Making your own Homemade Bagels is not only rewarding, but it gives you the opportunity to make the bagel flavors you like. Plus it makes your home smell like a NY deli! This recipe for homemade bagels is easy to master and produces a chewy on the outside, soft on the inside bagel!
Full disclosure: it took me about 3 months to test this recipe. It was worth it though. My biggest challenge was getting the bagel dough to rise in my high altitude, and getting the right amount of chew on the outside of the bagel. Have no fear though, making bagels is not as complicated as you may think.
I learned a lot while testing the recipe and I tried variations of quite a few recipes to get a result that was easy, fun, and tasted FANTASTIC!
Tips For Making Homemade Bagels
- Use bread flour. I made bagels with all-purpose flour and while the flavor is still good, the texture is not what you would expect or want with a bagel. The bread flour has a higher amount of protein, which equals higher gluten, which equals a chewy, yet soft bagel. You could go as far as finding a High Gluten flour, but for the sake of making this recipe realistic with what you find in your local grocery store, bread flour works great.
- Kneading the dough. You can mix and knead the dough in a stand mixer. Although, you will still need to knead ( 🙂 ) the dough by hand for a few minutes. I choose to mix and knead all by hand because I am a control freak and I like to be able to see and feel how the dough is coming together.
- If you mix by hand, the initial mix of adding the flour to the water is a good little arm workout (and I mean little). The dough is rough and sticky and it is not going to mix easily like a cake batter.
- When you knead by hand, you should plan for 10 minutes for the dough to get to the right texture – which is smooth and elastic. The term elastic in reference to dough is just as you may think – that the dough goes back to its original form when pressed, poked or pulled – just like a rubber band. I test the dough and know I have kneaded it long enough when I poke my fingers in it and the dough fills the holes back up.
- Proof your dough until it doubles in size. Even though I recommend proofing the dough for 1-2 hours, proofing could take more or less time depending on the environmental circumstances around it.
- Meaning, the temperature of your kitchen, home, and outside can affect proofing time. Many recipes call for proofing at room temperature, but if your room temperature is below approximately 70°F, it may take longer. Conversely, if your room temperature is warmer, it may not take as long.
What I do to proof my dough
- I plan to make my bagels ahead of time and coordinate it with something else I will be baking. I bake my other recipe first, that way the oven is warm and the cabinet above my oven gets warm. Voila! A homemade proofing drawer. If you don’t have a wall oven, then the top of your range works great as well in this scenario.
- I proof my dough in a see-through bowl – either a large glass bowl or large plastic bowl. This way I can see how much my dough has risen from when I put it in the bowl, and I can also see that it has gotten spongy (literally, looks like a sponge).
High Altitude Adjustments For Bagels
Baking at high altitude can get tricky. In all of my other recipes (so far), I have not had to make any adjustments. This bagel recipe is the exception.
The first couple of batches of bagels I made were coming out flat. After a few more attempts at adjusting my kneading and proofing, I found that reducing the amount of yeast was the answer.
I also validated this on the King Arthur Flour website, where they list other high altitude adjustments for a variety of recipes. Thank you King Arthur Flour!
The dough recipe also needed a touch more water. This is why I chose to start with the water and then add the flour incrementally, versus starting with the flour and adding more water as needed. And when I say incrementally, I mean 1/2 a cup at a time. This allows me to control the consistency of the dough better.
Flavoring the Homemade Bagels
Flavor the dough AND the water bath. The recipe that I favor and adapted my recipe from is in my Baking with Julia cookbook. The recipe calls for barley malt syrup – which is flavorful, sweet and has the consistency of molasses.
In my research I have discovered a lot of chefs choose this as the sweetener and flavor they add to their bagels. The drawback is it is not likely to be in your grocery store. You can substitute molasses or brown sugar, or just granulated sugar.
I chose brown sugar to give both the sweetness and it has a hint of molasses flavor. Adding the brown sugar to the boiling water for the bagels is just another layer to impart flavor into the dough.
If you have gotten this far, I promise making bagels is not hard! I think it is important to know what to expect the first time you make these. Now, back to the tips.
Making the Classic Bagel Shape
Do not stress about making the perfect size or shape of a bagel. They will still taste the same in the end. I usually end up with small, medium, and large size bagels, with awkwardly shaped bagel holes.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t aim for consistency, because when baking multiples of anything, you want to aim for similar sizes so they all bake evenly.
To make the hole in the bagel, simply make the hole with your index finger, and then twirl it around the same finger with your other index finger works great.
Baking Homemade Bagels
Boiling the bagels. The reason we do this is that it gives the bagels their chewy texture. The longer you boil, the chewier the bagel. Just be careful because you can overboil the bagel.
I find the sweet spot to be 35 seconds on each side and I would not recommend boiling for longer than 1 minute on each side. I tried it and the bagels came out with a very thick exterior that was almost impossible to bite through.
Seasoning the bagels. Have fun with your toppings and seasonings! I do recommend brushing the tops of the boiled bagels with an egg wash. This gives the bagel a shiny, golden top. It also helps to adhere to your seasonings to the bagel.
Baking the bagels. This part of the recipe is pretty straightforward. Just make sure your oven is hot and actually heated to 425° degrees. I use an oven thermometer and I highly recommend using one, if you aren’t already.
The bagels should bake for at least 20 minutes until they are golden brown on the top. I also like to keep them in the oven for an additional 5 minutes when they are done with the oven turned off. The residual heat finishes the cooking process without over-baking the bagels.
