With a deliciously chewy dough and glossy crust, fresh bagels are calling – and they’re surprisingly simple to make.
Despite the uncertain times we’re living in, a decent brunch is something we can all look forward to. And these days, as well as treating ourselves to lockdown deliveries, we’re all devouring a whole lot more bread. From cheese toasties and focaccia to Irish soda bread, fresh dough – especially the home-baked kind – has fast become a stay-at-home highlight.
But there’s one kind of carb you might be slightly intimidated by: bagels. Maybe it’s all the kneading and boiling, or the combination of firm, chewy dough and a stiffer, shiny crust, but these rolls-with-a-hole have a challenging reputation. Yet bagels are actually fairly simple to cook at home – no fancy skills or specialist equipment required.
With that in mind, we asked four top chefs and bakeries to share their own bagel recipes. Lucky enough to have fresh yeast to hand? Bread Ahead’s traditional bagels are a great starting point. Alternatively, Heather Kaniuk’s cheats’ bagels are a quick and easy version using dried yeast, and just as delicious.
If you’re looking for something a little different, James Morton’s twice-cooked sourdough recipe lends itself perfectly to the bagel’s satisfying chewiness. And if you fancy doing it by the book, Edd Kimber’s New York-style bagels, boiled in barley malt syrup, will definitely make you to rise to the challenge.
Whether you spread yours with cream cheese and salmon, cured meats or sweet fruit jams, these bagels are sure to bring a shine to your day. Remember, they taste best warm, so eat them fresh out of the oven – not that we needed any encouragement…
Bread Ahead’s bagel recipe
Makes 7 bagels
- 7g fresh yeast
- 7g malt syrup (you can substitute honey if desired)
- 270g cold water
- 465g strong white bread flour
- 7g fine sea salt
- 60g sugar
- egg white (for brushing)
- seeds (optional)
Begin by dissolving the yeast and the malt syrup in the water. Add the flour and salt. Bring the mixture together until incorporated. Put your dough on the table and begin to stretch and tear the dough. You need to do this for 6 minutes to develop the gluten. Put back into the bowl, cover and leave for 1 hour.
Divide the dough into pieces, roughly 110g each. Shape in to a round, then with your dough balls fold over to make a sausage shape, then roll into 25cm lengths. Dip your finger in a little water and wet the ends of the dough. Bring the two ends together wrapping them around each other, then roll this seem together on the table.
Place on a lined, oiled baking tray evenly spaced. Prove for about ten minutes.
Preheat your oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/gas mark 7.
Add the sugar to a large pot full of simmering water (about 4 litres) and poach your bagels for approximately 20 seconds on each side (40 seconds total). Brush with the egg white and sprinkle with seeds if desired.
Bake for 13-15 minutes until a golden brown colour is achieved.
From Bread Ahead’s Online Baking E-Book (£5, Bread Ahead), out now
Bread Ahead have extended their delivery and are now covering the majority of London. Find out more here
James Morton’s Bagels Galore recipe
James Morton says: “Tight-crumbed, weak-crusted and cooked twice: first boiled and then baked. The bagel’s archetypal chew is so suited to sourdough that I’m amazed anyone makes these any other way.
On telly shows such as Bake Off, contestants are encouraged to personalise. You can’t just make a bagel – you must make your bagel. And this causes me endless annoyance, because sometimes the classic or the simple is the best version of a thing. Bagels are probably the only exception.
While the simple, white bagel has its place in my toaster, other kinds of bagel will suit themselves to different fillings and different moods. Its low-hydration dough can cope with additions of plenty of flours and whole wheats, and seeds and nuts of any sort can be stuck on top. And if you’ve got a variety of seeds handy, then you can easily make 12 different sorts of bagels in a batch by mixing and matching them. Go on, have fun. Just remember that nothing toasts quite like a plain white one.
For any whole-cereal bagels, replace the white starter with your desired wholemeal (wholewheat), spelt or rye starter.”
For a dozen bagels
- 450g plain (all-purpose) white flour, plus extra for dusting
- 100g white sourdough starter
- 10g table salt
- 250g tepid water
- a little oil of any sort, for greasing
- 6g bicarbonate of soda
- poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, for topping
- semolina, for dusting (optional)
In a large bowl, weigh your flour. Add in your starter and salt and combine these together. Mix together some warm and cold water in a jug until it feels just warmer than tepid, about 25ºC (77ºF), then add this and your sourdough starter – you’ll find that this is quite a dry dough. Mix together using a wooden spoon, a dough hook or your hands until you’ve got a solid lump of a thing.
