When it comes to iconic American breakfast foods, the bagel stands tall as a timeless favorite that has won the hearts of millions across the nation. Its roots may be traced back to Eastern Europe, but it is New York City that truly transformed this humble bread into a culinary superstar and a staple in American breakfast culture.
When I was in middle school and high school, I had a bagel with a cup of tea almost every single morning. Especially during my high school years. I ate bagels so much that I didn't even have to tell the guy who worked at the deli what I wanted anymore. He just knew.
The story of the bagel begins in 17th-century Poland, where it was originally known as the "bajgiel." This round, doughy delight made its way to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, brought by Jewish immigrants fleeing Eastern Europe. While the bagel had been a cherished food in Jewish communities for generations, it was about to undergo a metamorphosis that would elevate it to a new level of popularity.
The New York City Connection
As Jewish immigrants settled in New York City, they brought with them their cherished traditions, including the beloved bagel. The bagel quickly found a new home and a passionate following among New Yorkers, particularly in the Lower East Side, where bustling bagel bakeries became an integral part of the neighborhood's identity.
The Art of Boiling and Baking: Perfecting the Bagel
Traditional bagel-making involves a unique process that sets it apart from regular bread. The dough is first boiled briefly in water before being baked, creating its distinct chewy texture and shiny crust. New York City's bagel-makers perfected this technique, leading to the creation of the quintessential New York bagel that would soon take the country by storm.
Spreading Across America
As the 20th century progressed, the popularity of bagels expanded beyond New York City and began to influence American breakfast culture nationwide. Bagel shops started popping up in major cities across the country, offering an array of flavors and toppings to suit every palate. Bagels became a symbol of cultural diversity and acceptance, embraced by people from all walks of life.
The Bagel Boom
The 1980s saw a significant rise in the bagel's popularity, as it transformed from a simple breakfast food to a versatile snack and sandwich base. Gourmet bagel shops emerged, offering an extensive selection of cream cheese spreads, smoked fish, and creative toppings. Bagel sandwiches became a lunchtime favorite, and the bagel's reputation as a satisfying and flavorful treat only continued to grow.
In the digital age, the bagel has found a new platform to shine through social media and online food culture. Instagram feeds are filled with stunning images of colorful bagels topped with avocado, smoked salmon, or rainbow-sprinkled cream cheese. Food bloggers and influencers share their favorite bagel combinations, inspiring others to try new flavors and textures.
The bagel's journey from Eastern Europe to the United States, and its subsequent rise to fame in New York City, has left an indelible mark on American breakfast culture. Its unique preparation method, diverse toppings, and ability to adapt to changing tastes have made it a beloved staple across the country. Whether you prefer a classic plain bagel with cream cheese or an adventurous fusion of flavors, the bagel continues to be a symbol of delicious comfort and a testament to the power of culinary heritage and innovation. So next time you bite into a freshly toasted bagel, take a moment to savor its history and appreciate the rich cultural tapestry that has made it an enduring part of American breakfast culture.
Ingredients (makes 8-9 bagels)
1 packet of instant yeast
3 cups of bread flour
2 1/2 tbsp of sugar
water (sorry, but I don't measure the water)
Everything bagel seasoning
Combine sugar and a few tablespoons of hot water in a small bowl or cup, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Let the water cool a bit before adding the yeast to avoid overheating, which might prevent proper proofing. Cover the bowl to keep the yeast warm for 5-8 minutes. While the yeast proofs, sift flour into a mixer bowl, add salt, and mix well. Pour the yeast water into the mixer and knead with the dough hook (or by hand if you don't have a mixer).
As the yeast water won't be enough, gradually add warm water while mixing until you achieve the desired dough consistency – sticky, but not sticking to your hands. Continue kneading until the dough appears smooth. Allow the dough to proof a second time, covering it to keep it warm until it doubles in size (around 35-45 minutes).
Once the dough has risen, gently knead it and shape it into a long rope about 4-5 inches in diameter. Cut the rope into even pieces, forming small dough balls and poking a hole in the center of each. Stretch the dough until it resembles a shape that can fit a golf ball through it. Place the pieces on a baking sheet, cover, and allow them to proof for 25 minutes.
In a large pot, simmer water with a few pinches of salt. Cook each piece of dough in the hot water for 2-3 minutes, then return them to the baking sheet. Prepare an egg wash by mixing eggs with about a teaspoon of water in a bowl. Brush each bagel with the egg wash, sprinkle with Everything bagel seasoning, and bake in the oven until golden brown. After cooling, slice your bagels and enjoy!