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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.