SOME say the bagel's shape is simply a matter of economics: with a hole, the bagel appears larger but the hole doesn't cost money. Others argue that the hole is an inspired culinary design that permits even baking and more crust, because a greater surface of the bagel is exposed to the heat.

No matter who is right, fresh hot bagels with plenty of butter, or with the traditional accompaniments of lox and cream cheese, are one of the attractions of a deli meal or bar mitzvah celebration. In some cities there are 24-hour bagel bakeries, with hot bagels ready at any hour of the day or night.

Yet there is no need to wait for special occasions or to travel far in order to enjoy these delicious ring-shaped rolls. Homemade bagels fill the kitchen with a wonderful aroma, and have the advantage of being one of the quickest breads to make.

A special technique gives bagels their unique texture: Bagels are boiled before they are baked. Boiling instantly completes their rising and begins the cooking process.. A small amount of sugar added to the water helps give the bagels a crisp crust. Before they are baked, the drained bagels are brushed with beaten egg so the finished bagels have a shiny glaze.

One of two methods may be used to make the hole: The dough can be shaped in balls and the center pushed out with your finger; or it can be formed into thin ropes, and the ends pressed together. The ball technique is more practical, because bagels formed by the rope method tend to open up in the water. Neither method produces leftover dough. For this reason "bagel holes," unlike doughnut holes, are not sold in bakeries.

Although basic bagels came to us with the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, flavored bagels appear to be distinctly American. Like other breads, bagels can be varied by the addition of cheese, herbs, garlic, nuts or sweet ingredients such as honey and raisins.

Here are some bagel-making tips and recipes:

* Bagels should be chewy and therefore are best when made with bread flour. All-purpose flour can be substituted, but the bagels will be a little softer.

* In the recipes here, the basic dough is mixed and kneaded either by hand or in a food processor. Either technique can be used for any of the recipes. If you prefer to make the dough in a mixer with a dough hook, follow the instructions for mixing by hand; once the dough is mixed, let the machine run until the dough is very smooth. EGG BAGELS (Makes 12)

These are traditional bagels, for serving hot with butter or with lox and cream cheese. 4 cups bread flour 3/4 cup lukewarm water 1 envelope (2 1/2 teaspoons, 1/4 ounce) dry yeast 2 teaspoons sugar 1/4 cup vegetable oil 2 eggs 1 3/4 teaspoons salt For boiling and for glaze: 2 quarts water 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar 1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (for glaze)

Sift the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in 1/4 cup lukewarm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top and add 1 teaspoon sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy. Add the remaining sugar, oil, eggs, remaining water and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until the ingredients begin to come together in a dough. When mixing with a spoon becomes difficult, continue mixing by hand.

Knead the dough vigorously on a work surface until very smooth and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes. Put the dough in a clean oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until light but not doubled in volume. The dough can be made 1 day ahead; it should be left to rise 1/2 hour, then should be punched down and refrigerated overnight. Be sure it is covered with a damp cloth so it doesn't dry out; let it come to room temperature before continuing.

Knead the dough again lightly. Roll it to a thick log and cut it into 12 pieces with a floured knife. To shape the bagels, roll each piece of dough to a very smooth ball by holding it under your cupped palm on an unfloured surface, and rolling it over and over on the surface, pressing quite hard. The more the dough is rolled, the more even in shape the final bagel will be. Flatten the ball slightly. Make a hole by flouring your index finger and pushing it through the center of the round of dough. Twirl the round of dough around your finger to stretch the hole; then insert 2 fingers and continue twirling. Gently pull the edges to even out the shape of the bagel. Cover and let rise on floured board 15 minutes.

To boil the bagels, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add 3 or 4 bagels and boil 1 minute. Turn them over and boil 1 minute. If the holes begin to close, force them open with the handle of a wooden spoon. With a slotted spoon, transfer bagels to a cloth or to paper towels.

Put the bagels on 2 lightly floured or greased baking sheets. Brush with egg glaze. Bake about 20 minutes at 400 degrees or until browned; if both baking sheets don't fit on the center oven rack, bake them one above the other and switch their positions after 10 minutes. If not serving bagels right away, cool them on a rack and wrap them. They keep 2 days at room temperature. They can also be frozen and reheated before serving. CHEESE AND HERB BAGELS (Makes 12)

Cheese bagels are more delicate than others and should be simmered instead of being boiled. 1 envelope (2 1/2 teaspoons, 1/4 ounce) dry yeast 3/4 cup lukewarm water 2 teaspoons sugar 4 cups bread flour 1 1/2 cups grated gruyere or swiss cheese (6 ounces) 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried leaf oregano 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried leaf thyme 1 3/4 teaspoons salt 6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled 2 eggs For boiling and for glaze: 2 quarts water 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar 1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (for glaze)

To make the dough in a food processor: Sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup lukewarm water in a bowl, add 1 teaspoon sugar and let stand for 10 minutes until yeast is foamy. Process the flour, remaining sugar, cheese, oregano, thyme and salt briefly to mix them. Add the butter and eggs and process with a few on/off turns to mix. Add the remaining water to the yeast mixture. With the blades of the processor turning, gradually pour in the yeast-liquid mixture. If the dough is too dry to come together, add 1 tablespoon water and process again. Process for 1 minute to knead the dough.