Let your dough rest for approximately 30 minutes – this autolyse really helps you manage such a dry dough. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or a plate to stop the dough drying out further.
Once rested, knead your dough for 10–15 minutes, or until the dough is properly shiny and smooth. The best way to do this is in a stand mixer, to be honest, but otherwise the English knead will work well. The dense, chewiness of bagels requires quite a lot of dough development; just know that eventually it will get there.
Leave your dough, covered, for 3–4 hours near a source of heat, such as a radiator. Your proving time will vary depending on temperature. This dough swells – you do indeed want it to nearly double in size. There’s no need to stretch and fold this one.
Lightly flour a work surface. Use a dough scraper to move your dough out onto it and then use floured hands to gently roll it out into a big doughy sausage. Use your scraper to chop this into 12 equal pieces – you can weigh them if you want to be conscientious. You don’t need to pre-shape bagels.
You want to start shaping your bagels almost like you’re making them into baguettes. You shouldn’t need any flour as your dough is so dry. Fold each piece like an A4 letter going into a windowed envelope: first the side towards you, and then the side away from you. Next, use flat hands to roll this dough backwards and forwards until it’s a sausage shape about 20cm (8in) long. Taper the edges slightly, and then curl your dough into a ring shape, overlapping your tapered edges. Place a flat palm over this overlap with your fingers through the ring of the bagel and rock back and forth to seal. Repeat.
You can leave your bagels to prove for the second time on a floured couche (or tea towel), or just a tray covered with non-stick greaseproof baking paper, knowing that you might need to unstick them using a scraper later. I cover them with a sheet of cling film (plastic wrap) wiped or sprayed with a little oil to stop them drying out. Prove for 1–2 hours at a warm room temperature: near a heater or a sunny window. If well covered, bagels prove in the fridge extremely well after an hour or so.
Before you start boiling, preheat your oven to 250ºC (480ºF)/230ºC (450ºF) fan/Gas 9. Bagels are best stone-baked, but you’ll need two stones to fit all twelve bagels on. If you are using stones, preheat the oven for at least 40 minutes.
Bring a pan of water – ideally a pan wide enough to fit four bagels at a time – to a rolling boil. Add in your bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). Scoop or scrape each bagel into the water, as many as you can fit floating side by side. Boil the bagels for 1 minute before using a slotted spoon to turn over and boil for a further minute.
Remove the bagels and pop them on a sheet of nonstick greaseproof baking paper to sit and steam.
They’re sticky, so now’s a good time to add toppings. Seeds can be spread out on a tray or board and you can plonk the bagel on top, coating it.
Traditionally, bagels are baked on wooden boards, seed side down, for a few minutes, before being flipped and the boards removed (before they catch fire). Don’t worry about this. You can use semolina to coat the bottom of your bagels and slide them onto your stone, or you can bake on a baking tray on the stone. Stick them in the oven any which way and turn it down to 220ºC (430ºF)/200ºC (400ºF) fan/Gas 7. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until as golden as you like.
From Super Sourdough: The Foolproof Guide to Making World-Class Bread at Home by James Morton (£20, Quadrille), out now
Heather Kaniuk’s cheat’s bagels recipe
Heather Kaniuk says: “Traditional bagels are boiled in a lye, or sweetened syrup before baking to give them that chewy texture. These bagels are a quick and easy alternative, and equally delicious.”
- 415g bread flour
- 415g plain flour
- 6g dried yeast
- 15g fine salt
- 485g water
- toppings: eg poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, grated cheddar, salt, pepper, onion granules
Place all ingredients into the mixer and mix on a low speed for 2 minutes until a dough forms.
Mix a further 3-5 minutes on a medium-high speed, until the dough is smooth and the gluten fully developed.
Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl and allow to prove for 15 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces, each 110g. Roll into balls, then rest a further 10 minutes to allow the dough to relax.
Lightly flatten the balls, then poke a hole in the centre using your thumb and forefinger. Gently stretch the dough using both thumbs, stretching and turning the bagels to form a doughnut shape.
Dip each bagel into water, then sprinkle on any toppings.
