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Homemade Bagels

January 28, 2010


A few months ago I decided to try to bake my way through Peter Reinhardt’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I am far from the first person to try this, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the first person who got hung up only a few recipes in by the bagels. They seemed so…daunting. People get really intense about bagels. There are long-standing arguments about what kinds of bagels are the best, and how to cook them so they are more authentic, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to jump into the fray. But last weekend, I finally decided enough was enough. And I discovered that bagels are actually pretty easy, and unlike my English muffin experience of a few weeks ago, they turned out awesome. Sure, maybe a real New Yorker would shun my bagels, but out here in Walla Walla, where beggars perhaps cannot be choosers, I am awfully glad to have this recipe in my arsenal.

This is not a spur of the minute project; these take some foresight. The dough has to rest overnight in the refrigerator, and Reinhardt says this is definitely not the recipe in which you’d want to skip this step. But the actual work part of the recipe isn’t too tough. Caveat: I might just be saying this because I now have a fancy stand mixer to accomplish the kneading part for me. This is a stiff dough, and kneading it by hand could prove to be quite a workout. If you want to try it the old-fashioned way, without machinery, I say go for it, and let me know how it goes.

Bagels, shaped

I decided to use half whole wheat flour, as well, because that’s just the kind of girl I am. I left six of the twelve bagels plain, sprinkled four with sesame seeds, one with herbs de provence, and one with Muenster cheese, as an experiment. The plain bagels are great, and the herbs de provence had just the subtlest bit of sweet flavor. The sesame bagels were a gift and so I didn’t try them. But the Muenster…man, I am a sucker for cheese. Cheese bagels are always wonderful. I can’t wait to try a jalapeno cheese variety. I can’t wait to try a whole bunch of different varieties, and I might just have to order some Everything Bagel topping, as well.

Bagels, resting

I’m sure a lot of you are thinking, “Why in the world would I make homemade bagels when I can get perfectly serviceable bagels at the market?” Why, indeed? I know not everyone is crazy like me and feels the need to try to make everything from scratch. Hell, I even briefly thought it would be fun to grow my own darn wheat and mill it myself, because I can be crazy. If you can get perfectly serviceable bagels at the market and would rather spend your Saturday afternoon watching movies, then there is no reason to undertake this recipe. But if you’re looking for something to do some weekend and occasionally like to try crazy baking projects, I highly recommend this one. I can’t even describe the satisfaction I felt seeing these perfect little rings of dough on my cooling rack.

Sesame Bagel

Homemade Bagels
Adapted from Peter Reinhardt’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

For the sponge

  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
  • 2 cups (9 ounces) whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/2 cups water, room temperature

For the dough

  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 3/4 cups (10 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 cups (7 ounces) whole wheat flour
  • 2 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 Tablespoon honey

For boiling and baking

  • 1 Tablespoon baking soda
  • cornmeal

Mix together the ingredients for the sponge in a large mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for about two hours, or until it’s bubbly and has grown in size a bit. It should smell a little sour-y when you unwrap it.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or another large mixing bowl), whisk together the yeast, flour, and salt for the dough. Mix in the honey, then the sponge. Knead the dough for about 6 minutes on the medium setting of your mixer, or for about 10 minutes by hand. The dough is stiff, so it might be tough to knead. If you have to, give it a minute to rest before returning to it. If the flour isn’t incorporating, add warm water a tablespoon at a time, but don’t add too much water. You don’t want to the dough to be too wet.

Once the dough passes the windowpane test, you’re ready to divide it and shape it into bagel shapes.

Line one or two baking sheets with lightly oiled parchment paper. Divide the dough into twelve equal-sized pieces (they should each weight about 4 1/2 ounces). Shape each piece into a small ball, as though you’re making rolls, then gently puncture a hole in the middle with your thumb. Carefully shape the dough so it is even all the way around the hole. You can make the hole bigger than mine if you prefer; I kind of like bagels that barely have a hole in them when you cut them in half. Place the bagels about an inch apart on the parchment paper, and set them aside, covered with plastic wrap, to rise for about 20 minutes. Then just slide the baking trays into the refrigerator and let them rest overnight, or for at least eight hours.


When you’re ready to bake, remove the bagels from the refrigerator and let them warm up just a little, for about 20 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to boil, and preheat the oven to 500F.

Once the water is boiling, add a tablespoon of baking soda. Gently lower the bagels into the boiling water with a skimmer or slotted spoon. Don’t crowd them; I found I could only do four at a time. Boil them for a minute, then gently flip them over and boil them for a minute more.

