It’s a sad fact, but there are a lot of bad bagels out there. I’ve been to places that claim to specialize in bagels — they put “bagel” in the store name, so they have to be legit — when really they’re just selling bad bread. Fortunately, like everything else, making bagels at home is super easy, especially with my simple sourdough bagel recipe.
It’s All About the Water
You may have heard that the water is what makes New York bagels so great. They even mentioned it in Entourage, if you can remember that far back. Anyway, thankfully, I came up with the greatest hack to replicate the authentic New York bagel with my simple sourdough bagel recipe. It takes a little time, but it’s totally worth it.
It starts with looking at flight schedule info at your local airport, particularly the arrivals. I make note of all the flights coming in from JFK and La Guardia (I don’t bother with Newark). Then, I go to the airport with a big plastic bucket and hang out by the baggage claim. When people come to get their stuff, I offer them a buck or two to dump their Nalgene, S’well, and Hyrdo Flask leftovers into my bucket. Don’t trust weasels with plastic bottles. Even if they claim they refilled them at the airport.
Once I have a couple of gallons, I head home to make great, authentic New York bagels. Now, I now some of you might be worried about that backwash, but don’t be. Assuming they’ve been in the city for a few days, that’s authentic New York water too!
What do I do next?
First off, I stop making dumb jokes. I hope you didn’t believe my stupid fake hack. I also hope you don’t believe anyone that says you need New York water for bagels, San Francisco air for sourdough, or Naples cheese and tomatoes for pizza.
What Really Matters for Dope Bagels
The real key to dope bagels is high-protein flour, barley malt or syrup for flavor, and, most importantly, boiling them in water. For the most part, using bread flour, with a protein percentage around 13% will give you a solid bagel. But, if you want to take it up a notch, you can replace 10 grams of flour with 10 grams of vital wheat gluten. Since the whole point of this site is about keeping things simple, I’m gonna leave it out of this recipe. Since it’s not a make-or-break thing, it just makes the bagels rise a little more and makes them chewier.
Barley malt or syrup is different though (I used malt). You do actually need to go beyond just flour, water, and salt. The barley malt is what is going to give it the unique bagel flavor. I guess you could say bagels are the Colt 45s of the bread world. While they get flavor from the barley, they get the chew from boiling.
Boiling then Baking
According to a lot of people, who I have no reason to disagree with, part of the reason a lot of bagels suck is because of the steam-injection oven. To mass-produce bagels, they started to use steam injection to bake instead of boiling bagels first.
By boiling, it cooks the outside of the bagel, gelatinizes the outside, and then prevents the bagel from puffing up as much, which leads to a chewier product. Like everything else, how long you boil is a matter of personal preference. I know some people say up to two minutes on each side. Whereas, bread god Nancy Silverton says to only do it for 20 seconds on each side in her oldie-but-goodie Breads from the La Brea Bakery: Recipes for the Connoisseur.
I recommend starting with 30 seconds on each side and then going up or down from there based on your personal preference. Since you’ll be making six bagels with this recipe (and should only really boil 3 at a time to prevent crowding), you can experiment the first time you make them.
Now for how to make them look like bagels…
Getting into Shape
When I first made bagels, I used the old school method of rolling the balls into 10-inch ropes, wrapping them around my hand, and then sealing the seam. That worked great and the results were great, but it also took longer than I liked. After seeing a few people use the method where you poke a hole and stretch from the inside, I dropped my other method and haven’t looked back. I made a little video of shaping bagels below that you can check out.
Finally (am I right?) it’s time for the recipe.
The Simple Sourdough Bagel Recipe
Simple Sourdough Bagel RecipeCuisine: BreakfastDifficulty: Simple
This recipe makes six bagels, each is about 275 calories. See the notes for tips on doubling the recipe or storing final product.
50 grams of Simple Sourdough Starter
75 grams of bread flour
75 grams of water
- Final Dough
400 grams of bread flour
200 grams of water
10 grams of salt
5 grams of barley malt powder
200 grams of ripe Levain
- Additional Ingredients (For Boiling)
1 Tbsp Baking Soda
- Recommended Baking Tools
8-Qt Stock Pot
- Using 50 grams of your starter, 75 grams of flour, and 75 grams of water, make your levain.
