The bagel (or beigel) has been a staple of Jewish cuisine for centuries, first in central Europe and now around the world.
A bagel looks like a doughnut but it is a bread product, made form yeasted wheat dough and boiled in water for a short time before being baked. The hole in the middle of the bagel allows for more even cooking. In the past the hole also meant that several bagels could be hung together on a string or a stick. This was done for ease of carrying and also to create an attractive display in a shop window.
Bagels are now a popular food in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, particularly in cities with a large Jewish population. They are available fresh or frozen in bakeries and supermarkets and served in restaurants and small eateries.
The word "bagel" entered the English language from Yiddish. It is probably related to the German word, "buegel", which means "stirrup", because of their similarity in shape. There is a popular legend which says that stirrup-shaped breads were created in order to celebrate the victory of Polish King Jan Sobieski's cavalry over the forces of the Ottoman Empire in 1683 CE. However, bagels had been in existence for at least several decades before that date.
Bagels had become a popular food in Poland by the start of the 17th century CE. Many Jewish families started to make them after sundown on Saturday, when the Sabbath had finished and they were once again permitted to cook. They were popular because they could be prepared more quickly than any other type of bread.
"Bagel" or "beigel"?
Bagels have been on sale in Brick Lane, London for more than a hundred years. In all places where bagels are sold in Brick Lane they are labelled as "beigels". Many British Jews, especially in London, prefer the spelling and pronunciation beigel (the "ei" pronounced as in "Einstein"), considering "bagel" to be an Americanism. However, "bagel" is by far the more familiar form amongst the wider community in the United Kingdom.
The most popular bagel varieties in North America are Montreal style and New York style.
A New York style bagel contains salt and malt. It is boiled in water before being baked in a conventional oven. The result is a puffy bagel with a moist crust.
A Montreal style bagel contains malt and sugar, it does not contain any salt. It is boiled in water which has been sweetened with honey and then baked in a wood fired oven. The result is a bagel that is smaller than the New York style one, with a larger hole. It is also sweeter and crunchier.
A traditional London beigel is harder and coarser than the North American varieties and does not contain any air bubbles.