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. 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. It's a great way to shake up your regular sourdough bread baking routine!
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: 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!
- Make the dough
- Knead the dough
- Bulk ferment
- Cold proof overnight
- Divide the dough and preshape
- Shape the dough
- Allow the dough to rise on a baking sheet
- Poach bagels and add toppings
- 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. Divide the dough and round each into a tight ball
2. Poke a hole in the center of the dough
3. Spread the dough to make the hole larger
4. The hole should be larger than you think since the dough will snap back
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.
4. 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.
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- Kitchen scale
- Stock pot
- Slotted spoon
- 150 grams sourdough starter mature and active
- 28 grams barley malt syrup
- 226 grams water
- 9 grams salt
- 540 grams bread flour
- 28 grams barley malt syrup
- 4 grams salt
- 10 grams baking soda
- Sesame seeds
- Poppy seeds
- Cinnamon sugar
- Caraway seeds
- Everything bagel seasoning
- Za’atar seasoning
- Dried onion
- 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.
Polly Ferguson says
"Cook" (Boil) the bagels for 30 minutes? Just checking, because usually the bagels are boiled for about 30 seconds on each side.
Make It Dough says
This was a typo and has been edited within the recipe
Is the time correct for boiling the bagels..... 30 minutes per side?
Make It Dough says
This was a typo and has been edited
Is there a 'print' button for your fabulous recipes?
Hello and ty for this recipe! I've tried a few kinds of sourdough bagels that are vegan and this is by far the tastiest. I overbaked mine however and a bit crunchy as I try to get used to my new bread oven. Mine doubled during the bulk and passed the float test the following day, although they don't get too puffy (I made 10 from this recipe)...any suggestions on that are these more of a Montreal style rather than NY?
Hannah @ Make It Dough says
Hi Samra! Thanks for trying the recipe. Bagels are not supposed to puff up too much and are supposed to have a tighter crumb. Crunchy bagels are usually over proofed and start resembling crusty sourdough bread. You really do have to bake these at just the right moment (not quite doubled but have passed the float test).