Few things are as satisfying in the kitchen as baking your own bagels, and it is not nearly as complex as you might think.
Hi there. Come on over and join us for breakfast… We’re having homemade bagels hot out of the oven… I dare you to stop at just one. (We couldn’t.)
Before I even thought much about writing a blog, I was plotting the things I would learn to cook in Bangkok to sustain us far from home. Friends predicted that bagels would be virtually impossible to find, and because bagels have always been a part of our weekend routine, I had plans to learn to make them myself.
As it turns out, there are a few places in Bangkok offering a respectable bagel, so somehow I got lost in the rabbit hole of making the hundreds of other things you’ve seen around here and never resurfaced to try out the bagels. Until now.
Last weekend, after a particularly fun (and late) night out with friends, I woke up desperately craving the bagels that I used to have from the bagel shop around the corner from my Dupont Circle apartment.
The Dupont bagel shop not only had great bagels, but tons of character. After waiting in a haphazard line in the shop that couldn’t have been more than 10 feed wide, you would have your order shouted back to the kitchen by an indecipherable, yet good-natured Korean woman who was always manning the register. They only took cash, and had little else worth ordering besides bagels, but their breakfast bagel sandwiches were the best I’ve ever had. The bacon was crisp and the eggs were real and fresh, having been cooked on a real grill (not zapped into tastelessness by a microwave). They were so good that my favorite indulgence was to swing by there on a day off during the week and start the day with a cinnamon-rasin bagel topped with egg, and cheese. (I’ve been told it’s weird, but to me, no other bagel completes a breakfast sandwich like cinnamon-rasin.)
Last weekend’s craving was just the motivation I needed to return to the nearly forgotten bagel-baking challenge. And let me just tell you now – I was not disappointed in the result.
Here’s what it looks like to make your own bagels.
How to Make Homemade Bagels
First, you mix these things together to make a sponge. Then you let the sponge sit out on the counter for two hours.
If you leave the sponge in your hot apartment in Bangkok while you go to church, then you will likely come home to find that it has expanded into a bubbling mass that threatens to spill out all over the counter.
Next, you add more flour, yeast, salt, and honey and knead that giant ball of dough for 10 whole minutes. (Afterwards you may need to take a break/get a massage for your overworked guns.) I divided the dough in half and kneaded in some cinnamon-sugar, which made for a wetter dough, but some tasty cinnamon-sugar bagels.
Then, you divide the dough evenly (I used 3.5 oz portions) into circles. Stick your thumbs through the centers (and be thankful for your husband who is around to take pictures – action shot!)
Place the shaped bagels on a greased cookie sheet.
Finally, bake those bagels at 450 degrees until golden, about 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
Turns out that I would not say that the process is quite the “breeze” that Michael Ruhlman claimed on his site (“Homeade Bagels Are A Breeze!“), BUT I would absolutely say that it was worth the effort. It’s impossible to put a value on eating bagels straight out of the oven on a weekend morning. Fresh, homemade bagels are divine. In addition, I had to simplify and adapt a few of the recipes I found online (notes below), and the result was still fantastic.
If you live in Dupont Circle and can walk over to the bagel shop on P street (or live in some other location with a fantastic bagel shop just around the corner) I would tell you to save yourself the time and trouble in the kitchen. However, if you want to tackle this project, I would tell you not to hesitate trying it out for yourself.
Notes on the recipe below. What follows is the route I took in making these bagels. I used instructions and notes from Michael Ruhlman at “Homeade Bagels Are A Breeze!“, Deb over at Smitten Kitchen in Peter Reinhart’s Bagels, and Saveur in Homemade Bagels. The final recipe is, largely, adapted from Peter Reinhart’s recipe, but takes inspiration from the others.
- I used all purpose flour, although many recipes encourage the use of high-gluten flour. The recipe did not seem to suffer one bit.
- I was stumped by the inclusion of barley malt (or molasses) in nearly every bagel recipe. Although most articles I read about making bagels insisted that this was an important ingredient in order to approximate that true bagel-shop flavor, I absolutely could not find it here in Bangkok. Instead, I used honey, as mentioned in Reinhart’s recipe, and the resulting bagel seemed no worse for the wear.
- As you’ll see in the recipe below, most bagel recipes have you refrigerate the bagels anywhere from 12 hours to 2 days after you shape them, before boiling them. Because I am impatient, and wanted to do the whole thing on a Sunday morning, I baked a few right away and refrigerated the rest. Based on the outcome, they benefit from resting in the fridge, but I would tell you not to let that deter you.
- The amount of time that you boil the bagels affects the chewiness of the bagels. 1 minute of boiling on each side makes for less chewy bagels while 2 minutes of boiling on each side makes for more chewy bagels. (I opted for 2 minutes on each side.)
Sesame Seeds or Poppy Seeds – sprinkle these on the top right after you remove the bagels from boiling water
Cinnamon Sugar and/or Raisins – Knead these into a portion of the dough before shaping the bagels (the dough will become sticky, so you may need to knead in an additional 1/4 cup flour)
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 4 cups (560 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups room temperature water
- 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
- 2 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 3 3/4 cups (525 g) all-purpose flour, divided
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- Make the sponge. In a large bowl, combine the ingredients for the sponge - yeast, 4 cups flour, and water. Stir with a wooden spoon until no dry spots remain.
- Let rise at room temperature for 2 hours. (Sponge will be foamy and doubled in size.)
- Make the dough. Stir the sponge until it collapses. Add ingredients for the dough - yeast, salt, honey, and 3 cups (410 g) flour. Stir until fully combined (dough will be very stiff and difficult to stir). Sprinkle all of the remaining 3/4 cup (115 g) flour on a clean, dry counter and pour dough out over flour. Knead the dough until it becomes a smooth, pliable ball and the additional 3/4 cup flour is fully incorporated, at least 10 minutes. (This is a tough dough to knead, but resist the urge to add more water or flour, or to stop before the full 10 minutes is up.)
- Form the bagels. Roll the dough into an even ball and divide the ball into 16 - 3.5 ounce portions. (I weighed them on my kitchen scale to be sure they were even.) Roll each portion into a ball and set on the counter.
- Cover the balls of dough with a slightly damp paper towel and allow them to rest on the counter for 20 minutes. (A perfect break to do some dishes and start the pot of water boiling if you are going to bake these right away - see below.)
- Set out two large baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with non-stick cooking spray.
- Working with one portion of dough at a time, hold the dough in both hands and gently press your thumbs through the center to create a hole. Work your hands once around the ring of dough, keeping your thumbs on the inside and your fingers on the outside, to expand the hole. Place the formed bagels on the greased parchment paper, leaving 2 inches of space between them.
- At this point the formed bagels should rest on the baking sheets at room temperature for 10 minutes or can be refrigerated until you plan to cook them, up to 48 hours.
- Boil and bake the bagels. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. (Several articles I read recommended using a wok, which was perfect because it had a large surface area of water.) Add the baking soda to the water, stirring slightly to combine.
- When the water is boiling, gently drop the bagels into the water, working in batches so that the bagels float on the surface of the water with space between them. Boil the bagels for 2 minutes on each side (4 minutes total). Remove the bagels immediately after 4 minutes in the boiling water and return to the baking sheet.
- Bake the bagels on the middle rack of the oven until golden brown, 10-12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.
- Cool the bagels on a wire rack for a few minutes before serving.
Looking for a way to use up all the bagels you make? Try this Bagel and Egg Breakfast Bake that gives life to day-old bagels.