Bagels aren’t just for breakfast these days

January 20, 2023

Somehow, I missed the memo and didn’t realize that Jan. 15 was National Bagel Day. Although not the same as holidays voted onto the calendar by Congress, these “official” days of celebration are curated by a company that produces the National Day Calendar. Its website ( proclaims more than 1,500 national days and invites visitors to suggest additional days while promoting the existing ones with coordinated recipes and merchandise.

For those of you unfamiliar with this delicious bread product, a bagel is a dense, round, doughy bun with a hole in the middle. The dough is shaped into rounds, given time to rise slightly, then tossed into rapidly boiling water for a few minutes before baking. The brief boil is what makes the bagel’s crust chewy rather than crisp, and the interior is satisfyingly chewy, as well. You can find bagels in all sorts of flavors with a variety of toppings. In the photo, we have onion, everything, sesame and poppyseed.

Bagels originated with Ashkenazi Jews in southern Germany, migrated to Poland and then to North America. The name derives from the Yiddish beygel from the German word beugel, which means ring or bracelet. There is an apocryphal story from the 17th century, when King Jan Sobieski was reported to be the first to allow Jewish bakers who were not members of the Krakow bakers’ guild to produce “obwarzanek,” a type of roll whose name is derived from the word for “parboil.”

As you see, the significance of their name refers to how bagels are made as well as their shape. Unlike most yeast-based rolls or breads, which are simply baked, bagels are first cooked in boiling water before baking. Why? The answer is simple: to give bagels their distinctive texture. When the rounds of bagel dough are dropped into the bubbling water, starch on the exterior surface quickly gels, forming a barrier that prevents the water from penetrating into the dough.

Another result of the boiling step is how much the bagel will rise once it’s in the oven. If the boil is brief, the crust is thinner and the interior dough can rise more, producing a softer texture. A longer boil produces a thicker, chewier crust and dense interior, because the dough is unable to rise very much in the oven. In some commercial bakeries, the boiling step is replaced by injecting steam into the oven while the bagels are baking. This provides enough moisture to gelatinize the surface, adding color and shine, but doesn’t produce the signature chewiness.

There are a few places that claim their bagels are the best, including Montreal, where preliminary boiling is done in honey-flavored water followed by baking time in wood-fired ovens. New Yorkers assert the quality of the city’s water from the Kensico Reservoir (and points north) makes their bagels the finest. As you may imagine, any bagels from the freezer compartment in your supermarket with not begin to compare with either of these.

For a local source of generously sized bagels in a great selection of flavors, take a trip to Surf Bagel in Lewes. When you order a sandwich made with one of their bagels, you’ll notice they remove a section of the interior in order to have enough room for the sandwich ingredients. My favorite is their chicken salad, although a breakfast bagel is a delicious start to the day. I’ve included two recipes, one for basic bagels made with high-gluten flour and another for three-ingredient bagels made with self-rising flour.

Basic Bagels

1 C warm water, divided
1 1/2 T sugar
2 t active dry yeast
3 1/2 C high-gluten flour
1 1/2 t salt
1 t oil
toppings (optional)

Combine 1/2 C water, sugar and yeast in a measuring cup. Stir briefly and allow yeast to begin foaming, about 5 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Add remaining 1/2 C of water and stir to combine. Once dough holds together, transfer to a flour-dusted surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Lightly coat the inside of a large bowl with oil. Form dough into a ball and place in the oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides with oil. Cover with a dish towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down dough and allow to rest another 10 minutes. Divide the dough into 8 balls. Press each dough ball into a flattened disk and use your finger to poke a hole in the center.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and preheat oven to 425 F. Once water has reached a rolling boil, place 4 bagels in the pot using a slotted spoon. When they float to the top, boil for 1 minute, turn them over and boil an additional minute. Transfer boiled bagels to a cookie sheet that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray. Repeat steps for remaining 4 bagels. If desired, sprinkle with toppings such as sesame seeds, poppy seeds or dried onion bits. Bake for 10 minutes, turn over bagels and bake until golden, about another 10 minutes. Yield: 8 bagels.

Three-Ingredient Bagels

1 T baking soda (for boiling)
2 eggs
3/4 C plain Greek yogurt*
1 1/8 C self-rising flour
toppings (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Fill a large pot with water and add baking soda. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Combine 1 egg, yogurt and flour in the bowl of a stand mixer and combine until a rough dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into four pieces and roll each into a rope 3/4-inch thick. Shape each strand into a circle and pinch ends together. Once water is boiling, slowly add bagels. When they rise to the top, cook for 1 minute, then flip them and cook an additional minute. Remove bagels to rack and allow to dry for about two minutes. Whisk remaining egg and brush bagels with egg wash. Top with sesame or poppy seeds and place bagels on a baking pan. Bake for about 25 minutes, rotating the rack halfway through. After 25 minutes, increase oven temperature to 400 F and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving. Yield: 4 bagels. *Fage yogurt works best.

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