Mini pizza bagels—better known as Bagel Bites—were a mainstay of after-school munching in the 1990s. The annoyingly catchy theme song rang out during morning and afternoon cartoon commercial breaks. If you were young or a parent of young kids during this time period, there's a good chance the jingle is playing in your head right now. Thanks to its impressive marketing, they became the preferred snack in many households, but what else made the savory bites so appealing?
Eating Bagel Bites felt like you were getting away with something. Pizza was a treat meal, often reserved for special nights or when mom was too tired to cook. Rather than settling for a snack of healthy fruit or unsatisfying chips, you could eat actual pizza! Whenever you wanted! The hot, cheesy bites were easy enough to heat up a kid could do it on their own, sharing their bounty with friends. They were perfectly sized for a kid to shove into their mouth—as long as you let them cool a minute or risk scalding your mouth.
The Origin of Bagel Bites
The beginnings of Bagel Bite can be traced back to the invention of the pizza bagel. Surprisingly, there's some controversy around who actually made the first one and when. Bruce Treitman claims he invented the pizza bagel in 1973 or 1974 at a location of his family's chain of bakeries, Western Bagel. The California outlets began officially selling pizza bagels in 1974. On the East Coast, Katz Bagel Bakery in Massachusetts claims that the then-owner, Harry Katz, made the first pizza bagel in the early 1970s.
While we may never know who actually made and sold the first pizza bagel, a trend was born. In the mid-1980s, Stanley Garczynski and Bob Mosher invented Bagel Bites using custom-made tiny bagels. The brand was an instant success and the Florida pair sold the company a couple of years later. Heinz (owner of Ore-Ida, the brand name on the Bagel Bites box) bought the company in 1991, putting it in supermarkets everywhere. The brand has put out a number of new flavors since the 1990s, including a breakfast version with bacon, egg, and cheese.
Homemade Bagel Bites
While Bagel Bites are certainly nostalgic, you might be disappointed if you bite into one now. The bread can have a stale taste and texture, especially when microwaved, and the sauce is a little too thick and salty. There's a disappointing amount of cheese that never quite melts.
Luckily, mini pizza bagels are easy to make at home. You won't get the same adorably small size (unless you make your own bagel dough and form it into tiny, tiny bagels), but you will get superior texture and total control over the ingredients. Plus, they freeze great!
Anatomy of a Mini Pizza Bagel
There are a few key ingredients to make your own Bagel Bites. The higher quality the ingredients, the better the mini pizza bagels will be:
- Bagels: While bagels as small as the ones used for Bagel Bites aren't typically available in stores, supermarket bagel brands like Thomas' do make "mini bagels." About twice the size of a Bagel Bite, they make a good base for mini pizzas, especially when split and toasted a bit before topping. You can also, of course, do from-scratch bagels.
- Sauce: Many frozen pizza products suffer from a sauce problem: too sweet, too salty, too thick. Find a pizza sauce or tomato sauce that you like and use that for your mini pizza bagels. If your sauce is a little bland, add a dusting of dried oregano and a pinch of red pepper flakes. You can also make your own pizza sauce for superior results.
- Cheese: Shredded mozzarella cheese melts the best, but if you're looking for more flavor, try an Italian-cheese blend or simply swap about 1/4 of the mozzarella for shredded Parmesan. Non-dairy cheese can also be used.
- Toppings: Since you're making your own mini pizza bagels, you can add whatever toppings you like. The classic Bagel Bites are available in cheese and pepperoni using thick, small-diced pepperoni that can be hard to find at the market. Try topping each with a single thin pepperoni, a few mini pepperonis, or go non-traditional with cooked sausage or bacon. For a vegetarian version, leave off the meat and go straight cheese or top with thin-sliced mushrooms, olives, peppers, or onion.
Bagel Bites rose to prominence for a reason beyond the infectious jingle: they're ultra-convenient. Stashed in the freezer, they don't require defrosting and only take a few minutes to heat up. When making your own homemade Bagel Bites, stash several in the freezer (before baking) for a quick and easy snack later—morning, evening, or at suppertime.