Chewy with a plush but tight crumb and a shiny brown crust, these Sourdough Bagels are so good you won’t ever want to buy them at the store or even need to toast them. The taste, texture and flavor of fresh-baked bagels are above and beyond anything that comes in a plastic sleeve. Using sourdough takes the flavor and texture of bagels to a whole other level.
What Makes Bagels Special?
Bagels start out like most other bread, with bread flour, water, salt and a little bit of sweetener. Aside from its iconic shape, what makes them unique is their shiny brown crust, chewy texture and plush but close-textured crumb. Bagel dough has a low hydration, about 48 percent, which is responsible for its tight crumb. To create a good bagel, you’ll need to use a high-protein bread flour (12 to 14% protein content), develop a strong gluten network and perfect proofing. Bagels are also poached in an alkaline solution in addition to being baked at an extremely high temperature.
If you like the taste and texture of bagels, you'll love my Sourdough Pretzels!
Tips for Success
I’ll be totally honest with you, bagels are not an easy bake. Achieving the shiny, browned crust and close-textured but plush crumb is quite a balancing act.
For a tender but tight crumb you’ll have to proof your dough just enough so that it doesn’t become airy and bubbly. The shiny browned crust also requires perfect timing, as over-proofing will cause your crust to be dull and tough, instead of being pleasantly chewy.
With practice and patience baking delicious homemade bagels at home is possible. I promise that with just one bite of a freshly baked bagel, you'll quickly realize that all the time spent is totally worth the effort.
Develop a strong gluten network: Crinkly bagels are an indication of poor gluten development. You’ll have to knead your dough thoroughly, otherwise it may not be able to hold its shape as it rises and you’ll end up with bagels with a rough, lumpy texture instead of a smooth crust. Another benefit of well-developed gluten is the chewy texture that’s a signature of bagels! I kneaded my bagels by hand but using a mixer or food processor will make the process easier and quicker.
Boil your bagels in hot but not boiling water: Poaching is unique to bagels. It’s responsible for the shiny, chewy crust but even just this short boil requires a delicate balance. The water needs to be quite hot to encourage your dough to swell which results in a plush crumb, but overly bubbling water will restrict yeast activity too much causing your bagels to collapse as they are baked. The water will cool down between batches, bring the water up to a boil but turn it down to simmer before dropping your bagels in or they will turn out dense and dull.
Perfect proofing: Sourdough bagels take quite some time to proof, when I first started testing this recipe I over proofed my dough consistently. This resulted in dull bagels with a tough (not chewy) texture and an open crumb that’s undesirable for bagels. Proof your shaped bagels until they look like they’ve built up some air but not doubled.
Use the float test to determine readiness, to do this drop one bagel in a bowl of lukewarm water. If your bagels float then you're ready to proceed to the next step, if it sinks then cover your dough and continue proofing for another 15 to 30 minutes
What You Need
- Bread flour - High-protein bread flour helps with gluten development resulting in chewy bagels with a shiny, smooth crust
- Water - The main source of hydration
- Active starter - Allows the dough to rise and imparts a tangy flavor
- Barley malt syrup - Helps with browning and imparts sweetness to the dough (substitute honey or brown sugar)
- Salt - Enhances the flavor of these bagels and strengthens the gluten structure
- Cornmeal - Prevents the dough from sticking to your baking sheet as they proof
- Baking soda - When used in the hot water bath, it creates an alkaline solution that gelatinizes the surface of the dough resulting in a shiny, dark brown and crunchy exterior
- Toppings - Make these bagels plain or get creative with your toppings. Use everything bagel seasoning, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion flakes, caraway seeds, cheese, Furikake or Za’atar seasoning!
Time needed: 2 days.
- Mix the dough
Combine the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and stir until no traces of dry flour remain. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour.
- Strengthen the dough
Knead the dough for 15 to 20 minutes or until the dough looks completely smooth.
*Alternatively, use a mixer with a dough hook to knead the dough for 5 minutes or until completely smooth
- Bulk fermentation
Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 4 to 6 hours.
- Cold proof
Let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight to continue to develop flavors
- Shape the dough
Divide the dough in 8 to 10 portions, shape and place shaped dough on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal.
- Final proof
Proof your dough covered with plastic wrap for 1 hour or until noticeably puffy but not doubled in volume
- Float test
Drop one portion of dough in a bowl of lukewarm water, if it floats then you’re ready to proceed to the next step.
Boil your dough in a solution of water, baking soda and barley malt syrup for 1 minute, flipping halfway through. Place poached bagels on a baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment paper about 2 inches apart.
Top bagels with toppings of choice (if using). Bake at 475 F for 15 minutes.
Bagels are quite iconic due to their shape. There are two ways to shape a bagel.
This method is easier, more straightforward and results in perfectly round bagels with a soft interior and a uniform exterior.
