Be it 15th century Poland, 21st century New York, or more conveniently, your own family kitchen, these crusty, chewy masterpieces have a complex history that rivals any of the world’s greatest culinary delights.
Many historians believe that the humble bagel hails from the Jewish kitchens of Poland and was known as a feast day bread called an obwarzanek. It gained popularity in the first female monarch, Queen Jadwiga, consumed obwarzanek during lent as an alternative to her regularly favoured pastries and breads. Others historians believe an Austrian baker made them as a tribute to the King of Poland, Jan Sobieski III, who saved Austria from Turkish invaders. The story goes that the baker, aware of his King’s love of horses, fashioned the simple rolls into the shape of a horses’ stirrup. Hence the name, Beugel, Austrian German for stirrup.
These humble bread rolls made their way to America in the late 19th century in the hands of Jewish immigrants from Poland. They were sold on the streets of New York stacked on poles, utilising their iconic holes; today they are deeply embedded in the cuisine of this multicultural city and a visit to the Big Apple would be incomplete without a bagel from one of the famous Jewish bagelries.
A classic bagel is eaten with lox and smear - smoked salmon and cream cheese. The salty richness from the lox is balanced by the velvety, slightly-sour and thickly applied smear. Often, bagels were coated in poppy seeds, a traditional spice used widely in Polish and Jewish kitchens, and a balancing addition to this classic combo.
Several bagelries in the USA started experimenting with their bagel seasonings to set their wares apart from the competition. As a result, many new bagel flavours made their way into the American cuisine, some better than others.
Everything Bagel Blend, a delicious combination of traditional poppy seed, black and white sesame seed, salt, garlic and onion. There is much debate as to who first combined these flavours, though there is no doubt that the flavours work magically with those classic bagel toppings of cream cheese and smoked salmon.