Seltzer Water Makes NYC Deli Cream Cheese Irresistible

New York City bagels belong in a category all their own. Though their concept is relatively simple, and while you can find bagels and cream cheese in almost any grocery store, they're absolutely irreplicable to those who know and love them. What makes New York bagels unique is a subject of much discussion and mystery. Some have boiled down the unique joy of New York bagels to using N.Y.C. tap water. Others credit the bagels' unique taste and texture to the fact that New York bagels are boiled before baking, giving them a fluffy interior and glossy crust.


But what about the schmear? The New York bagel itself usually gets all of the glory, but the cream cheese spread also brings a signature taste and texture. The cream cheese piled high on New York bagels is much fluffier and lighter than your typical block of cream cheese, but what makes it so special? The secret to that fluffy cream cheese is a splash of seltzer. The benefits of this trick are two-fold. The water part of the seltzer softens the cream cheese, and the carbon dioxide (or bubbles) gives the spread a light, fluffy texture. Adding seltzer to your cream cheese will help bring the signature soft, light New York deli schmear to your table.

Whipping up your cream cheese

Of course, fluffing up your spread requires more than just pouring seltzer over a block of cream cheese. To properly achieve that light, fluffy texture, you'll want to properly mix the two. For the best result, use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and whip your cream cheese. This will incorporate air into your spread, giving it a lighter texture that's further enhanced by the addition of seltzer water. As you whip your cream cheese, add seltzer in small amounts until you achieve your desired texture. There's no specific amount to shoot for, but adding the water 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time should give you control over your cheese's consistency.


Plain seltzer works best for this trick, as anything flavored will likely complicate your cream cheese's taste profile. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can always mix your cheese and seltzer with a fork, though this will require constant and active mixing to incorporate air into your cream cheese along with the seltzer. Air is the key element of this cream cheese enhancement — while the seltzer's water does soften the mixture, the carbon dioxide gives the cheese an effervescent quality that blows regular cream cheese out of the (seltzer) water.

Don't be afraid to mix in some fun

Why stop with just a splash of seltzer? There are countless add-ins you can incorporate into your cream cheese to help bring it to the next level and remind you of your favorite New York deli counter. Classic combinations like cheddar, scallions or green onions, and bacon can make a delicious, savory cream cheese perfect for topping your bagel or incorporating into an omelet or sandwich. If you're feeling more sweet than savory, however, whipping in some brown sugar and cinnamon can create a great bagel filling or even a dip for bagel chips, cannoli chips, or fruits such as sliced apples or strawberries.


Of course, you can also use this tip beyond the bagel. Adding seltzer to cream cheese-based dips, spreads, and frostings can help improve its often dense texture. The addition of seltzer to your cream cheese mix will help make your cheese both more spreadable and dippable, making it an even more versatile treat than that classic block of cream cheese which, for all its classic appeal, can certainly be difficult to spread.