The bagel is the only bread that is boiled before baking—giving it a delicious, chewy crust. The hole in the center ensures there is crust in each and every bite, and was once a convenient way to sell the bread stacked on poles or strung on ropes.
Bagels have been made in Europe for more than 400 years, but it was after they traveled to New York City with Polish Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s that they became universally beloved. In an example of perfect timing, cream cheese was invented in 1872. Spread on a sliced bagel, it is called schmear (šmir), and is the ideal creamy complement to a crunchy, chewy bread.
There are many ways to make your bagel perfect: choose a topping, try it plain or toasted, then choose butter or cream cheese, plain or flavored. Usually eaten for breakfast, they can also be used for sandwiches. New Yorkers have strong feelings about the “right” way to eat a bagel. But everyone agrees on one thing in this age of mass production: the best bagels are made by hand.