A bagel, traditionally shaped by hand into the form of a ring from yeasted wheat dough, roughly hand-sized, is first boiled for a short time in water and then baked. As a result, it is dense and chewy inside and browned and sometimes crispy outside. Bagels are often topped with seeds baked on the outer crust, with the traditional ones being poppy, sunflower or sesame seeds. Some also may have salt sprinkled on their surface, and there are also a number of different dough types, such as whole-grain or rye.
They probably originated in Poland and were widely consumed in East European Jewish communities from the 17th century.
The design is hundreds of years old and provides for a more even cooking and baking of the dough while the hole could be used to thread string through groups of bagels, thus allowing for easier handling and transportation.
In the Brick Lane district and surrounding area of London, England, bagels, locally spelled “beigels”, have been sold since the 19th century. They were often displayed in the windows of bakeries on vertical wooden dowels, up to a metre in length, on racks.
Traditional bagel dough contains wheat flour (without germ or bran), salt, water, and yeast leavening. Bread flour or other high gluten flours are preferred to create the firm and dense but spongy bagel shape and chewy texture. Most bagel recipes call for the addition of a sweetener to the dough, often barley malt, honey, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, with or without eggs, milk or butter.
Bagels are traditionally made by mixing and kneading the ingredients to form the dough, then shaping the dough into the traditional shape, round with a hole in the middle, proofing the bagels for at least 12 hours at low temperature (5-10 °C), boiling each bagel in water that may or may not contain additives such as lye, baking soda, barley malt syrup, or honey and finally baking them in the oven.
In recent years, a variant of this process has emerged, producing what is called the steam bagel. Here, the process of boiling is skipped, and the bagels are instead baked in an oven equipped with a steam injection system.
A typical bagel has 250-350 calories and 1.0-4.5 grams of fat. Gluten-free bagels have much more fat.
Traditional bagels in North America can be either Montreal-style or New York-style bagels.
The “Montreal-style bagel” is a little smaller and has a bigger hole. The set of standards is really strict. Every single one has to be handmade, poached in honey-infused water, and cooked in a wood-burning oven. It contains malt and sugar but no salt.
The “New York bagel” contains salt and malt and is boiled in water before baking in a standard oven. The resulting bagel is puffy with a moist crust.
Similar foods can be found in many countries in Eastern and Central Europe, Turkey, China or Japan.
Bagels are now a popular bread product in North America and are available, either fresh or frozen, in many major supermarkets. Bagels with cream cheese and lox (cured salmon) are considered a traditional part of American Jewish cuisine. Many corporate chains now offer bagels in such flavors as chocolate chip and French toast. Sandwich bagels have been popularized since the late 1990s by bagel specialty shops and fast food restaurants. Breakfast bagels, a softer, sweeter variety usually sold in fruity or sweet flavors are commonly sold sliced by large supermarket chains and are intended to be prepared in a toaster.
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