Have you ever found yourself wondering “how are bagels made?” These beloved dough creations are actually easier to make than you might think, and they come with a storied past that answers questions like “why do bagels have holes?” and “who invented bagels anyway?”
All variations of bagels are unique, but they still all share a couple of fundamental qualities. For example: their shape (all bagels are round with that recognizable hole in the middle) and their main ingredients (which we’ll get into below). And while there is no limit to how creative you can get with bagels beyond those core qualities, even the most innovative of bagels can be traced back to a process that has been perfected over centuries.
Whether you’re curious about how we make such delicious bagels or you’re thinking of making them for yourself at home, you’ll want to start with the basics. So ready your shmear and let’s get in to the history and techniques behind everyone’s favorite bread product.
Bagels can be traced back to Poland in the 1600s, where they went by the name “bajgiel”—a term derived from the Yiddish word “beygal,” which means ring or bracelet. That ring shape, which results in the hole in the middle of the bagel, was put in place because it allows bagels to cook faster and gives a bigger ratio of crust to inner dough (plus it just makes bagels more fun to eat).
In the mid-1800s, Polish immigrants brought bagels to England and then to America, where they gained quick popularity. In 1958, American inventor Daniel Thompson created the world’s first automated bagel maker, which greatly simplified a process previously achievable only by hand and greatly increased the accessibility of bagels, making them a staple of delis and other breakfast and lunch spots.
Today, you can find bagels all over the world, though their size, flavor, and texture varies.
There are three basic ingredients in a bagel:
Flour. Generally wheat flour is used, though bread flour, rye flour, gluten-free flour, or other varieties are sometimes substituted.
Yeast. Used to help the bagel gets its soft and fluffy rise.
Water. Important for activating the yeast and adding moisture to the batter.
Beyond those three necessities, different bagel types have different ingredients. For example, many bagels contain salt, though not the Montreal-style bagels that we make. Montreal-style bagels do include the addition of eggs and honey, however. Depending on the flavor, bagels can include things like cheese, seeds, chopped onions, jalapenos, and even chocolate chips.
Just like making any type of bread, bagels follow a set process. The ingredients need to be mixed and then the dough allowed to rise and sit before the bagels are shaped, boiled, and baked. For Montreal-style bagels, we boil our dough in honey water and bake them in a wood fired oven to achieve an unbeatable sweetness and crunchy exterior.
The beauty of bagels (beyond the obvious fact that they are downright delicious) is that they’re incredibly versatile. Flavors can be added to the dough before or after the boiling process to add nuance to the taste and texture, and the dough stands up well to freezing, making bagels easy to ship and store.