Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Homemade Plain or Sesame Bagels

It's amazing what a little yeast, some flour and some water can create! Admittedly, it was special high-gluten flour and the directions were four pages long (that included pictures), but come on - bagels! Chewy and flavorful bagels that aren't from a bagel shop or supermarket - that's pretty cool!

I've been poring over Peter Reinhart's book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, that I checked out from our library. It turns out the library won't let you keep books forever, so when they wouldn't let me renew it one more time, I went straight to Amazon and ordered a copy for myself. While I was at it, I ordered another of his books, Whole Grain Breads, too. Now I've got bread-baking fever. It's addicting!

So don't be surprised if you see a few more bread recipes here - and maybe I can convince you to make your own bread too!

This was my first attempt at bagels, and the next time I'm going to try to get a lot of sesame seeds over all of the bagel. I can't get enough sesame seeds and these just were not sticking. Since I made these, I have read that brushing the bagels with egg wash just after the boiling step and then sprinkling with seeds will help them stick better so I have included this step in the instructions.

{Update- I have changed the original recipe posting to reflect the following findings}

1. You don't need high gluten flour - I've used King Arthur Bread flour, found in most supermarkets (the cheapest around town is Wal-mart) and I found no difference in the results.

2. You really must try to incorporate almost all of the flour in the recipe. It takes a little while and even my Kitchenaid has trouble kneading the stiff dough so I knead it by hand, adding a little more flour every few kneads, until you're sure the dough couldn't handle another bit of flour. The one time I didn't add as much flour, the bagels were a little flat.

3. It took some trial and error, but the best way that I found to make your toppings stick, is to brush the bagel with egg white wash not once, but twice. Whisk an egg white with a teaspoon or so of water. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg white on, let it dry, then brush a little more egg white on and sprinkle on the toppings while the second coating is still wet. This method worked better than just one coating of egg, better than just water, and better than a water and cornstarch mixture.

4. I boil the bagels in the water bath for exactly 45 seconds per side, instead of one minute or more, so that they are the perfect chewiness.

5. You can bake these with your convection oven at 25 degrees F less than the original recipe's temperatures

For a photo tutorial, Pinch My Salt has posted a great one here.

Plain or Sesame Bagels

adapted slightly from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
makes 12 large


1 teaspoon instant yeast

4 cups (18 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I use King Arthur Bread flour)

2 1/2 cups (20 ounces) water, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

3 3/4 cups (17 ounces) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour

2 3/4 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons malt powder or 1 tablespoon barley malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar

To Finish

1 tablespoon baking soda
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting (I prefer semolina flour as I think it resists burning better)
1 egg white mixed with a tablespoon of water (egg wash)
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds (optional)

1. Day one: To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.

2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt or sugar. Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining 3/4 cup flour to stiffen the dough. (Warning - it takes a while to add in all the flour and my kitchenaid couldn't handle it, so I added the rest by hand.)

3. Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6 minutes by machine). The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all ingredients should be hydrated. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 to 81 degrees F. If the dough seems to dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.

4. Immediately divide the dough into 4 1/2 ounce pieces for standard bagels, or smaller if desired. Form the pieces into rolls.

5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.

6. Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough and gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots.)

7. Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pans. Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and slip each pan into a food-grade plastic bag, or cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the “float test”. Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). If the bagel does not float. Return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.

9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500 degrees F (475 degrees F for convection oven) with the two racks set in the middle of the oven. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda. Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.

10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). Boil the bagels for 45 seconds per side. The longer they boil, the chewier they will be. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. (If you decide to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface.) Brush the bagels with egg wash, allow it to dry, then brush them again with egg wash and top with sesame seeds or other toppings while still wet.

11. When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450 degrees F (425 for convection)and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown. You may bake them darker if you prefer.

12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving. (Slice and freeze any bagels that will not be eaten within 2 days.)


  1. Being a New Yorker, I love bagels! As a young girl I worked in a jewish bakery and when the bagels came in fresh from the main bakery down the street, they were like a round piece of heaven.
    New York city makes the best bagels in the world!!!! It all about the water...NYC water is the best and that water bath they give the bagels is the magic ingredient. I am craving a chewy bagel!

    janet xox

  2. I just got the book like a week and a half ago! Best book I've ever had! And yes, I have bread fever :) I haven't made the bagel yet, but I've made the poolish ciabatta, english muffins, and kaisers. So easy! (The ciabatta is ahhh-mazing! I'm going to make a second batch tomorrow lol)

    Reinhardt is a god :) I'll definitely be looking at the whole grain next!

  3. Janet, maybe they'll start selling NYC water on the web! You should try this recipe - a chewy bagel it does make!

    Anonymous - thanks for the recommendations - with so much success, I'm sure I'll be trying a lot of his recipes!

  4. These look just wonderful! It sounds like so much work but as you know well worth the effort.

  5. I can't believe you made bagels! I'm so excited!

  6. Can you substitute the bread flour with whole wheat flour? I'm trying to be as healthy as possible!

  7. I would try substituting 1/3 or 1/2 of the flour with whole wheat flour if you are going to use this recipe. If you want to make 100% whole wheat bagels, search on Google for Peter Reinhart's whole wheat bagel recipe from his book Whole Grain Breads - I know that other bloggers have posted the recipe. Good luck!



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