Few kitchen-based tasks are as satisfying as making homemade bagels. It’s not nearly as complicated as you might think and the bagels are refrigerated overnight to be baked quickly in the morning. One bite of a warm, fresh, hot-out-of-the-oven bagel and you’ll have no doubt that it’s worth the effort.
When I started making my own homemade bagels back in 2011, it was purely out of necessity. Frank and I were living in Bangkok, Thailand and could eat any beloved, obscure, or delicious Thai dish we craved any day of the week. But there were a few things from home that we heartily missed. Bagels were at the top of the list.
Making bagels is one of those things that seems intimidating but is more about a learning curve than actual difficulty. Once you’ve gone through all of the steps once – shaping, boiling, and baking – you’ll feel completely ready to do it again. Perhaps one of the best things about making homemade bagels is that they are designed to be refrigerated overnight and baked for breakfast.
And absolutely nothing will make you feel as accomplished as spreading cream cheese on a fresh, warm bagel that you made yourself. Let’s do it together. Here’s how.
- “Fast-Acting” / Instant Yeast – Be sure to use yeast labeled as fast-acting or instant in this recipe. (Active Dry Yeast will not work in this recipe as written.)
- Bread Flour – When I first started making these bagels, I lived in Bangkok and couldn’t find bread flour. (I’d guess it might be easier to find there now.) I started making bagels with all-purpose flour. The result was really good, but I now can assert that it’s not as good as bagels made with bread flour. The high protein content yields bagels that are chewy in exactly the way that good bagels should be.
- Kosher Salt – I tested this recipe with Morton’s Kosher Salt. If you only have table salt, reduce the amounts used by half.
- Honey – I use honey in place of the barley malt that is used in bakery bagels. A darker, amber-colored honey will offer the most flavor. See below for more details on honey vs. barley malt.
- Baking Soda – This is an important ingredient that goes into the water used for boiling the bagels. Don’t skip it as it will give your bagels the best chewy, golden crust when they bake.
- Toppings – Toppings are optional, but strongly encouraged. 😉 Sesame seeds, everything bagel seasoning, poppyseeds, cinnamon and raisins are all classic.
Why Make a Sponge
A sponge is a combination of flour, water, and yeast that are allowed to sit together for a time before adding them to bread dough. A sponge gives the rising process a head start and encourages flavors to develop and helps the formation of a nice crust in the finished bread.
How to Make Homemade Bagels
- Make sponge. Mix together water, bread flour, and instant yeast. Leave at room temperature for 2 hours.
- Make dough. Combine sponge with more instant yeast, more bread flour, honey, and salt.
- Knead. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. You’ll get a workout with this one! The dough is stiff and there’s a lot of it, but kneading it well for a solid 10 minutes will give your bagels the most chewy texture.
- Form bagels. Divide dough into 12 portions and roll each into a ball. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes. Then (and this is the fun part), take one ball of dough at a time. Hold it between both of your hands and gently press your thumbs through the center. Work your hands around the dough to stretch it out into a bagel shape. Place on parchment-lined sheet pans. (Note: Keep in mind that the hole will close up as the dough rises, so be sure to make it about twice as large as you want it to be after baking.)
- Rest bagels. Let the bagels rest at room temperature for 15 minutes or transfer them to the refrigerator and let rest overnight.
- Boil. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add honey and baking soda. Gently drop the bagels one-by-one into the boiling water and boil for 1 minute per side. Use a slotted spoon to drain the bagels and place them back on the parchment-lined sheet pan.
- Add toppings. Brush the bagels with an egg wash (egg whisked with water) and then add any toppings you’d like.
- Bake. Bake at 450°F / 232°C until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes.
- Slice and serve!
How to Make Cinnamon Raisin Bagels
To make cinnamon raisin bagels, combine 3 Tbsp white sugar, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of raisins. (This makes about 4 cinnamon-raisin bagels if you want to make a few in your batch of bagels this way. Increase if needed.) Take each ball of dough (before forming it into a bagel shape and compress it with your palm. Sprinkle some of the cinnamon-sugar-raisin mixture in the middle and gently knead the dough ball to distribute the mixture through the dough. The dough will get slightly sticky – that’s okay. Try not to over-work it. Continue with the recipe as written.
