A plain commercially produced bagel (as evidenced by grate marks used in steaming, rather than boiling)
|Place of origin||Poland|
|Region or state||Eastern Europe|
|Main ingredient(s)||wheat dough|
A bagel (also spelled beigel) is a bread product, traditionally shaped by hand into the form of a ring from yeasted wheat dough, roughly hand-sized, which is first boiled for a short time in water and then baked. The result is a dense, chewy, doughy interior with a browned and sometimes crisp exterior. Bagels are often topped with seeds baked on the outer crust, with the traditional ones being poppy 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.
Bagels have become a popular bread product in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, especially in cities with large Jewish populations, many with different ways of making bagels. Like other bakery products, bagels are available (either fresh or frozen, and often in many flavor varieties) in many major supermarkets in those countries.
The basic roll-with-a-hole design is hundreds of years old and has other practical advantages besides providing for a more even cooking and baking of the dough: the hole could be used to thread string or dowels through groups of bagels, allowing for easier handling and transportation and more appealing seller displays.
Contrary to some beliefs, the bagel was not created in the shape of a stirrup to commemorate the victory of Poland's King Jan III Sobieski over the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. It was actually invented much earlier in Kraków, Poland, as a competitor to the obwarzanek, a lean bread of wheat flour designed for Lent. Leo Rosten wrote in "The Joys of Yiddish" about the first known mention of the word bajgiel in the "Community Regulations" of the city of Kraków in 1610, which stated that the item was given as a gift to women in childbirth.
In the 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, the bajgiel became a staple of the Polish national diet, and a staple of the Slavic diet generally. That the name originated from beugal (old spelling of Bügel, meaning bail/bow or bale) is considered plausible by many[who?], both from the similarities of the word and because traditional handmade bagels are not perfectly circular but rather slightly stirrup-shaped. (This, however, may be due to the way the boiled bagels are pressed together on the baking sheet before baking.)
Additionally, variants of the word beugal are used in Yiddish and Austrian German to refer to a somewhat similar form of sweet filled pastry (Mohnbeugel (with poppy seeds) and Nussbeugel (with ground nuts)), or in southern German dialects (where beuge refers to a pile, e.g., holzbeuge, or woodpile). According to the Merriam-Webster's dictionary, 'bagel' derives from the transliteration of the Yiddish 'beygl', which came from the Middle High German 'böugel' or ring, which itself came from 'bouc' (ring) in Old High German, similar to the Old English 'bēag' '(ring), and 'būgan' (to bend or bow). Similarly another etymology in the Webster's New World College Dictionary says that the Middle High German form was derived from the Austrian German 'beugel', a kind of croissant, and was similar to the German 'bügel', a stirrup or ring.
In the Brick Lane district and surrounding area of London, England, bagels, or as locally spelled "beigels" have been sold since the middle of the 19th century. They were often displayed in the windows of bakeries on vertical wooden dowels, up to a metre in length, on racks.
Bagels were brought to the United States by immigrant Polish-Jews, with a thriving business developing in New York City that was controlled for decades by Bagel Bakers Local 338, which had contracts with nearly all bagel bakeries in and around the city for its workers, who prepared all their bagels by hand. The bagel came into more general use throughout North America in the last quarter of the 20th century, which was due at least partly to the efforts of bagel baker Harry Lender, his son, Murray Lender, and Florence Sender, who pioneered automated production and distribution of frozen bagels in the 1960s. Murray also invented pre-slicing the bagel.
In modern times, Canadian-born astronaut Gregory Chamitoff is the first person known to have taken a batch of bagels into space on his 2008 Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station. His shipment consisted of 18 sesame seed bagels.
Preparation and preservation
At its most basic, 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 (syrup or crystals), honey, sugar, with or without eggs, milk or butter. Leavening can be accomplished using either a sourdough technique or using commercially produced yeast.
Bagels are traditionally made by:
- mixing and kneading the ingredients to form the dough
- shaping the dough into the traditional bagel shape, round with a hole in the middle, from a long thin piece of dough
- proofing the bagels for at least 12 hours at low temperature (40–50 °F = 4.5–10 °C)
- boiling each bagel in water that may or may not contain additives such as lye, baking soda, barley malt syrup, or honey
- baking at between 175 °C and 315 °C (about 350–600 °F)
It is this unusual production method which is said to give bagels their distinctive taste, chewy texture, and shiny appearance. In recent years, a variant of this process has emerged, producing what is sometimes called the steam bagel. To make a steam bagel, the process of boiling is skipped, and the bagels are instead baked in an oven equipped with a steam injection system. In commercial bagel production, the steam bagel process requires less labor, since bagels need only be directly handled once, at the shaping stage. Thereafter, the bagels need never be removed from their pans as they are refrigerated and then steam-baked. The steam-bagel is not considered to be a genuine bagel by purists, as it results in a fluffier, softer, less chewy product more akin to a finger roll that happens to be shaped like a bagel. Steam bagels are also considered lower quality by purists as the dough used is intentionally more basic. The increase in pH is to aid browning since the steam injection process uses neutral water steam instead of a basic solution bath.
If not consumed immediately, there are certain storing techniques that can help to keep the bagel moist and fresh. First, cool bagels in a paper bag, then wrap the paper bag in a plastic bag (attempting to rid the bags of as much air as possible without squishing the bagels), then freeze for up to six months.
The two most prominent styles of traditional bagel in North America are the Montreal-style bagel and the New York-style bagel. The Montreal bagel contains malt and sugar with no salt; it is boiled in honey-sweetened water before baking in a wood-fired oven; and it is predominantly either of the poppy "black" or sesame "white" seeds variety. The New York bagel contains salt and malt and is boiled in water prior to baking in a standard oven. The resulting New York bagel is puffy with a moist crust, while the Montreal bagel is smaller (though with a larger hole), crunchier, and sweeter.