- Once your levain is ready (about 6-12 hours later), add 400 grams of flour, 10 grams of salt, and 5 grams of malt powder to food processor and pulse to mix. (Note: For the salt and malt powder, it’s best to measure on their own and then add to the flour.) Lastly, add 200 grams of water to the 200 grams of levain, stir and then pour the mixture into the food processor. (See Notes if mixing by hand.)
- Pulse a the food processor couple times, to mix water and flour a little, and then let it go for about 30-45 seconds. It should be a nice ball with very little dough sticking to the container.
- Dump the dough onto your counter and knead by hand for 15 to 30 seconds, just to make sure it is one mass. It should be firm and satiny. Form into a nice ball and then place into your 6-qt tub to bulk ferment for an hour (add another half hour if your kitchen is 70 degrees or cooler).
- Divide dough into six pieces, about 130 grams each. Shape into little balls (see pics at the bottom of the page), cover with a moist cloth, and let rest for about 30 minutes.
- Use shaping method from the video above. Place bagels in parchment-paper-lined dough tray, cover, and let them proof on your counter for 2-3 hours (add up to another hour if your kitchen is 70 degrees or cooler). They won’t double, but should be noticebly bigger. If not, let them go for another hour. (See Notes below if you don’t have a dough tray.)
- Place dough try in your fridge to proof for 12-48 hours. Whatever works best with your schedule. Note: If this is your first time making bagels, it’s better to proof them at least 36 hours to ensure they pass the float test.
- Baking the Bagels
- Preheat your oven to 500 degrees for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- While the oven is heating, see if your bagels pass the float test. Fill a container with room temp water and toss in one of your bagels. It should float within 5 seconds. Afterward, pat it dry and put it back on the tray and into the fridge. If it doesn’t float, pat it dry and put it back on tray but leave the tray on the counter to rise. Check again every 20-30 minutes after until it passes.
- Fill an 8-Qt stock pot 3/4th full with water, bring to a boil, and then add 1 tablespoon of baking soda.
- Boil bagels 3 at a time for about 30 seconds on each side, spacing them apart on a parchment-paper-lined baking afterwards.
- If adding seeds to bagels, do it now while they’re still wet.
- After all bagels are boiled and on the baking sheet, place them in the oven and turn the oven down to 450 degrees.
- Bake the bagels for 15 minutes and then flip them over and bake for five more minutes.
- Let the bagels cool on a rack for 20 minutes and then slather with cream cheese, butter, or whatever you’re feeling.
- This recipe can easily be doubled. However, I would mix it seperately in the food processor instead of trying to get 1KG of flour in at once. It won’t be pretty.
- Just like experimenting with boiling times, I would mess around with the baking. Find out what gives you the best texture and crunch, or lack of crunch, if that’s what you prefer. I personally prefer a little crunch and right after they have cooled for 20 minutes.
- Bagels don’t keep as well as other breads. Or, I should say that they don’t reheat as well. However, I still like to keep some in the freezer. When I know that I’m going to be freezing them, I undercook them a little, so I can broil or toast them later and know they won’t be overcooked. If you’re freezing bagels, just be sure to cut them in half before freezing.
- I personally don’t mix anything that is less than 70% hydration by hand. I’ve done it plenty of times. The results are the same, it just takes more time. If mixing by hand, I would add all the ingredients into your 6-Qt tub. Mix them by hand until most of the flour is incorporated and then dump it onto the counter to knead it by hand for a minimum of 10 minutes. If you don’t have a food processor, it takes less time to ask your neigbor to borrow one.
- Speaking of the hyrdation, you can try making an even stiffer dough than I use. A lot of bagels are in the 50-57% range. So, give 250 or 275 grams of water a try and see if you like that more.
- If you don’t have a dough tray, you can use a half baking sheet that has a lid. Just make sure to line it with parchment paper too.
- I’d love to see the loaf of bread you make. If you post it on Instagram or Facebook, be sure to tag me. And if you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.