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A bagel 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.

Left: Poppy and  sesame bagels.

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 flavour varieties) in many major supermarkets in those countries.

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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.

Left: A Russian street vendor (left of picture) selling Russian-style bagels: bubliks and baranki (19th century).

Bagel was invented in Kraków, Poland, in the 16th century. There was a tradition among many observant Jewish families to make bagels on Saturday evenings at the conclusion of the Sabbath. Due to Jewish Sabbath restrictions, they were not permitted to cook during the period of the Sabbath and, compared with other types of bread, bagels could be baked very quickly as soon as it ended.

Russian bubliks are very similar to bagels, but are somewhat bigger, 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).

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
  • proofing the bagels for at least 12 hours at low temperature (40-50 degrees F = 4.5-10C)
  • 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 175C and 315C (about 350 to 600 degrees F)

It is this unusual production method which is said to give bagels their distinctive taste, chewy texture, and shiny appearance.



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