You’ve waited long enough, and now it’s time to enjoy your homemade bagels!
- 1 and 1/2 cups water, room temperature
- 2 and 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast (high altitude adjustment: 2 teaspoons)
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar, divided in half
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 4-5 cups bread flour
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- cornmeal (for dusting bagel ‘peel’)
- 1 large egg, beaten
- optional toppings: everything seasoning, grated asiago cheese, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea salt
- In a liquid measuring cup, mix 1/4 cup of the water and the yeast, along with a pinch of sugar sprinkled over the top. Set aside for 5-10 minutes until the yeast turns foamy and creamy.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the remaining water and stir in 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar. Pour in the yeast mixture 2 cups of flour and the salt and stir with a wooden spoon. Continue to add a 1/2 cup of the flour at a time and stir until the dough starts to come together as a rough, sticky dough. Stirring the dough will require some ‘elbow grease’ but it will not take long to get the dough to the right consistency. You likely will not need all of the flour.
- Kneading the dough – Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (from the remaining flour you measured), flour your hands and knead the dough for 7-10 minutes until you have a smooth, soft and elastic dough. You will know you have kneaded the dough long enough when you stick your fingertips into the dough and the dough fills ups the holes.
- Brush a large bowl with the melted butter. Form the dough into a ball and place in the prepared bowl and brush the top of the dough with the melted butter as well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a dry kitchen towel and place in a warm place to proof the dough for 1-2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Line 2 half-size baking sheets (or 1 full-size) with parchment paper. These will be used to bake the bagels. Take another baking sheet, turn upside down, and sprinkle with cornmeal. This will be used as the ‘peel’ to season the bagels before transferring them to their baking sheets to bake.
- When the dough is ready, fill a large pot with 3 quarts of water and turn on high heat to bring to a boil. Preheat the oven to 425o degrees. If using one baking sheet, adjust the oven rack to the middle position. If using 2 baking sheets, adjust the oven racks to the top third and bottom third of the oven.
- Then, punch the dough down to release air bubbles. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and divide the dough into 8 pieces. Each piece does not have to be identical, just get as close as possible to the same size. Work with one piece of dough at a time and place a kitchen towel over the other pieces.
- Shaping the bagel – pull up the sides of the dough from the bottom all around, pinching it all together at the top – to create a tightly packed ball with a pinched pleat at the top. Turn the pinched top over, so it is on top of your work surface, and poke your index finger into the middle of the dough ball to create the bagel hole. Make the hole bigger by twirling it around your finger with your other index finger. You will want it to be about 2 inches wide as the hole will shrink back slightly when boiled and baked.
- Place the shaped bagels on the prepared baking sheets.
- By this time, the pot of water should be boiling. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar and baking soda to the boiling water.
- Plunge the bagels 2 at a time (or 3 if you have a larger, wider pot) into the boiling water and boil for 35 seconds on each side. The bagels should have enough room to float around and they will puff up, and their circular shape will set.
- Remove the bagels from the water and place on the ‘peel’ baking sheet. Brush the tops of each with the egg wash and sprinkle with your choice of seasoning. Move the seasoned bagels bake to the prepared baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 minutes, or until the bagels are golden brown. If baking on two baking sheets rotate the sheets halfway through. Turn the oven off when the bagels are done and let sit in the oven with the door closed for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Bagels are best enjoyed the day they are baked.
- STORING UPDATE – I do not recommend refrigerating leftover bagels – they will probably dry out. The bagels can be stored at room temperature in an airtight glass or metal container; a Ziploc bag (squeezing as much air out of the bag as possible); or rolled in a paper bag then put in a Ziploc (all air removed), for up to 3-5 days. If you do not plan to eat the bagels in that time, I recommend freezing them the day they are baked – after they have cooled completely. Wrap individually in aluminum foil then put in a Ziploc (all air removed) – leftover bagels can be frozen for up to 3 months.
- You can use all-purpose flour if you don’t have bread flour. The only difference will be how chewy the bagels are.
- High Altitude adjustment – usually high altitude adjustments come into play at altitudes higher than 3,500 feet.
- Reduce the amount of yeast to 2 teaspoons in total. This will be less than what is in the yeast packets, so you will have leftovers that should be discarded. Or you can purchase yeast in small jars that are stored in the refrigerator.
- More water is used in high altitude adjustments, which is why I start with all of the water and as much flour as needed to get to the right dough consistency. Which is a rough, sticky dough.
- The brown sugar in the dough and the boiling water bath give the bagels flavor. They will not be sweet!
- When you are mixing the dough, I prefer to mix it by hand because I have control over how the dough is coming together with each increment of flour added. It does take a little muscle to stir it, but it will come together quickly.
- You can mix the dough in a stand mixer if you prefer. Use the dough hook and mix the dough for about 2-3 minutes. You will still need to knead by hand on a floured surface for about 5 minutes.
- When proofing the dough in a warm place, it should be warm room temperature. If you have a colder home or it is a colder day, you will want to find a warmer place, like inside of a cabinet or pantry. Or if you have a proof box, that is even better!
- You will know your dough is done proofing when it has doubled in size and also looks spongy. I proof my dough in a large glass or plastic bowl so I can see through it.
- When you are shaping the bagels, you can just eyeball equal sizes when you are dividing the dough. Some may turn out larger, smaller or slightly misshapen, and that is ok!
- The baking soda in the boiling water bath helps to make the bagels chewy. You can leave the bagels in the water bath for a few seconds longer if you prefer a chewier bagel.
- Allow the bagels to cool completely before serving.