Bagels are doughnut-shaped rolls with a dense interior and shiny crust. It is believed to have originated in Poland among the Jewish communities. Traditionally made from wheat and yeast dough, it is first boiled and then baked. In the 17th century, it was a staple in Polish cuisines. Then as the Jews migrated to different parts of the world, they took this staple recipe with them.
A basic bagel is made from wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. Some recipes add sweeteners like honey, sugar or barley malt. They are traditionally made by mixing and kneading the dough, shaping the dough, proofing them for a few hours, boiling them in water for 60 to 90 seconds and then they are baked.
What is a Montreal Bagel?
A Montreal-style bagel or Bagel de Montreal is a type of handmade, wood-fire baked bagel. There are two main predominant varieties of Montreal bagels that are sold across Canada – white seed (sesame) and black seed (poppy). This bagel has additional ingredients added to the traditional recipe. It can include honey and eggs and then they are baked. They are also boiled in sweet water before baking.
What makes Montreal bagel different?
We see that the New York and Montreal style bagels are the most similar. Both contain malt and are boiled in water. Other bagels are made slightly differently and hence, have varying textures.
But the Montreal bagel, when compared to other bagels sold in the North American continent, is quite different.
· The East Coast bagel uses sourdough and local wild yeasts. It is less sweet, doughy and dense than a Montreal style one.
· The St. Louis style bagel is different in terms of cutting the bagel and not really the composition. They are sliced to increase the surface area for spreads.
· Chicago bagels are steam baked while a London bagel has a coarse texture and harder.
· A bagel which is flat and has a rough-textured crust is known as the San Francisco style bagel.
Montreal or New York?
If you look for bagels online then you will notice a friendly rivalry between New York and Montreal bagels. There are those who pledge loyalty to the New York bagel and consider them best and then there are those who are fierce defenders of the Montreal bagel. So, what makes Montreal bagel different from the New York bagel?
The New York style bagels are larger with smaller holes and flat bottoms. They are quite often made with bread flour and contain salt. Often barley malt is used which reduces the sweetness. They are boiled and then baked in an oven that is powered by gas. They are doughy, soft and chewy.
Montreal style bagels are boiled in honey and water, resulting in a sweeter taste. They are, however, cooked in wood-fired ovens giving them a deeper and crunchier crust. They are thinner and smaller than a New York style bagel while being doughy and dense.
Supporters of Montreal style bagel list out the reasons why they are better than New York style bagel.
· They are handcrafted and hence a piece of art.
· They are slightly sweet and sprinkled with poppy or sesame.
· These bagels can be eaten without any kind of spread.
· As flour tastes better when cooked in a wood oven, they taste better than other bagels.
Bagels around the world
Bagels or variants of it are sold all over the world. Now with the cooking technique difference, one may say that the following aren’t truly bagels, but that remains to be seen. So, here is a quick list of rolls that are considered bagels in other parts of the world.
Obwarzanek Krakowski – Legends say that Krakow bakers in Poland created the bagel. This bagel variation known as Obwarzanek Krakowski is made with two strands of dough that are woven to create a circle. This is then boiled, and cheese, herbs, spices, salt and poppy seeds are added on top.
Jerusalem bagels –These bagels are smothered with sesame seeds before being baked into a soft brown roll. They are consumed after being covered in za’atar spiced oil.
Simit – This treat looks just like a bagel but is a skinnier and wider version. The simit is two times larger than a normal bagel and most variants are topped with sesame seeds. You can eat it after dipping it in tea or consume it plain.
Girde Naan – Street markets in Xinjiang are full of these bread rolls for sale. The Girde Naan does look very similar to a bagel, but it is made differently. They are made in a tandoor oven giving them fluffy interiors and crunchy exteriors. The depression in the middle isn’t a hole like in a bagel but just an indent. It is eaten plain or after being dunked in soup or tea.