Week 51: Bagels

Unless you live in New York (or Montreal, strangely enough), you’re surrounded by people who complain that they can’t get a decent bagel anywhere.* But, it doesn’t matter where you live, because a perfectly satisfying version can made at home! Follow a method that incorporates a.) proofing the dough overnight, b.) boiling them before baking (duh), and c.) using a high protein flour and barley malt, and the end result will be bagels with a shiny, thin, crispy crust and a dense, chewy , slightly tangy interior. The most successful batch I made comes from Zingerman’s Bakehouse, with a few adjustments on my part: I boosted the protien content of the flour, added an overnight proof, and used malt powder rather than syrup.

Bagels originated in Poland, (first written mention of them is in 1610), and were brought to America by Eastern-European and Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century, becoming mainstream in the ’70s. There’s a few theories on the origin of the name, some say it comes from the Yiddish beigen, which means “to bend”, others say it’s from the Hebrew word b’igul meaning “in a circle”.

*The New York Times just published The Best Bagels are in California (Sorry, New York)

Below are answers I found to some bagel questions I had while doing research for this week’s bread:

  • Why the water bath before baking? The starch in the dough gels when the bagels are put in the boiling water, which prevents the water from seeping into the bread. This sets the crust before baking, and prevents them from rising too much — thus the dense and chewy crumb.
  • Why the baking soda and/or malt extract? The baking soda aids in browning the crust, and the barley malt adds an authentic flavor., and encourages browning as well. You can use either Barley Malt Syrup or Diastatic Malt Powder, which is made from sprouted barley that’s been dried and ground. What you’re after is the active enzyme, amylase.
  • What’s the best flour to use? Bagels made in professional bakeries use flour with a very high protein/gluten (14.5%) content. You can buy it (King Arthur has a good one), use bread flour (12%), which is a close second, and all purpose (10%) will work in a pinch. Another option is to mix bread flour with vital wheat gluten. I chose this route because I’d rather buy a small bag of vital wheat gluten than a big bag of high protein flour that I might not use very much. The recipe below is for either bread flour, OR bread flour mixed with vital wheat gluten.
  • What came first? The poles or the holes? The hole! Because the dough is so dense, it’s hard to cook them all the way through. So, the poles came later, as a good way to store these round breads with a hole.


  • Most recipes are for a dozen bagels. They really are best eaten day of, so I have listed ingredients for just 6. It is also more efficient to be able to boil the six and get them in the oven straight away, so they don’t sit around wating for the other 6 to get boiled. The boiling, timing each side, coating, getting them in the oven quickly is kind of a pain.
  • It is advisable to knead bagel dough by hand because it has a low hydration level, and not too difficult if you’ve been shying away from kneading without a mixer. You’re not dealing with a sticky mess, so it’s not too tricky. In fact, some sites adivise that it is necessary otherwide you might burn out your mixer! It takes some time, though, so be patient.
  • Many recipes call for using a baking stone, but don’t let that deter you. A baking sheet worked just fine for me.
  • Everything bagel topping: 2 Tbsp. each dehydrated onion, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dehydrated garlic, plus 1 Tbsp. coarse salt
  • Watch the two videos before you begin, but use the ingredients and written method below.


STEP 1: Make the sponge

  • 227g bread flour
    • OR 218g bread flour + 8g vital wheat gluten
  • 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 128g warm water (110 degrees)
  1. Measure the flour, yeast, and vital wheat gluten (if applicable) in a mixing bowl.
  2. Whisk to combine, then add the water. Mix well, scraping the sides of the bowl and make sure there’s not dry bits.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise on counter for 2 hours.
  4. Refrigerate for 4 hours.
  5. Remove from fridge, and let come to room temperature (about 30 minutes). Take it’s temperature; it’s much easier to work the dough when it’s warmed up!

STEP 2: Make the dough

  • Sponge from the day before, at room temperature
  • 227g bread flour
    • OR 218g bread flour + 8g vital wheat gluten
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast
  • 11g salt
  • 2 tsp diastatic malt powder
  1. Add the yeast to the sponge and stir.
  2. Then add the flour, vital wheat gluten (if applicable), salt and malt powder, and mix with a dough scraper, or one hand, to try to incorporate as much of the flour as you can. You won’t be able to mix it to a dough at this stage
  3. Dump it all on the counter, and knead – about 8 – 10 minutes, until you get a nice dough. Watch the video for his method. You want it to be stretchy (not rip if you pull it), but firm. Another test would be to take it’s temperature, it should be between 77-81 degrees. If you can’t seem to get it to this point, leave it for 10 minutes, and then try again.
  4. Place in a large (it’ll rise), clean bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.


STEP 1: Shape Bagels

  1. Let dough come to room temperature
  2. Divide the dough into six pieces.
  3. Form pieces into rounds by first creating a taut undersurface, then turning over, and pressing and rolling with cupped palm against surface in circular motion. (The video above does not do it this way, but the one below does.)
  4. Cover with a damp towel, and letthe dough rounds rest for 20 minutes
  5. Lightly dust a tray, or some of your counterspace with flour so you’ve got place to put them once they’re shaped
  6. Shape into a log and wrap around your hand to join, OR just poke a hole in them. I put corks in the middle because I was afraid they’d close up.

STEP 2: Rest, boil and bake

  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • semolina flour, or corn meal
  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Let rise about an hour, but this depends on the temperature of the room. You don’t want them to rise too much, otherwise, they’ll collapse a bit after baking. If you press on them with a fingertip and the indentation springs back, but not all the way, then they are done. If it doesn’t spring back, proof some more, if it springs back all the way, they might be over-proofed. It’s okay, you can still back them, but they might end up a little flat.
  3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  4. Bring a large pot filled with at least 4” of water and 1 Tbsp of baking soda to a boil.
  5. Meanwhile, prep your area for boiling and baking
    • Dust a baking sheet with semolina flour, or corn meal
    • Put your toppings next to this sheet, in containers that will hold one bagel
    • Set your timer for 1 minute – but don’t start it yet!
    • Prep a baking tray with semolina flour for placing bagels that have been topped
  6. Carefully add bagels and bathe them for 45 seconds per side (30 for less chewy, 60 for more).
  7. Remove, place in a topping, then put face up on the set aside baking sheet.
  8. Repeat with the rest.
  9. Turn oven down to 475 and bake for 14 ~ 16 minutes.
  10. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes before slicing.


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