Barley Malt Syrup in Bagels
Most commercially-baked bagels use barley malt (also called barley malt syrup) which is a thick substance resembling molasses. Though many recipes claim it’s worth using, in full disclosure, I’ve been making homemade bagels for years and have only used it a couple of times. I always use honey since its a pantry staple for me and find the flavor to be fantastic. If you want to go the barley malt route, just use it in place of the honey in the recipe below.
How Boiling Bagels Affects Texture
The amount of time that you boil the bagels affects their chewiness. 1 minute of boiling on each side makes for bagels with a fairly standard amount of chew while 2 minutes of boiling on each side makes for extra chewy bagels.
More homemade baked goods that are worth the effort…
- 1-Hour Cinnamon Rolls
- No-Knead Sheet Pan Pizza
- 1-Hour Light and Buttery Dinner Rolls
- No-Knead Sandwich Bread
- No-Knead Focaccia
- 1-Hour Light and Buttery Crescent Rolls
- No-Knead Everyday Bread
- Anchor 3-Piece Glass Mixing Bowls
- Knife or Dough-Cutter
- Half Sheet Pan
- Parchment Paper Sheets
- OXO Good Grips 6-Inch Fine Mesh Strainer for Frying
- Silicone Basting Brush
- Wire Rack
Notes on the recipe below. What is shared here is the route I took in making these bagels. I used instructions and notes from Michael Ruhlman at “Homemade Bagels Are A Breeze!“, Deb at Smitten Kitchen in Peter Reinhart’s Bagels, and Saveur in Homemade Bagels. The final method comes largely from Peter Reinhart’s recipe, but takes tips and inspiration from the others.
- Mixing Bowls
- Half Sheet Pans
- Parchment Paper
- Knife or Dough Cutter
- Basting Brush
- Cooling Rack
- 1 tsp Instant / "Fast-Acting" Yeast
- 4 cups (500g) Bread Flour
- 2 1/2 cups Warm Water
- 1/2 tsp Instant / "Fast-Acting" Yeast
- 3 cups (375g) Bread Flour, plus more as needed
- 1 Tbsp Honey (or barley malt syrup)
- 2 3/4 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 Tbsp Baking Soda
- 3 Tbsp Honey (or barley malt syrup)
For Finishing / Topping:
- 1 Egg
- 1 Tbsp Water
- Toppings of Choice (optional - sesame seeds, everything bagel seasoning, poppyseeds, cinnamon and raisins)
- Make sponge: In a large bowl, stir together 1 tsp instant yeast, 4 cups bread flour, and 2 1/2 cups warm water until no dry spots remain. Cover with a dishtowel and let rise at room temperature until foamy and doubled in size, about 2 hours.
- Make dough: Stir sponge until it collapses. Stir in ingredients for dough - 1/2 tsp instant yeast, 3 cups bread flour, 1 Tbsp honey, and salt. Once dough starts to come together, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter.
- Knead dough, adding more bread flour as needed, until it forms a smooth ball, about 10 minutes total.
- Form bagels: Roll the dough into an even ball and use a knife or dough cutter to divide it into 12 portions. Roll each portion into a ball, tucking the ends under so it is smooth on the surface. (See note below if making cinnamon-raisin bagels.)
- Cover the balls of dough with a slightly damp paper towel and allow them to rest on the counter for 20 minutes.
- Line two large sheet pans with parchment paper. Spray the parchment with nonstick cooking spray (don't forget this step or the bagels will stick).
- Working with one portion of dough at a time, hold the dough with two hands and gently press your thumbs through the center to create a hole. Work your hands once around the dough to expand the hole. Place bagels on prepared sheet pans.
- Rest bagels (15 minutes or overnight): Let bagels rest at room temperature for 15 minutes or refrigerate them, uncovered, overnight.
- Boil and bake: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Preheat oven to 450°F / 232°C.
- When the water is boiling, stir in baking soda and 3 Tbsp honey. Gently drop the bagels into the boiling water, working in batches so that the bagels float on the surface with some space between them. Boil the bagels for 1 minutes on each side (2 minutes total). (Note: The easiest way to flip them is to push gently on one end of the bagel to submerge it - the bagel should flip right over. If some but not all of the batch of bagels includes cinnamon raisin bagels, boil those last to avoid flavoring the water.)
- Return bagels to the prepared sheet pan.
- If you’d like to add toppings, whisk together egg and 1 Tbsp water. Brush this egg wash over the top of the bagels and sprinkle on toppings.
- Bake the bagels until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.
- Cool on a wire rack. Slice and serve!
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