Hey team! I hope that the absence of bread writing in your life for the past couple weeks hasn’t been too painful. I made these bagels a while ago, but they turned out fantastic so maybe it’ll be worth the wait.
This bagel recipe is from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and one thing I enjoy about this book is Reinhart’s writing. He’s an absurdly talented baker who can make all kinds of amazing bread, but he’s able to come across as a guy who just loves bread a lot. I can relate. He opens this recipe with gusto, asserting that there “are two kinds of people in the world: those who like chewy water bagels and those who prefer softer steamed bagels” (121). I’ll eat either, honestly, but if presented with a great New York-style bagel and a steamed bagel from this or that chain, I’ll always pick the chewy water bagel.
That chewy bagel is the kind I set out to make with Reinhart’s guidance and a lot of help from my main dude. You’ll notice two sets of hands in the following photographs, do not be alarmed.
Usually, I don’t measure in grams—most home scales round grams to whole numbers—but I included approximate weight in grams for each ingredient in the interest of showing you the baker’s formula without just being like “Here are numbers guys trust me!”
Total time: 18-20 hours
Yield: 12 bagels
Suggestion: Start in the early afternoon the day before you need them
- 1 tsp instant yeast (3.15 g)
- 4 cups (18 oz/510 g) unbleached bread flour
- 2½ cups (20 oz/567 g) water, room temperature
- ½ tsp instant yeast (1.57 g)
- 3¾ cups (17 oz/482 g) unbleached bread flour
- 2¾ tsp salt, fine (15.64 g)
- 1 tbsp honey (21 g) or brown sugar, dark malt syrup, or light malt syrup
- 1 tbsp baking soda to add to the boiling water
- Cornmeal or semolina flour
- Toppings (salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic, whatever you like)
So, the baker’s math emerges.
Total Flour Weight: 992 grams
Reinhart has 1 tbsp honey listed as weighing 14 grams which isn’t true with the honey I used, so that changed my percentages a bit from what he has listed in the book. He also lists malt powder as the first choice for sweetener, rather than honey, but malt powder can be elusive. I’ve found it at one Whole Foods once. If you’re really determined, I’d suggest ordering some online from King Arthur Flour or searching for diastatic malt flour on Amazon, but honestly, the honey works great.
Step 1: Sponge it up
Most bagel recipes don’t call for a sponge or pre-ferment, but Reinhart believes the method “gives the bagels a better flavor and texture but also ensures that they freeze and thaw better than commercially produced bagels because of the increase of natural acid produced” (124).
Mix the water, flour, and yeast.
You’ll mix up the sponge until there aren’t many lumps left. This took us a while, longer than I expected, but it should look something like this:
Allow the sponge to rest for about 2 hours at room temperature, covered in plastic wrap. You want a foamy, ultra-bubbly glob that will collapse when you shake the container or tap it on the counter.
Ours got really big because we made a recipe and a half, we had to transfer it to another super duper high tech device: the lid of a cake carrier.
Step 2: Dat Dough, Do
Measure out the yeast, 3 cups (13.5 oz) of the bread flour, salt, and honey (or whichever sweetener you chose to use). Put the rest of the flour, about ¾ cup (3.5 oz), in another container and set aside to use later.
Stir the ingredients (minus the flour you put aside) into the sponge.
You can use a stand-mixer for this step if you want, you’ll want to set it at low speed and use the dough hook for ~3 minutes. We just mixed by hand,
Add the remaining flour gradually. You’ll end up with something like a ball.
Step 3: Knead
Knead the dough by hand for about 8 minutes, or knead in your stand mixer on low for about 6. The dough will feel stiff, but it will still be pretty airy and easy to work with.
If your dough seems too dry, coat your hand in water and continue to knead. Repeat as needed until the dough seems better hydrated. If your dough is too wet and feels sticky, sprinkle with small amounts of flour and knead until it no longer feels tacky.
Step 4: First Shape
If you have a scale, now is a great time to use it because precision is fun and you should divide the dough into 4.5 oz pieces. You can also eyeball it if you’re not feeling super particular about things. To divide the dough, I use a bench scraper because it looks neater. You can also use a sharp knife. Or just tear it apart if you had a particularly rough week and need to Hulk it out.
Before you shape the pieces—which, as evidenced by the photo above, can be made up of several bits of dough—clear your work surface of flour and wipe with a damp cloth. This small act will increase friction, allowing you to make wonderfully round dough balls.
