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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » January 26, 2012
Regional and Traditional Products
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Cracow Bagels
January 26, 2012   
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The Cracow bagel, a kind of ring-shaped baked dough usually sprinkled with poppy seeds, sesame seeds or coarse salt, is one of the symbols of the southern Polish city of Cracow. In October 2010, the Cracow bagel—or obwarzanek krakowski as it is called in Polish—was entered into the European Union’s Protected Geographical Indication register.

The ring-shaped dough of the Cracow bagel is spirally twisted. The product ranges in color from gold to golden-brown and has a glossy surface. It is made of wheat flour, with a possible addition of 30 percent of rye flour, fat, sugar, yeast, salt and water. The dough is left to grow, then cut into small pieces and rolled into “ropes.” Two or three “ropes” are then twisted spirally with each other and their ends are fused to form a ring. The bagels are left to rest again. Then, they are put into boiling water for a while, drained, sprinkled with seeds or salt and baked.

Bagels made according to this recipe and called obwarzanek krakowski may be produced in the city of Cracow and in Cracow and Wieliczka counties. They may be sold without labeling and packaging from appropriately marked sales outlets.

The bagel-making tradition is very old in Cracow, with the first recorded mentions of it dating back to the 13th century. Cracow’s city charter issued by Prince Bolesław Wstydliwy in 1257 contains the first historical information about the local bakers. The charter gave them the right to sell their products in Cracow’s market square. The document Senatu Consultum de pane cogendo et de mercedes familiae pistorum directly refers to Cracow bagels: “Also those who bake bagels (circinellis) should use one korzec of flour at a time to make sure the bagels are always fresh, nice and tasty.” In 1496, King Jan Olbracht granted Cracow bakers the exclusive right to bake and sell bagels. The guild documents contain mentions of the guild’s authority over bakers expected to make bagels during a given year.

Initially, bagels were could only be baked during Lent by bakers specifically assigned to do so by the guild. Under a resolution adopted in 1611, the Cracow guild of bakers had the right to decide who was allowed to sell bagels and where. This strict supervision by the guild lasted until 1802, when every baker in the guild gained the right to bake bagels when their turn—determined by a draw—came. This form of choosing the privileged bakers was used until 1849. After that year, all bakers were allowed to make bagels, or at least such a conclusion can be drawn from historical records. Traditionally, bagels were sold from bakers’ stalls, which opened daily at 6 a.m. Eight guild members were responsible for supervising these. From the 19th century to the 1950s, Cracow bagels were sold directly from wickerwork baskets.

At present, Cracow bagels are made by members of the guild who have their bakeries in the city of Cracow and in Cracow and Wieliczka counties. Residents of Cracow and visitors from other parts of Poland view the Cracow bagel as a traditional local product. Many contemporary bakeries continue the tradition of the well-known Cracow bakers who started this line of businesses in the 1960s. This is confirmed by documents, decisions, recipes, statements and photographs.

The Polish name obwarzanek refers to the process of boiling the bagel dough in water before baking.

Today, around 99 percent of Cracow bagels are sold from mobile street stands. There are around 180 such stands in the city. On average, almost 150,000 bagels are sold daily in Cracow’s Old Market Square on weekdays.
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