When I was writing my column about rye bread the other week, I realised that different cultures have produced different types of breads. Northern Europe is dominated by rye. France has its baguettes, (their origin makes a great story but that’s for another time). Italy its ciabatta. Russia loves its black bread. We have, historically, loved our chemical-infused, plastic sliced bread!

Bagels found fame in the delicatessens of New York but came originally from the Jewish communities of Poland. Indeed the first mention of bagels comes from documents in 17th century Krakow so we’re talking about a very ancient bread. As Jewish families fled to America fleeing persecution, they took their breads with them and soon enough New York became the centre of their production.

Bagels are made by hand-forming a ring shaped roll that is then boiled in water before baking. This gives the exterior its shiny look and creates a dense and chewy interior. A bagel isn’t necessarily a healthy option – it has no actual different nutritional value than a white bread roll of the same weight. There is nothing special about the recipe, nothing special in the baking to increase its worth. Indeed, you could say that the natural rise of the dough is inhibited by the boiling process. This affects the development of the gluten and some folks might find them much harder to digest because of this. Factory mass-produced bagels are a pale shadow of the real thing.

Real hand-made bagels, however, taste really nice – and in the hands of an experienced baker, they are sublime. I was on Brick Lane in east London a few years ago and had a pastrami bagel (or beigel) from a traditional Jewish outlet. They had been making bagels there for decades. With all that meat inside and a few pickles to boot, it made a wonderful and very filling snack.

Another classic is cream cheese and cured salmon.

We make bagels from time to time but we’re not really set up to make them in bulk. The tricky thing is making sure that the water is on a rolling boil. You also need to be a bit of an expert to form them correctly, getting the hole just right – not too big and not too small.

Dense, chewy and a great shape for filling, bagels are as popular now as they have ever been. Just don’t be taken in by folks claiming health benefits that are simply not there. Enjoy them for the taste.