Chicago-style bagels are baked or baked with steam.
Poppy seeds are sometimes called by their Yiddish name, spelled either mun or mon (written מאָן) which is very similar to the German word for poppy, Mohn, as used in Mohnbrötchen. The traditional London bagel (or beigel as it is spelled) is harder and has a coarser texture with air bubbles.
American chef John Mitzewich suggests a recipe for what he calls “San Francisco-Style Bagels”. His recipe yields bagels flatter than New York-style bagels and characterized by a rough-textured crust.
Bagels around the world
Pretzels, especially the large soft ones, are similar to bagels, the main exceptions being the shape and the alkaline water bath that makes the surface dark and glossy.
In Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, the bublik is essentially a much larger bagel, but have a wider hole, and are drier and chewier Other ring-shaped breads known among East Slavs are baranki (smaller and drier) and sushki (even smaller and drier).
In Lithuania, bagels are called riestainiai, and sometimes by their Slavic name baronkos.
In Finland, vesirinkeli are small rings of yeast-leavened wheat bread. They are placed in salted boiling water before being baked. They are often eaten for breakfast toasted and buttered. They are available in several different varieties (sweet or savoury) in supermarkets.
In Turkey, a salty and fattier form is called açma. However, the ring-shaped simit, is sometimes marketed as Turkish bagel. Archival sources show that the simit has been produced in Istanbul since 1525. Based on Üsküdar court records (Şer’iyye Sicili) dated 1593, the weight and price of simit was standardized for the first time. Famous 17th century traveler Evliya Çelebi wrote that there were 70 simit bakeries in Istanbul during 1630s  Jean Brindesi's early 19th century oil-paintings about Istanbul daily life show simit sellers on the streets. Warwick Goble made an illustration of these simit sellers of Istanbul in 1906. Surprisingly, simit is very similar to the twisted sesame-sprinkled bagels pictured being sold in early 20th century Poland. Simit are also sold on the street in baskets or carts, like bagels were then.
In some parts of Austria, ring-shaped pastries called Beugel are sold in the weeks before Easter. Like a bagel, the yeasted wheat dough, usually flavored with caraway, is boiled before baking. However, the Beugel is crispy and can be stored for weeks. Traditionally it has to be torn apart by two individuals before eating.
In Romania, bagels are popular topped with poppy, sesame seeds or large salt grains, especially in the central area of the country, and the recipe does not contain any added sweetener. They are named covrigi.
In Japan, the first kosher bagels were brought by BagelK (ベーグルK) from New York in 1989. BagelK created green tea, chocolate, maple-nut, and banana-nut flavors for the market in Japan. There are three million bagels exported from the U.S. annually, and it has a 4%-of-duty classification of Japan in 2000. Some Japanese bagels are sweet; the orthodox kosher bagels are the same as in the U.S.
"Bagel" is also a Yeshivish term for sleeping 12 hours straight, e.g., "I slept a bagel last night." There are various opinions as to the origins of this term. It may be a reference to the fact that bagel dough has to "rest" for at least 12 hours between mixing and baking, or simply to the fact that the hour hand on a clock traces a bagel shape over the course of twelve hours.
Non-traditional doughs and types
While normally and traditionally made of yeasted wheat, in the late 20th century many variations on the bagel flourished. Nontraditional versions which change the dough recipe include pumpernickel, rye, sourdough, bran, whole wheat, and multigrain. Other variations change the flavor of the dough, often using blueberry, salt, onion, garlic, egg, cinnamon, raisin, chocolate chip, cheese, or some combination of the above. Green bagels are sometimes created for St. Patrick's Day.
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 such as Bruegger's and Einstein Brothers, and fast food restaurants such as McDonald's. Breakfast bagels, a softer, sweeter variety usually sold in fruity or sweet flavors (e.g., cherry, strawberry, cheese, blueberry, cinnamon-raisin, chocolate chip, maple syrup, banana and nuts) are commonly sold by large supermarket chains. These are usually sold sliced and are intended to be prepared in a toaster.
A flat bagel, known as a 'Flagel', can be found in a few locations in and around New York City and Toronto. According to a review attributed to New York's Village Voice food critic Robert Seitsema, the Flagel was first created by Brooklyn's Tasty Bagels deli in the early 1990s.
Though the original bagel has a fairly well defined recipe and method of production, there is no legal standard of identity for bagels in the United States. Bakers are thus free to call any bread torus a bagel, even those that deviate wildly from the original formulation.
Large scale commercial sales
United States supermarket sales
According to the American Institute of Baking (AIB), Year 2008 supermarket sales (52 week period ending January 27, 2009) of the top eight leading commercial fresh (not frozen) bagel brands in the United States:
- totalled to US$430,185,378 based on 142,669,901 package unit sales.
- the top eight leading brand names for the above were (by order of sales): Thomas', Sara Lee, (private label brands) Pepperidge Farm, Thomas Mini Squares, Lender's Bagels (Pinnacle Foods), Weight Watchers and The Alternative Bagel (Western Bagel).
Further, AIB-provided statistics for the 52 week period ending May 18, 2008, for refrigerated/frozen supermarket bagel sales for the top 10 brand names totalled US$50,737,860, based on 36,719,977 unit package sales.
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- Step-by-Step How to Make Bagels (with pics)
- Einstein, Brothers. The History of Bagels, October 20, 2009
- Nathan, Joan. A Short History of Bagels, Slate, November 12, 2008
- Weinzweig, Ari. The Secret History of Bagels, The Atlantic, March 26, 2009
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