bagel [bey-guhl] noun
A ring-shaped, chewy, yeast-risen bread, usually 3 to 4 inches across. Bagel varieties range from plain to poppy seed, pumpernickel to “everything” (combining garlic, onion, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and salt), and even cinnamon-raisin and blueberry. Classicists will dismiss this last one as blasphemy along with flavors like sun-dried tomato.
The dough is a simple combination of flour, water, yeast and salt, so water is a key ingredient. (Sometimes sugar or barley malt is added). New York City varieties are considered to be the best by many and some say it is the water that makes the difference. A true bagel is proofed, always hand-formed and then boiled before baking; this gives them their signature chew, which is the hallmark of a great bagel. Montreal is known for bagels as well. Montreal’s are much sweeter and do not have the same hearty, chewy texture as New York’s. It is curious that bagels, which share their shape with doughnuts, also share another exceedingly important quality. Both of these baked goods are best eaten very soon after baking, as they lose their best qualities within hours. If you are buying bagels in a bag from the supermarket or from the freezer section, you are missing out on the true experience.