Beigels or bagels
As there is a lot of beigel baking happening at present, both in Birkenhead and also in North Wales by Michael who is sharing his knowledge far and wide, I thought it would be good to say something of its history, in our family and in the wider world.
The key to a beigel is that it is both boiled and baked (as all at bread circle discovered last week) and sweetened with malt or honey. The result is a crunchy shiny shell with a chewy interior.
They originate from Poland, in the 17th century, in Jewish communities and are traditionally topped with poppy, sesame or sunflower seeds and eaten with smoked salmon and cream cheese or pastrami. Its name derives from the Yiddish word beygal from the German dialect word beugel, meaning “ring” or “bracelet”.In the Brick Lane district and surrounding area of London, bagels (or, as locally spelled, “beigels”) have been sold since the middle of the 19th century. They were often displayed in the windows of bakeries on vertical wooden dowels, up to a metre in length, on racks.Bagels with cream cheese and lox and are considered a traditional part of American Jewish cuisine (colloquially known as “lox and a schmear“).Bagels were brought to the United States by immigrant Polish Jews, with a thriving business developing in New York that was controlled for decades by Bagel bakers local 338. They had contracts with nearly all bagel bakeries in and around the city for its workers, who prepared all their bagels by hand.
There is a myth that the origin of the hole in the beigel is when a Jewish community in Russia tried to avoid the tough taxes imposed on them by a particularly cruel Tsar. Apparently, he demanded a tenth of all the bread they baked, and that it should come from the middle of each loaf, so ruining it. The wise men of Chelm came upon the idea of baking small, round loaves of bread, with a hole in the middle. The hole was exactly one tenth the size of the rest of the loaf. When the Tsar’s soldiers came to collect the royal tithe, the wise men of Chelm presented them with the holes, pointing out that this was the middle portion of the loaf, just as the Tsar had instructed. The soldiers couldn’t argue with this and went away empty-handed.
This is not widely accepted as a true account!
In our family, beigel baking by Michael originated when we had monthly yoga workshops lasting a day in the Jewish youth centre in Liverpool run by a teacher, AnneMarie Zulkahari from London. We had to ensure we ate appropriate food and home made beigels by Michael with smoked salmon and cream cheese fitted the bill and were much appreciated by many many people. We occasionally got beigels from the Jewish deli in Liverpool but these had not been freshly baked that day and were not as good. The idea of beigels fits with my jewish heritage but also with living in the east /end of London before moving up to Liverpool. Michael stopped making beigels when our workshops stopped and when he concentrated more on his sourdough bread – linking to his – and my German heritages.
A new start, encouraged by Rhonda and her helpful approach to bagelling, has meant that beigels are again being baked and taste even better than they did before.