1 May 2016

Bagels (Yiddish: בײגל‎ beygl; Polish: bajgiel)

The photograph above shows freshly baked bagels on sale at the Ha-Carmel market in Tel Aviv.  It wasn't until I read the Wikipedia article that I learnt just how popular this humble circular bread dough was around the world.  Claudia Roden also mentions bagels in her The Book of Jewish Food and gives a standard recipe with different variations.

A bagel (Yiddish: בײגלbeygl; Polish: bajgiel), also spelled beigel, is a bread product originating in Poland, 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. Bagels are often topped with seeds baked on the outer crust, with the traditional ones being poppy, sunflower 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.  They were widely consumed in East European Jewish communities from the 17th century. The first known mention of the bagel, in 1610, was in Jewish community ordinances in Krakow, Poland.

The bublik in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and the obwarzanek in Poland are essentially larger bagels, but having a wider hole. Similar to bagels, these breads are usually topped with sesame and poppy seeds. Other ring-shaped breads known among East Slavs are baranki (smaller and drier) and sushki (even smaller and drier). In Lithuania, similar breads are called riestainiai, and sometimes by their Slavic name baronkos.

In Finland, vesirinkeli are small rings of yeast-leavened wheat bread. They are placed in salted boiling water before being baked. They are often eaten for breakfast toasted and buttered. They are available in several different varieties (sweet or savoury) in supermarkets.

German pretzels, (which are soft and are either formed into rings or long rectangular shapes) are somewhat similar to bagels in texture, the main exceptions being the shape and the alkaline water bath that makes the surface dark and glossy. In addition, traditional Mohnbrötchen, which are covered in poppy seeds, have a similar flavour to many bagels in that they are slightly sweet and rather dense in texture.

In Romania, covrigi are topped with poppy, 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 usually shaped like pretzels rather than bagels.

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.

In Turkey,  a salty and fattier form is called açma. However, the ring-shaped simit, is sometimes marketed as Turkish bagel. Archival sources show that the simit has been produced in Istanbul since 1525.  Based on Üsküdar court records (Şer’iyye Sicili) dated 1593, the weight and price of simit was standardized for the first time. Famous 17th-century traveler Evliya Çelebi wrote that there were 70 simit bakeries in Istanbul during the 1630s Jean Brindesi's early 19th-century oil-paintings about Istanbul daily life show simit sellers on the streets.  Warwick Goble made an illustration of these simit sellers of Istanbul in 1906.  Surprisingly, simit 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.

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.

In Japan, the first kosher bagels were brought by BagelK (ベーグルK) from New York in 1989. BagelK created green tea, chocolate, maple-nut, and banana-nut flavors for the market in Japan. There are three million bagels exported from the U.S. annually, and it has a 4%-of-duty classification of Japan in 2000. Some Japanese bagels, such as those sold by BAGEL & BAGEL, are soft and/or sweet; others, such as Einstein Bro. bagels sold by Costco in Japan (コストコ), are the same as in the U.S.

In New York City, the "bagel brunch" became popular circa 1900.  The bagel brunch consists of a bagel topped with lox, cream cheese, capers, tomato and red onion.  This and similar combinations of toppings have remained associated with bagels into the 21st century.

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