Allow the bagels to rest a further 30-45 minutes until the dough is slightly puffy.
Bake at 200°C for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
Edd Kimber’s New York bagel recipe
For the bagels
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 10g fine sea salt
- 4g dried fast action yeast
- 300ml cold water
- 2 tsp barley malt syrup
- Toppings of choice (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, everything seasoning etc)
- 30g barley malt syrup
- 1 tbsp baking soda
Everything bagel seasoning
- 2 tbsp poppy seeds
- 2 tbsp white sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp black sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp garlic granules
- 1 tbsp onion granules
- 2 tsp flaked sea salt
To make the bagel dough, place the flour, yeast and salt into the bowl of an electric stand mixer. With the dough hook attached, mix briefly to combine.
Add the barley malt syrup to a jug with the cold water and mix together until dissolved. Pour this mixture into the mixer and on low-medium speed mix to form a shaggy dough.
On the same speed continue to knead the dough for about 15-18 minutes or until the dough passes the windowpane test (you should be able to stretch a piece of the dough nice and thin, without it tearing, so you almost see through the dough). This dough is a relatively low hydration and stiff dough, so be careful using this on lower quality stand mixers, you don’t want to burn out the motor. You can knead this by hand but it will be a workout, it’ll take about 30 minutes of constant kneading.
Tip the dough out onto the work surface and divide into equal sized pieces (I weigh the dough for accuracy but you can eyeball this if you prefer). Form each piece of dough into a tight ball and cover with a kitchen towel to prevent the dough from drying out.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, use a flour-dipped finger to poke a hole in the middle of the dough ball. Then we need to extend this to between 2-3 inches (depending on the finished look of the bagels you’re going for). My preferred method is to spin it around your finger to start off with, to get the hole started and then, with the bagel ring around the fingers of one hand, I light rub my hands together, gently stretching out the bagel. Rotate the dough around your hand so the ring stays the same thickness all around.
When the hole is the desired size place on onto parchment lined baking sheets. The sheets needs to be either coated with a thin layer of cornmeal or lightly sprayed with oil. Wrap the baking sheets with a couple layers of clingfilm and place into the fridge for 10-12 hours.
When I tested this recipe I tried a few different rest periods in the fridge and found 10-12 hours to be the sweet spot. A longer rest makes a lighter, more open, bagel and a shorter rest makes bagels that are too dense. 10-12 hours gave me that characteristic texture I was looking for.
When you are almost ready to bake preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
When the bagels are ready fill a large saucepan with water and add the barley malt syrup and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the baking soda and whisk to combine. Take one sheet of bagels out of the fridge and, working in batches of four, cook in the water for a minute per side.
Use a large slotted spoon remove from the water, letting as much water drain off as possible, before coating in the topping of your choice, or leaving plain if you prefer. Place the bagels onto a parchment lined baking sheet and set aside until the sheet is full of bagels.
There are a couple ways you can coat the bagels. If you add the toppings when the bagels are fresh from the water, nothing else is needed to make them stick – the surface of the bagels will be tacky enough. To add the toppings you can place the different flavours in bowls and add the bagels, tossing to coat, which makes a very generous coating. Because of the moisture present it can also make any leftover seeds wet, making them clump together, so this is best if you are making a big batch of bagels.
My preferred method is to place the bagels on a plate and sprinkle over the toppings, turning over to make sure both sides are coated. This method ensures you only use what you actually need and wastage is kept to a minimum.
Once all the bagels have been boiled, bake them in the preheated oven for about 18-22 minutes or until the bagels are golden brown. The darker you take the bagels the firmer the crust will be, so bear that in mind when you go to pull them from the oven. Remove the trays from the oven and carefully transfer the bagels to wire racks to cool completely.
Bagels are best served within a couple days but once cooled they freeze wonderfully so I often make a big batch and keep the freezer well stocked.
For the seasoning
Add all of the ingredients to a bowl and mix together, add to a jar and store until needed. Whilst this is great as a bagel seasoning you can add this to popcorn, sprinkle it over eggs, or just use it as a general seasoning.
Edd Kimber is a baker, food writer and author of One Tin Bakes: Sweet and simple traybakes, pies, bars and buns (£17.99, Kyle Books) available to pre-order now
Super Sourdough image: Andy Sewell. Other images courtesy of Edd Kimber, Bread Ahead and Heather Kaniuk
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.