Bagel: Its History, Its Taste, Its Preparation
Imagine this scenario. You’re a New Yorker on their way to work in the morning when you feel peckish for a bit to eat. Do you: a) pick up a croissant from a local bakery? b) grab something from one of the many street carts? or c) get a bagel, of course! If you picked “c” then today’s blog is for you! We go into the history and production of this iconic New York meal. As well as explore the different ways they’re prepared and eaten.
What is a Bagel?
A bagel is a bread product originating in the Jewish communities of Poland. Traditionally, bakers shaped yeasted wheat dough by hand into the form a ring roughly the size of a hand. Then, it is first boiled for a short time in water, then baked. This process allows for a dense, chewy, doughy interior with a browned and somewhat crispy exterior. Additionally, bakers topped the crust with seeds such as poppy or sesame.
The earliest known mentioned of a boiled-then-baked ring-shaped bread dates back to a recipe in a 13-century Arabic cookbook. However, the bagel is widely associated with Ashkenazi Jews from the 17th century. Specifically, in 1610 where it’s referenced as a food given as a gift to women in childbirth.
The basic roll-with-a-hole concept dates back hundreds of year as it provides other advantages alongside more even cooking and baking of the dough. For example, string or metal poles could pass through the hold to group the breads. Thus, allowing easier handling, transportation, and more appealing seller displays.
Regardless of where this originated from, its no surprise that its unique taste, easy portability, and cheap production cost has made the bagel the iconic food staple that it is today.
Production and Preparation
At its most simple, a traditional bagel contains:
- wheat flour (with germ or bran)
- yeast leavening
Bread flour or other high gluten flours are preferable as they create the desired firm but spongy shape and texture. What’s more, most recipes call for a sweetener. This could come in the form of:
- barley malt
- high fructose syrup
- or, sugar
Additionally, this could be with or without eggs, milk, or butter.
To traditionally make a bagel:
- Mix and knead the ingredients to form a dough.
- Shape the dough into the traditional ring shape from a long thing piece of dough.
- Proof the dough for at least 12 hours at low temperature (40-50ºF).
- Boil each roll in water for 60-90 seconds with optional additives such as lye, baking soda, barley malt syrup, or honey.
- Bake between 350-600ºF.
- Let cool and consume!
While a bagel is certainly delicious enough to eaten plain, normally they are toasted and accompanied by some staple toppings. Also known as a schmear!
- Cream cheese. Probably the number one go-to schmear. Its creamy tangy taste accompanies that of the roll. For an iconic combo, pair with lox (smoked salmon), tomato, red onions, and capers.
- Asiago cheese. Another excellent dairy number that provides a great addition to the flavour — especially if you go for a spicy jalapeño version!
- Breakfast. Not really a schmear, but who doesn’t want to have an entire meal in a sandwich. This variety usually consists of eggs (scrambled or fried), cheese, and some sort of thin meat or bacon.