Put the dough in a clean oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until light but not doubled in volume. The dough can be made 1 day ahead; it should be left to rise 1/2 hour, then should be punched down and refrigerated overnight. Be sure it is covered with a damp cloth so it doesn't dry out; let it come to room temperature before continuing.

Knead the dough again lightly. Roll it to a thick log and cut it into 12 pieces with a floured knife. To shape the bagels, roll each piece of dough to a very smooth ball by holding it under your cupped palm on an unfloured surface, and rolling it over and over on the surface, pressing slightly. Flatten the ball slightly. Make a hole by flouring your index finger and pushing it through the center of the round of dough. Twirl the round of dough around your finger to stretch the hole; then insert 2 fingers and continue twirling. Gently pull the edges to even out the shape of the bagel. Cover and let rise on floured board 15 minutes.

To simmer the bagels, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add 3 or 4 bagels and simmer over medium heat for 1 minute. Turn them over and simmer 1 minute. If the holes begin to close, force them open with the handle of a wooden spoon. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a cloth or to paper towels.

Put the bagels on 2 lightly floured or greased baking sheets. Brush with egg glaze. Bake about 20 minutes at 400 degrees or until browned. GARLIC-FLAVORED WATER BAGELS (Makes 12)

Water bagels are more chewy than those containing egg. Serve these buttered, with scrambled eggs or with cheese. 4 cups bread flour 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water 1 envelope (2 1/2 teaspoons, 1/4 ounce) dry yeast 1 teaspoon sugar 6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter 4 cloves garlic, minced 1 3/4 teaspoons salt For boiling and for glaze: 2 quarts water 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar 1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (for glaze)

Sift the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in 1/4 cup lukewarm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top and add the sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy.

Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan, add the garlic and cook over low heat, stirring, about 1 minute or until softened but not brown. Let cool slightly.

To the well in the flour, add the garlic and the butter in which it was cooked, remaining water, and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until the ingredients begin to come together to a dough. When mixing with a spoon becomes difficult, continue mixing by hand. Knead the dough vigorously on a work surface until very smooth and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes.

Put the dough in a clean oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until light but not doubled in volume. The dough can be made 1 day ahead; it should be left to rise 1/2 hour, then should be punched down, covered with a damp cloth and refrigerated overnight. Let it come to room temperature before continuing.

Knead the dough again lightly. Shape bagels according to preceding recipe. Cover and let rise on floured board 15 minutes.

To simmer the bagels, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add 3 or 4 bagels and simmer over medium heat for 1 minute. Turn them over and simmer 1 minute. If the holes begin to close, force them open with the handle of a wooden spoon. With a slotted spoon, transfer bagels to a cloth or to paper towels.

Put the bagels on 2 lightly floured or greased baking sheets. Brush with egg glaze. Bake about 20 minutes at 400 degrees or until browned. WHOLE-WHEAT BAGELS (Makes 12)

Honey gives these bagels a touch of sweetness. Serve them with cream cheese or butter. 2 cups bread flour 2 cups whole-wheat flour 3/4 cup lukewarm water 1 envelope (2 1/2 teaspoons, 1/4 ounce) dry yeast 4 tablespoons honey 1/4 cup oil 2 eggs 1 3/4 teaspoons salt For boiling and for glaze: 2 quarts water 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar 1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (for glaze)

Sift both types flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in 1/4 cup lukewarm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top and add 2 teaspoons honey. Let stand for 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy. Add the remaining honey, oil, eggs, remaining water and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until the ingredients begin to come together to a dough. When mixing with a spoon becomes difficult, continue mixing by hand. Knead the dough vigorously on a work surface until very smooth and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes.

Put the dough in a clean oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place about 1 1/2 hours or until light but not doubled in volume. The dough can be made 1 day ahead; it should be left to rise 3/4 hour, then should be punched down, covered with a damp cloth and refrigerated overnight. Let it come to room temperature before continuing.

Knead the dough again lightly. Shape bagels according to preceding recipe. Cover and let rise on floured board 15 minutes.

To simmer the bagels, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add 3 or 4 bagels and simmer over medium heat for 1 minute. Turn them over and simmer 1 minute. If the holes begin to close, force them open with the handle of a wooden spoon. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a cloth or to paper towels.

Put the bagels on 2 lightly floured or greased baking sheets. Brush with egg glaze. Bake about 20 minutes at 400 degrees or until browned.

To make walnut and raisin bagels: Add 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon to the well with the honey. Add 1/2 cup coarsely chopped raisins and 1/4 cup chopped walnuts to the finished dough before letting it rise. Knead to distribute the raisins and walnuts evenly. Bake these bagels at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until browned; watch these carefully so the raisins don't burn.