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If we want to talk about bagels, we need to start by describing what a bagel is: bagels are made from flour, water, yeast, malt, and salt. While in modern times, lots of other stuff, such as raisins, onions, sesame seeds, garlic, cinnamon, sun-dried tomatoes, and cheddar, has been added, the traditional bagel contained none of these things.

The baker rolls the dough into a cylinder and then twists it into a ring with a hold in the middle. The ring is then allowed to rise. The key to making bagels then comes in the next step: the rings are cooked quickly in boiling water before baking. This boiling process gelatinizes the gluten in the dough which gives the bagel its unique hard and shiny surface. This seals the inside to preserve its density and chewiness. Some bagel-makers add lye, baking soda, barley malt syrup, or honey to the water.

Bagels appear to have been invented (created? Inspired? Developed?) in Poland in the early seventeenth century. There are some written sources from Kraków dating to about 1610 which seem to refer to bagels being used as teething rings.

Over the next two centuries, bagels spread throughout Europe. In was not long until Jewish bakers had become bagel specialists. Bagels appear to have been brought to the Americas by eastern European Jews in the 1880s. It was not long until this chewy bread became a staple in the street markets of New York, Montreal, and Toronto.

The International Bakers Union was established in New York City in 1907 and by 1915, the bagel-makers had their own union: Bagel Bakers Local #338. Membership in the union was limited to 300 and one had to be a legacy in order to get in. Bagel recipes were closely guarded secrets, but the basic techniques of hand rolling, twisting, and boiling remained unchanged.

In the 1960s, bagel-making changed when Dan Thompson designed and marketed the Thompson Bagel  Making Machine which allowed nonunion, unskilled workers to produce over 1,000 bagels per hour. Today’s bagel-making machines turn out about 50,000 bagels an hour.

As a way of speeding up the bagel-making process, such mass production makers skip the boiling and place the bagels in an oven equipped with a steam injection system. The result is a steam bagel, which bagel purists do not consider to be a real bagel. The steam bagel requires less labor.

Welcome to Street Prophets Saturday. This is an open thread where we can talk about bagels—favorite kinds, do you have them with cream cheese—and dinner, or whatever else is on your mind.

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