Boiling bagels

While they’re boiling, sprinkle the parchment paper on the same baking sheets with cornmeal, and when you remove the bagels from the water, place them about two inches apart on the cornmeal-spread baking sheets. This is the time to add seeds or the other toppings of your choice: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, salt, crushed garlic, dried onion, grated cheese.

Herbs de provence bagel

Once all the bagels are boiled and placed back on the baking trays, place them in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then rotate the pans to be sure they bake evenly. Give them another 5 minutes, then remove the bagels to a cooling rack and let them cool for at least 15 full minutes before cutting into them.

Sliced bagel

These definitely keep best if they are sealed in a plastic bag or a container with a lid. I kept a few out in a paper bag because I didn’t want the seeds to fall off, and they were a little tough a few days later, though still excellent when toasted. And now that they’re all gone, I can’t wait to make them again.

Cooling bagels

15 Comments leave one →
  1. joy permalink
    January 28, 2010 4:29 pm

    Those look delicious! Next time you make the bagels, try topping them with a mix of sesame seeds, poppyseeds and fennel seeds. Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor calls that the Detroit Street Bagel, and it is THE BEST bagel topping.

  2. Emily permalink
    January 28, 2010 8:53 pm

    Thoroughly impressed.

  3. January 29, 2010 8:23 am

    Homemade bagels are so amazing! I love how they puff up when they boil! Great inspiration!

  4. January 29, 2010 8:30 am

    They look amazing! And the pictures are great…

  5. Mom permalink
    January 29, 2010 9:39 pm

    Wow! I’m so impressed. Your pictures look good enough to eat!

  6. January 30, 2010 2:39 am

    Those look way better than the bagels at the Rose St. Safeway! :)

  7. January 30, 2010 3:53 pm

    it so pretty I wanna try it

  8. February 1, 2010 7:26 am

    I used this recipe the other day. Your bagels look wonderful, and great pictures! Mine kind of deflated during the boiling process, do you think it’s because the dough wasn’t stiff enough?

    • June 9, 2010 8:51 pm

      I’ve had problems with this, too. Turns out the problem is over-proofing. If you knead for any longer than his instructions say — and this may seem necessary for proper gluten development — you might need to shorten the rest after shaping, or the final proofing. There have been several times that my bagels were fully proofed long before the 20 minutes was up. One time when working on a double batch, the bagels floated just as soon as I had them shaped. Somewhere in the workflow, the dough sat for too long.

  9. February 1, 2010 1:01 pm

    so beautiful I’d love to try this recipe by my self

  10. June 9, 2010 8:45 pm

    I regularly hand-mix and knead a double batch of these bagels. It can be a workout, but I’ve learned a few tricks to make it easier. Just after mixing all the ingredients I put a bowl over the dough and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. I’ll knead for a total of about 300 folds, stopping 2 or 3 times to let the dough (and myself) rest. I’m learning the key, however, is not to be too forceful. A light touch in folding the dough is quite enough.

    I’ve also deviated from the recipe a bit based on things I’ve picked up on — I’ve increased the amount of baking soda considerably for a more alkaline bath. 1TBS just doesn’t bring the water close enough to a lye bath. I also add some malt syrup to the water — with these two changes I’m finally getting a density and crust I’m happy with. Next experiment is to add steam to the mix during the first stage of baking, though I foresee possible problems with over-expansion of the dough. My biggest problem with these bagels is over-proofing, which will result in deflated bagels.

    Finally, borrowing from Reinhart’s American Pie I’ve come up with the Bagel Rosa al Bianco, which is topped with minced red onion, plenty of parmigiano regiano, fresh rosemary, and chopped pistachios. I make batches of bagels for my wife’s work and the Rosa bagels are very popular.

    Nothing as nice as your photos, but here’s a pic of the Rosa:

    • June 10, 2010 6:50 am

      Adding an updated link, as the first picture I linked was taken before I made the described changes. I’ve also switched to shaping by rolling rather than poking.

      • June 10, 2010 3:44 pm

        That bagel looks delicious…you’ve made me want to make bagels again just so I can experiment.

        The only thing I could foresee with making a double batch is preventing them from going stale before they all get eaten.

  11. June 10, 2010 5:53 pm

    In the last couple months I’ve made something like 12-15 dozen bagels. About 2/3rds go to my wife’s work and the other 1/3rd goes to the school where my mother teaches. Anything left over gets eaten by the 4 kids still at home. Even my 2 year old is addicted to them.

    People are really amazed by fresh, homemade bagels. Living in SW Florida I think it’s safe to say that other than the transplanted New Yorkers, most of the people have never had the real thing. It’s really easy to impress when you’re competing against cardboard.

    • June 11, 2010 6:02 am

      Ahh, there ya go: You have a lot of people to give them to! I live alone, so those bagels went stale pretty darn fast. And I did give some of them away!

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