Bagels have become a popular bread product in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom especially in cities with large Jewish populations, such as Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, Toronto, Boise, London and Manchester, each with different ways of making the bagel.
Bagels were derived from the similarly shaped doughnuts and from the similarly textured bialys, primarily because of the cooking method amongst other differences. Russian bubliks are very similar to bagels, but are somewhat bigger, have a wider hole, and are drier and chewier. Pretzels, especially the large soft ones, are also very much like bagels, the main exceptions being the shape and the alkaline water bath that makes the surface dark and glossy.
An oft-repeated story states that both the bagel as well as the croissant originated in 1683 in Vienna, Austria, when an Austrian baker created them to commemorate the victory in the Battle of Vienna over the Turks that besieged the city. Similar to the crescent-like bend croissant (Hörnchen in German, little horn) which is said to have been inspired by the Turkish flags, the bagel is supposedly related to the victorious final cavalry charge led by King John III Sobieski of Poland. Thus, the baked good was fashioned in the form of a stirrup (Steigbügel, or the similar Bügel-shaped horseshoe, or saddle, tales vary).
There was a tradition among many observant Jewish families to make bagels on Saturday evenings at the conclusion of the Sabbath. They would not be permitted to cook during the Sabbath and, compared with other types of bread, bagels could be baked very quickly as soon as it ended.
That the name originated from beugal (old spelling of Bügel, meaning bail/bow or bale) is considered plausible by many, both from the similarities of the word and because traditional handmade bagels are not perfectly circular but rather slightly stirrup-shaped. (This fact, however, may be due to the way the boiled bagels are pressed together on the baking sheet before baking.) Also, variants of the word beugal are used in Yiddish and Austrian German to refer to a round loaf of bread (see Gugelhupf for an Austrian cake with a similar ring shape), or in southern German dialects (where beuge refers to a pile, e.g., of wood Holzbeuge)
Since the middle of the 19th century, bakeries on Brick Lane & the surrounding area in London have been selling bagels (the local spelling is "beigel"). In the East End of London, bagels were traditionally sold in groups of three, which were referred to as a "prial" , a "prangle" or (less commonly) a "frackle" of bagels. They were often displayed in the windows of bakeries on vertical wooden rods of up to a metre in length in racks. Allegedly, it was here, before the widespread use of refrigeration that 'beigels' would be stored in large crates of earth that had been prebaked to remove insects, bacteria & other contaminants in an effort to keep their moisture & freshness.
The bagel came into more general use throughout North America in the last quarter of the 20th century, at least partly due to the efforts of bagel baker Harry Lender and Florence Sender, who pioneered the frozen bagel in the 1960s. Today, bagels are enjoyed all over the world, and have become one of the most popular breakfast foods.
The "everything" bagel (also known as a "mish mosh" or "all dressed" bagel) is topped with a mixture of a large variety of toppings; the exact ingredients depend on the vendor. Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion flakes, caraway seeds, garlic flakes, pretzel salt, and pepper, are all popular toppings that most vendors use on an everything bagel.
There are several different toppings that are popular on bagels. Bagels topped with cream cheese, lox (salt-cured salmon), tomato, and onion is a popular Jewish dish. A bagel can also be substituted for two slices of bread. In London, bagels are often eaten as a sandwich filled with salt beef. Bagels are sometimes used as breakfast sandwiches, that are filled with eggs, cheese, ham, and other fillings. McDonald's has a line of breakfast bagel sandwiches that contain egg, cheese, and meat combinations between the bagel slices. Pizza bagels are another popular way to prepare bagels, in which they are sliced, then topped with tomato sauce and cheese and then toasted or re-baked.
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. It was initially developed by Robert "BagelBob" Slutsky and slowly started to expand due to preferred sandwich sizes. A trademarked, sweet variant of the bagel known as the “Fragel" is produced by the Ann Arbor, Michigan, based Bagel Factory, Inc. A special, bagel-based dough is fried and coated with cinnamon sugar. A sandwich chain called Così has created square bagels, or "squagels", as an alternative to round bagels in crafting bagel sandwiches which are often filled with luncheon meats.
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 bagel shape and texture. Most bagel recipes call for the addition of a sweetener to the dough, often barley malt (syrup or crystals), honey, or sugar. Leavening can be accomplished using either a sourdough technique or using commercially produced yeast.
Bagels are traditionally made by:
It is this unusual production method which is said to give bagels their distinctive taste, chewy texture, and shiny appearance. In the context of Jewish culture, this process provided an additional advantage in that it could be followed without breaking the no-work rule of the Sabbath. The dough would be prepared on the day before, chilled during the day, and cooked and baked only after the end of the Sabbath, therefore using the Sabbath as a productive time in the bagel-making process (as the dough needs to slowly rise in a chilled environment for a time before cooking).
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.
The Uyghurs of Xinjiang, China enjoy a form of bagel known as girdeh nan (from Persian, meaning round bread) , which is one of several types of nan, the bread eaten in Xinjiang. It is uncertain if the Uyghur version of the bagel was developed independently of Europe or was the actual origin of the bagels that appeared in Central Europe.
In Turkey, a salty and fattier form is called açma. The ring-shaped simit is sometimes marketed as a Turkish Bagel, and 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.
The pronunciation and spelling of “bagel” varies between communities. In Canada, for instance, people from Toronto and Montreal, pronounce it like bay, the correct Yiddish pronunciation, whereas people from the smaller towns of Northern Ontario and the East coast of Canada tend to pronounce the first syllable as bag, as in in shopping bag. In addition, some American bagelmakers (particularly New England producer Zeppy's) spell the word "baigel," while maintaining the typical pronunciation.
In the UK, bagels are popular in London, Manchester and Leeds. On Brick Lane in East London there are two long established bagel shops in which the item is spelled beigel, with pronunciation to match. One of the first bagel shops in the UK opened as Bagel Nash in Leeds in 1987, and now has grown to a national brand maintaining a large presence in it's home city of Leeds.
In Romania, bagels are popular topped with 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 sold as covrigi.
"Bagel" is also referred to as a Yeshivish term to one who sleeps 12 hours straight. Thus called a bagel as the clock goes around in a full circle.