Bagels are so ubiquitous in the United States that they can be found fresh, refrigerated or frozen in everyone's grocery store, as well as in bakeries across the country. But before World War II, they were relatively unknown in America, except in New York City. They hail from Poland and are part of the Jewish culinary tradition. They made an early appearance on New York's Lower East Side in the early part of the 20th century.
But until about 1950, they were little known elsewhere. Then they bounded onto the scene, and the rest is history. Who doesn't love a toasted bagel loaded with cream cheese?
Use fresh bagels quickly because they dry out and harden within a matter of days. Store completely cooled bagels at room temperature in plastic bags or freeze immediately. Refrigeration actually makes them get stale faster. Refresh bagels by slightly wetting the exterior -- a damp paper towel works well -- and baking at 350 F for 10 minutes.
Frozen bagels will keep for three to four months in an airtight bag in the freezer at 0 F. Pre-slice fresh bagels almost all the way through before freezing. Frozen bagels need not be thawed before toasting.
How to Safely Slice a Bagel
The popularity of bagels has given rise to many creative bagel-slicing contraptions, some would say from necessity. The greatest under-reported injury in the U.S. is hand cuts from slicing bagels, said the head of the Department of Emergency Services at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
If you do not own a bagel-slicing machine, you can safely slice your bagel like this: Place the bagel flat on a table with your hand on top and hold firmly. Use a serrated knife to slice halfway through, keeping the blade horizontal to the table. Then stand the bagel on its end and finish slicing downward while gripping the upper sliced half.
Booming Bagel Business
The bagel has skyrocketed in popularity since the 1960s. Consumption has increased by a factor of 20, and Americans alone eat more than 4 pounds of bagels per person per year, the majority of them frozen. Check out bagel recipes and popular spreads, and you will see what the fuss is all about.
Purists might argue that a good bagel needs no adornment, but lox and/or cream cheese tend to be the most popular toppings these days. Bagels have gone from being just a different form of bread to a bread replacement for sandwiches, snacks like bagel chips and bagel-dough-wrapped hot dogs.
More About Bagels
- "The Best Bagels Are Made at Home"
- "The Bagel Bible"
- "The Bread Baker's Apprentice"
- "The Bread Bible"