What is a Bagel?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A bagel is a type of bread which is formed into a round ring and boiled before baking. Some makers steam the bagel instead of boiling it, making traditionalists label the final product anything but a bagel. Typically, bagels have a chewy texture and a slightly crisp outer layer, accomplished by handling the bread dough specially before it is cooked, preventing the dough from rising too much and giving the bagel a bread like texture. The bagel is traditionally associated with Jewish cuisine, and specimens can be found all over the world, especially in the Jewish quarter of major cities. Bagels can also be made at home, although it does take some work.

Yeast, one of the ingredients in bagels.
Yeast, one of the ingredients in bagels.

The roots of the bagel lie several hundred years in the past. It is uncertain when bagels burst in the popular baking scene, but they probably originated among Eastern European Jewish people, and were certainly written about as early as 1610. Like other Jewish foods, bagels are designed to be kosher or pareve, meaning that they conform with the rules of Jewish dietary law.

In some regions, people like to add raisins to their bagel recipes.
In some regions, people like to add raisins to their bagel recipes.

When making bagels, the cook uses a bagel dough, which typically contains flour, yeast, salt, water, and a sweetener such as sugar or honey. Some regional bakers add egg to their bagels for a more chewy texture, and others add things like cinnamon, raisins, dried fruit, and other flavorful accents. The dough is mixed, kneaded, and allowed to rise. Next, the bagels are formed, typically by making small chunks of dough into logs which are joined together. The bagels are allowed to rise slightly before proceeding to the next step.

Bagels are boiled before they are baked.
Bagels are boiled before they are baked.

After the bagels have risen, they are slipped into boiling water for approximately six minutes before being removed and baked. If the cook wishes to add a topping such as nuts, seeds, or onion, the tops of the bagels are brushed with egg and the topping is sprinkled on top before baking. After baking, the bagels are allowed to fully cool on racks and then packaged or eaten.

Avocados are a popular choice for a bagel topping.
Avocados are a popular choice for a bagel topping.

Once a cook has gotten the basics down, making bagels in an assortment of flavors is relatively easy. Some cooks use different flours, such as whole wheat, to make their bagels, while others play with an assortment of toppings and additions to their bagels. Bagels are typically sold fresh the day that they are made, and should be quickly eaten or frozen. If a bagel is slightly stale, it can be sprinkled with water and toasted to be refreshed.

Lox is a thin filet of cured, cold smoked salmon that is often served with bagels.
Lox is a thin filet of cured, cold smoked salmon that is often served with bagels.

There are also a number of choices for things to eat with bagels. Common inclusions are cream cheese, hummus, butter, lox, tomatoes, onions, capers, and avocado, though generally not all at once. Bagels are typically sliced in half and toasted for eating, and an assortment of toppings and spreads can be piled on both sides of the bagel, or just on one half, so that the top can be put back on to make a bagel sandwich.

Bagels have existed for hundreds of years.
Bagels have existed for hundreds of years.
Bagels are often toasted and then topped with cream cheese, hummus, or another spread.
Bagels are often toasted and then topped with cream cheese, hummus, or another spread.
Smoked salmon and cream cheese are popular bagel toppings.
Smoked salmon and cream cheese are popular bagel toppings.
Coarse-grained kosher salt is one of the seasonings typically added to an everything bagel.
Coarse-grained kosher salt is one of the seasonings typically added to an everything bagel.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

fify

What's the best bagel shop in New York? I'm planning a trip there next week and want to try some new restaurants and cafes while I am there. I'm a big fan of bagels and I heard that the best ones are found in New York. I've tried Manhattan Bagel and Noah Bagel bakeries in other cities. Any other suggestions for really good bagels?

turquoise

A bagel and cream cheese is my favorite breakfast along with a cup of hot Earl Grey tea. I can't imagine starting my day any better. My favorite types are sesame seed and everything bagels. I actually tried an everything bagel because the cafe where I usually pick up breakfast was out of sesame seed ones. I rarely eat onion in general so the thought of onion flakes on a bagel scared me. I gave it a try that day and absolutely loved it. Maybe because the onion flakes are mixed with sesame seeds, poppy seeds and salt, the onion flavor did not bother me at all and went great with creme cheese. I learned my lesson, I won't judge a bagel by its topping ever again!

mitchell14

While bagels are delicious, they are very dense. People trying to cut down on starches, especially in the form of simple carbohydrates, might want to avoid bagels because they can have as many calories as three slices of bread, and many recipes used by bagel shops have about equivalent nutritional benefits, or even less.

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