butter.  The next segment I did with peanut butter and my mom's homemade strawberry jam, as I figured PB&J was better than just PB.  It turned out I was wrong, and liked it more with just the melted peanut butter.  Next up was butter and cinnamon.  Lots of melted butter.  This actually brought out the honey flavor in the bagel itself, and was lighter feeling than the heavy peanut butter.  It also inspired version #4: honey!  I know, I wasn't in the mood for sweet earlier, but I'd changed my mind by this point.  The honey and the oats and the grains all were perfect together.  This was my favorite version, but very simple.  I'm not sure I've ever had just honey on a bagel before.

Anyway, it was a good enough bagel.  Not something to dream about, but if I wanted a bagel, I'd go back to Panera.  I'd probably try other flavors, like the sweet ones, or the blueberry, but if for some reason the mood struck for a hearty bagel, I'd get it again.

The plain bagel is $1.25, the 2 ounce cream cheese container an additional $1.39.  Price seems a little higher than most cafes, mostly for the cream cheese, but not that high.
Pumpkin Pie Bagel.
"Freshly baked bagel made with pumpkin and spice, topped with a blend of crumb and cinnamon crunch topping and dusted with powdered sugar."

This was a strange bagel.  For starters, it didn't have a hole.  I tried a bite of it at room temperature, plain, and I was highly unimpressed.  Sure, it was pumpkin flavored, but it was mostly just dried out bread.

But then I toasted it, and added copious amounts of butter.  It was much better!  Warm, pumpkin bread, with some sweetness to it.  Decent spicing.  The butter added much needed moisture.  On top was a tiny amount of the "crumb and cinnamon crunch topping", but honestly, it was a fairly lame amount.  I would have certainly liked more, but perhaps that would have pushed it too far into the dessert category?  The powered sugar did a good job of sweetening things up just enough.
French Toast Bagel.
"Freshly baked bagel made with sweet maple flavored and cinnamon chips."

Inspired by the pumpkin pie bagel, I went for another sweet one, the french toast.  I love french toast, so this sounded great in name, but I also knew that it was a bagel, not actual french toast.

Like the pumpkin pie, I first tried a bite plain to evaluate it.  Again, just dried and meh.

Once toasted, it improved, but I still wasn't much of a fan.  It smelt amazing, like french toast indeed.  Or, at least, like cinnamon and maple syrup.  But there just wasn't much flavor.  I soaked it in butter, and it was better, but still not great.  I even, uh, dunked a piece in whipped cream, but that didn't help.  I wouldn't get this one again.

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Cinnamon Crunch Bagel

“Cinnamon and vanilla chips flavor the dough, topped with a sweet, crunchy shell of cinnamon & sugar.”

Dry, not that flavorful. But, decent cinnamon flavor, and a nice crunch on top.
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