About bagels

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What is a bagel?

A bagel is traditionally a hefty, dense ring of somewhat bland tasting bread. But with different flours, such as rye and wheat, bagels take on different tastes. Add raisins, blueberries, strawberries, dates and nuts for a dessert-like bagel. Add veggies, onions, poppy seeds, peanut butter and other ingredients for an infinite variety of taste combinations.

The popularity of bagels is as much attributed to what you can put on them and in them as to what you add to the unbaked dough. They are the perfect vehicles for spreads. Most often spreads consist of a cream cheese base that may be mixed with salmon or lox, fruits, vegetables and spices -- in myriad combinations. There are regional differences in how bagels are made, and ongoing arguments about what constitutes the "perfect" bagel and best spread combination.

The traditional bagel sandwich consists of cream cheese, lox, a slice of onion and a slice of tomato. But that's only the beginning. Bagel sandwiches are so popular that bagel bakeries often list 40 or 50 sandwich variations on their menus. then there are mini bagels and bialys. For catered bagel brunches, there are 3- to 6- pound bagels that are filled and then cut into pie shaped wedges.

Bagels have a lot going for them. They don't crush or smash while being carried; they don't melt from the heat or suffer from freezing.

They're at their optimum goodness when fresh and hot from out of the oven, but they're delicious, too, even when frozen, thawed and toasted. If they get stale, they can be made into bagel chips or ground into bread crumbs. They're an all-around convenient, no-waste food product that is well suited to today's health conscious consumers.

The plain water bagel is low in calories compared to other traditional breakfast foods. Estimates as to the number of calories in a bagel differ, and its size is a factor. Most bagels weigh 4 to 5 ounces, and tally up to between 150 to 200 calories. The addition of nuts, raisins, berries, chocolate chips and other ingredients will add to the count. I saw a cracked wheat bagel in a health food store that had 320 calories. Some bagels weigh 6 ounces. Mini bagels may be 1 to 3 ounces, so the calories vary accordingly.

It's the toppings and spreads that shoot up the calorie tab, though this can be tempered by using light and fat-free cheeses, and spreads without cheese. A whopping dollop of cream cheese slapped onto each half of a bagel (2 tablespoons of cream cheese have 10 grams of fat and 100 calories) will wipe out the innocence of the plain bagel. Two tablespoons of regular preserves (there are sugar free varieties, too) can add on 50 calories but no fat. And peanut butter? Well, you would rather not know, if you're counting calories and grams of fat.

Still, you're better off with bagels than with a doughnut, which has 176 calories and 11 grams of fat. A homemade bran muffin (not the giant restaurant or bakery size) has 112 calories and 5 grams of fat.

A large croissant has 300 calories, 17 grams of fat and 85 milligrams of cholesterol. The butter will do it every time. There is no butter in a bagel recipe. Only egg bagels have cholesterol; even that can be eliminated using egg whites instead of a whole egg (or ¼ cup liquid egg substitute). But a sweet roll with nut and raisin Danish filing, and icing, can top them all with about 360 calories, 2.3 grams of fat and 82⅕ milligrams of cholesterol.

The Best Bagels are made at home Donna Z. Meilach ISBN 1-55867-131-5 Carolyn Shaw April 1996 From: Homenet Cook

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