Cup your hand a little, and, pressing down, push the dough around in a tight circle. Don’t be afraid to apply pressure, but do try to isolate that pressure to your hand’s outer edge, keeping a nice space in your palm for the dough to form.
If the bottom of the shaped dough isn’t perfectly smooth, don’t worry. Gravity will take care of that.
Step 5: Short nap
Arrange the balls near each other, with enough space between to allow for expansion, and cover with damp towels. This picture shows 18 balls, but remember, that’s because we made a recipe and a half. You should have 12 if you use the amounts of ingredients I listed.
Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes.
And check it! They grew a bit and are now ready to be made into actual bagel shapes!
Step 6: Pokin’ holes
Before we get to the fun part, line two sheet pans with parchment paper and coat lightly with oil. Make room in your fridge for both sheets.
There are a few methods for shaping bagels, but we found ourselves gravitating to one method we liked in particular. My lovely assistant preferred to poke his thumb through a dough ball…
…then rotate his thumbs until the bagel met his expectations.
Another method is to form a rope, about 8 inches long, and then wrap the dough around your hand.
Press the overlapping parts on the counter and rock your hand back and forth to seal everything up.
I don’t really like this method as much. The seam was hard to make disappear and…I dunno, it looks less pretty.
What I ended up doing is poking my thumb through and, instead of rolling the dough around my thumbs, I placed the dough on my palm and used my fingers to spread everything out.
Here are a few of our beautifully shaped bagels.
Step 7: Overnight Rest a.k.a. When the Magic Happens
Coat the bagels lightly with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and then slip it all into the fridge. Reinhart is very particular about this overnight rise because cold fermentation can really boost flavor. In fact, he says that to make “a bagel without this step is like drinking a fine wine just after it’s been put in the bottle. The flavors are there in potential but are not fully realized” (124).
Reinhart says you can let them chill for up to three days, but ideally, you want to leave them in the fridge for about 12 hours.
Step 8: Prepare the Kitchen
It’s morning (probably), you’ve just had a great night’s rest, and you’re super excited about your bagels. First, you need to arrange the shelves in your oven to accommodate two sheet pans. Then preheat your oven to 500°F. Next, start heating up a large pot of water, and add baking soda when it’s boiling. You’ll want a pot that is deep and wide. We used two because we made a lot of bagels. Grab a slotted spoon or skimmer of some kind and have it handy.
If you want bagel toppings, get all that together because you’ll need to add the toppings between boiling and baking.
Step 9: Test the Bagels
Your water is boiling, your oven is hot. Let’s do this!
Fill a small bowl with cool water, and drop a bagel in there. If it floats within 10 seconds, proceed to the next level. If the bagel does not float, pat it dry and return it to its friends, now allowing the dough to rise at room temperature. You need to let your bagels rest a bit longer, try again later.
If you want to test all your bagels, go ahead, but testing one is perfectly fine.
Step 10: Bubble Bubble
You have successfully passed the float test. Go you! Take your bagels out of the fridge, and drop them (gently) into the boiling baking soda water, as many as can fit comfortably.
Boil the bagel on one side for 30 seconds. Then, using your slotted spoon, flip the bagel over and boil for another 30 seconds. We like chewier bagels, so we upped the time to 45 seconds on each side.
While your bagels are boiling, sprinkle cornmeal on the parchment paper. Arrange the boiled bagels on the sheet pan, being sure to place the flatter side down. We didn’t pay attention to which side had been the bottom during the overnight rise, and a lot of our bagels turned out flatter than ideal.
Sprinkle whatever toppings you so desire onto the still wet bagels. Or leave them plain. These are really great on their own.
Step 11: Bake!
Slip those pans in the preheated oven and set a timer for 7 minutes. That’s right, no weird steam methods needed! Huzzah!
After 7 minutes, rotate the pans between the racks and turn them 180°. Lower the oven temperature to 450 and bake for about 8 more minutes, until the bagels are golden brown. As someone who once tried this recipe and ended up with gummy Gollum-pale rings (lol), I suggest baking longer. You’re aiming for a bunch of bagels to rule them all.
I can’t even.
Let the bagels cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before you serve them. All things considered, that’s not too long to wait for such deliciousness.
That’s it for that! Coming up: either a look at the history of bagels or something sourdough. You’re all rockstars.
You probably noticed the really cool fish mug that photobombed a large portion of this post. The artist who created this beautiful piece is Laura Bachinski. She lives outside of Greenwood, SC and you can find some of her stuff at Main & Maxwell.
Reinhart, Peter. “Bagels.” The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. 2001. Ten Speed Press, 2016, pp. 121-129.