What’s round with a hole and not a donut?
What can be threaded on a dowel or string or used, frozen, as a baby’s teether?
What did American travel writers, Beatrice and Ira Freeman, describe as an “unsweetened doughnut with rigor mortis?”
The answer is easy – it’s the unassuming bagel. Sometimes spelled beigel, it can be found around the world. You might like it plain, with salt or seeds or with a creative array of toppings. You might like it flavored with cinnamon and raisins, as a pizza bagel, or on St. Patrick’s Day colored leprechaun green. Some like it big – really big – like the 868-pound bagel made by Brueggers Bagels (USA). Guinness Records rated it the “largest bagel in the world.” It was proudly displayed at the New York State Fair in 2004.
Whether mini or giant – everyone loves a bagel.
What about you? Do you prefer the basics – bagel with butter or cream cheese and jelly? Do you dream about a bagel swathed in lox and onions? Maybe the more exotic appeals to you – like Nutella, avocado, or rainbow?
The “roll with a hole” is legendary – going back centuries. Choose your story like your toppings.
According to author Melia Robinson, “nobody knows why bagels exist.” Some say it goes back to the Middle Ages in the form of German pretzel bread traditionally served to monks in monasteries. Maria Balinska writes in The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, “These holy provisions are thought to have made their way from Deutschland to Poland in the fourteenth century, tucked into the rucksacks of immigrant laborers.”
A more exciting story claims that in 1683 the bagel was fashioned as a tribute to King Jan Sobieski when he successfully led Poland against Turkish invaders. The hard roll, known as a “bajgiel” was shaped like a stirrup to honor the king’s love of horseback riding. The story was later challenged by Balinska who insists that bagels are “likely cousins to the pretzel.”
Either way, the bagel quickly became a Polish staple.
The bagel arrived in America in the early 1900s. It was brought by Eastern European Jews in the large Polish immigration. It didn’t take long before the “roll with a hole” caught on. Bagel bakeries sprouted all over New York – there were so many that they unionized, creating the International Beigel Bakers Union. There was even a strike by bagel workers that temporarily created a city-wide bagel feminine.
The recipe is simple. Bagels are a yeast bread boiled for 30 to 60 seconds before baked in the oven. The water creates a crust outside and a soft, chewy interior. Many claim that New York bagels are the best because of the water quality. According to Helen Thompson in the The Smithsonian, “boiling the bagels in a bath of water (and baking soda) locks water molecules into the dough’s starch. This boiling step is called poaching and creates the crunchy exterior and chewy inside of a classic bagel. NYC’s bagel shops routinely practice both of these bagel prep methods, while some other regions don’t — so it’s not just the water that makes the bagel.”
Others say that a wet spray or steam suffices before baking. Who knows?
In 1958, Daniel Thompson introduced a commercially viable bagel machine. A few years later, the Lender family leased the technology and began automated production and distribution of frozen bagels. Now Lender’s Bagels can be found all around the country.
Softer than a NY Bagel, without the fresh-baked crust, Lender’s doesn’t quite have that New York pizazz. There’s nothing like a freshly-baked bagel, warm from the oven, eaten in the Big Apple.
Today bagels are ubiquitous – you can find them around the world with different flavors, colors, and toppings. In 2008, Astronaut Greg Chamitoff brought the first bagels into space during his 14-day mission on The Discovery. He wanted to share them with his Russian colleagues, “which was appreciated by all.”
Bagels are definitely out of this world!