1 Use your index finger to poke a hole in the center of your dough
2 Use your peace fingers to enlarge the hole
The second method has a few more steps and is how "New York style" bagels are traditionally shaped. The idea behind this method is that it requires more handling of the dough which works the gluten even further resulting in chewier bagels.
1 Pre shape the dough into small logs. Let dough rest for 15 minutes.
2 Roll the logs into a long rope and twist.
3 Wrap the dough around your hand with the ends overlapping on your palm.
3 Roll the dough using the palm of your hand until the ends adhere to each other
Remember to make your holes larger than they need to be, since the dough will snap back and the hole tends to shrink as it proofs. If you make your holes too small, you'll lose the signature donut shape and end up with bagels that look more like rolls.
Cover your baking sheet with plastic wrap to prevent your dough from drying out as your bagels rise. If the exterior of your dough dries out you'll get cracks on the crust of your baked bagels.
Watch your bagels closely to avoid over proofing! You'll want your bagels to look puffy and airy but not to double in size. Over proofed bagels will have an extremely tough, dull, pale crust and a more open interior.
Dense bagels are usually underproofed, make sure your bagel dough doubles in volume during bulk fermentation and make sure your bagels pass the float test before poaching and baking.
Flat bagels could be the result of proofing issues. Underproofed dough won’t build enough air to puff up as they bake. While over proofed bagels will have an open crumb flatter profile, these are usually still delicious but will not taste like a signature bagel.
Once the bagels are fully cooled, spit the bagels in half and wrap each bagel in 2 layers of foil. Place the wrapped bagels in a ziplock bag and freeze for up to 1 month. Leave the frozen bagels out at room temperature for 10 minutes, this will make it easier to separate the bagel halves. Toast the bagels before serving.
Chewy with a plush but tight crumb and a shiny brown crust, these Sourdough Bagels are so good you won’t ever run to the store to buy them. The taste, texture and flavor of fresh-baked bagels are above and beyond anything that comes in a plastic sleeve, using sourdough elevates these to another level.
- Prep Time: 12 hours
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Total Time: About 2 Days
- Yield: 8 bagels 1x
150 grams (⅔ cup) active starter
28 grams (2 tablespoons) barley malt syrup
226 grams (1 cup) water
9 grams (1 ½ teaspoon) salt
540 grams (4 ½ cups) bread flour
28 grams (2 tablespoons) barley syrup
4 grams (1 teaspoon) salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
Everything bagel seasoning
Mix your dough: In a large mixing bowl, dissolve active starter and barley malt syrup in water. Stir the bread flour and salt in the dissolved starter. This is quite a dry dough so you may have a difficult time incorporating all the flour. Use your hand to knead the mixture together until all of the flour is hydrated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 1 hour (skip rest if using a machine to mix).
Strengthen the dough: Turn the dough out on a clean work surface. Knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes or until the dough is completely smooth and no longer tears easily. Round into a tight bowl and place in a lightly-oiled bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place.
Bulk ferment: Let the dough rise until bubbly, airy and doubled in volume, about 4 to 6 hours.
Cold proof: Deflate the dough, gather the dough into a tight ball and cover with plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and let the dough proof overnight.
Shape the dough: Dust a baking sheet with cornmeal. Divide the dough into 8 to 10 equal portions. Round each portion of dough into a tight ball.
- Shaping method 1: Use your index finger to poke a hole in the center of your dough. Stretch the hole out using your peace fingers. Create a hole arger than you think you need, about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, as the dough will snap back as it rises. Place the shaped dough on the prepared baking sheet.
- Shaping method 2: Flatten each ball of dough into an oval. Roll the dough into a log, let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Use your palms to roll the dough into a long rope, about 8 inches long. Wrap the rope around your hand, pinch the ends together and roll the dough until the ends adhere to each other. Placethe shaped dough on the prepared baking sheet.
Final proof: Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for 45 minutes to an hour or until noticeably puffy, but not doubled.
Prep: When your bagels are close to being ready, preheat the oven to 475 F.
Float test: Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water. Place a shaped bagel in th bowl of water, if it floats then you’re ready to proceed.
Poach the bagels: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the baking soda, barley malt syrup and salt to the water. Turn the heat down to a simmer and drop 2 to 3 bagels into the water, do not overcrowd the pot. Cook the dough for 1 minute, flipping halfway through. Return the poached bagels to the baking sheet spaced about 2 inches apart. Finish with your toppings of choice.
Bake: Bake the dough for 15 minutes or until golden brown and measures 200 F when probed with an instant read thermometer.
Serve: Transfer bagels to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes before slicing. Freshly baked bagels are delicious even without toasting!
Store: Store cooled bagels in a ziplock bag at room temperature for up to 5 days. For best results, toast leftover bagels before enjoying.
When in doubt use weight over volume measures
- Serving Size: 1 bagel
- Calories: 314
- Sugar: 2.3 g
- Fat: 2.5 g
- Carbohydrates: 59 g
- Protein: 15.7 g