My first attempt at sourdough bagels followed our backcountry adventure last summer: it was a win for its poke bowl and huckleberry sourdough pancakes but a loss in the bagel department, when I had to resort to supermarket bakery “bagels.” Our county’s only bagel shop closed years ago, so the only local option was closer to squishy rolls than chewy, dense bagels. I started testing my own version as soon as we returned home.
Some research revealed the main problem: many commercial operations steam their bagels. It’s quick, cheap, and easy to automate for massive batches, but the bagels are soft and fluffy. (I’m not even sure the supermarket went this far; more likely, they took their hamburger bun dough and poked a hole in the center.) As with soft pretzels, bagels really want to be immersed in boiling water before baking. Boiling the dough lets its starches gel, forming a firm crust that surrounds a dense interior after baking. Without this step, you’ll end up with a texture and flavor closer to a bread roll. Although some bakers swear by a water bath spiked with honey and others go au naturel, I find a soda bath, similar to the one used for Sourdough Pretzel Bites, adds flavor and color.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need sourdough starter plus some kitchen staples. Need starter? You’ve got just a few more hours to get in on the 3rd Annual Sourdough Giveaway. Click here to learn more.
1. Mix the ingredients, and then briefly knead your dough.
2. Stretch and fold your dough twice before letting it rest several hours.
3. Shape your bagels, and then let them chill.
4. Drop the bagels into a baking soda bath.
5. Bake in batches, cool, and enjoy.
150 grams water
40 grams olive oil
550 grams all-purpose flour
15 grams flaky kosher salt (about 1-1/2 tablespoons)
5 quarts water
1 tablespoon baking soda
toppings as desired (optional)
Set a large bowl on a kitchen scale. Measure in the starter and then the water, stirring until they begin to combine. Add the oil and flour; mix until it forms a sticky dough. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel; let rest for 30 minutes. Feed your starter.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle it with the salt. Fold the dough over the salt, and then knead for about 30 seconds, until the dough comes together. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes. Double letter fold the dough: On the floured surface, gently stretch and press it into a rectangle. Fold 1/3 over and then the other 1/3 over, like folding a letter; rotate 90 degrees and repeat. Let the dough rest, covered, for 20 minutes. Repeat the double letter fold, and then leave the dough to rest for 3–4 hours.
Divide the dough into 12 portions, shaping each into a smooth ball. Poke a hole in the middle of each ball with your fingers, and then stretch the hole while rotating the dough to form an even ring. Work the dough as smoothly as you can; its shape will change little after this. Set the rings on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover the tray with a damp tea towel and place it in the fridge for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.
In a stockpot, mix the baking soda and water; bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat to keep it simmering. Transfer the fridge-cold bagels to the soda bath. Work in batches, adding as many bagels as will fit in a single layer. Poach for 2 minutes, flipping the bagels halfway through. Let the water drain from each bagel, and then set it back on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with toppings if desired.
Place a baking stone on an oven rack in the upper middle of your oven. Place a half-dozen bagels on the stone, leaving space between them, and cover with a 9- by 13-inch metal baking pan. Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes; remove the pan and bake an additional 10 minutes. Separate any bagels that have expanded together and bake an additional 3 minutes, until lightly brown on top. Set on a rack to cool and bake the second batch of bagels. Let cool completely before slicing. Makes 12 bagels.
Tips & Tricks
- You likely will need more starter than you keep on hand to make the full recipe. Before you plan to make bagels, feed 200 grams of starter with 100 grams each of flour and water. Let it sit at room temperature for several hours or overnight, until doubled and bubbly.
- The double letter fold technique should be familiar: it’s the same one I use for sourdough breads, brioche, and focaccia. This dough won’t stretch as well as it does for Sourdough Cabin Bread, so press it with your palms until the rectangle is large enough to fold.
- During the long rest before shaping, your dough might rise slightly, but don’t expect a big change. It should actually get stiffer as it rests; when you press it gently with your finger and it doesn’t spring back, it’s ready for shaping.
- Smoothness is key in shaping. Boiling the bagels stops the yeast’s fermentation, so they won’t rise further once they hit the water. It may take a few batches to create bagels that look balanced once baked.
- Baking bagels under a cover captures the dough’s natural moisture, but the bowl I use for breads crowds the bagels too closely together. Since they don’t get the same loft, a flat-bottom pan works well, even if it hangs slightly off the edges of your stone.
- The long fermentation and boiling steps make these bagels nicely dense, but you can take this further if they don’t nail your preferred texture. Start by subbing in a higher-protein flour, like bread flour. For even more flavor and color, add 1 tablespoon of barley malt syrup to both the dough and the water bath.
- Bagel toppings are really only limited by your imagination. Flavored salts are among my favorites; use a light hand so that the finished bagels aren’t overly salty. Lightly roasted garlic is also delicious; cut it as small as you can to keep it stuck on the surface. I also love microplaned lemon zest on top; it will darken in the oven, so add it during the final 3 minutes if you want to keep it bright. With or without toppings, you have just as many options for filling your bagels (see below).
Twice as Tasty
I never been a fan of plain bagels. A smear of cream cheese is OK, flavored goat cheese is far better, but a bagel sandwich packed with flavors is really where it’s at. The fully loaded bagel has always made sense to me: the bread is dense enough to hold up to just about anything you’d put in it, even if you wrap it pre-coffee and take it to work for a late lunch. If I order a bagel from a bakery, I almost always go for lox, capers, red onion, and any other veg they can stuff in.
At home, the ultimate bagels are built for breakfast, whether I’m eating them cozied by the woodstove or in one hand driving up the ski hill. Even though you can pack a lot into a bagel, I save my poached eggs and hollandaise for Sourdough English Muffins and fall back to my favorite daily egg for bagels: basted. I’m a fan of soft-yolk eggs, and basted ones—steamed eggs that fall somewhere between poached and over easy—are made to order. Even the pros love this hack; in a Spokane boxcar turned restaurant, where the line cooks work a tiny galley kitchen inches from the diners, all Benedicts are prepared with basted eggs from a flattop griddle.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need a bagel, an egg, and some sandwich fixings.
1. Toast and dress the bagel while it’s hot.
2. Baste an egg.
3. Sandwich the egg and fillings between the bagel halves and enjoy.
Bagel Breakfast Sandwich
1 teaspoon Spicy German-Style Mustard
1 teaspoon Apple–Red Onion Marmalade
4 slices home-smoked sharp Cheddar
1 teaspoon butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup salad sprouts
Slice the bagel open and toast it lightly. While still hot, smear mustard on one side and marmalade on the other. Lay the sliced cheese on the bottom half and set aside.
Pair a nonstick skillet with a glass lid that fits. Melt the butter over medium heat. When fully melted, tilt and rotate the pan to coat the bottom. Crack the egg into the skillet; wait a few seconds, until the white begins to set, and then add a splash of water. Cover immediately with the lid. Let the egg steam for 2–3 minutes, until a skin just starts to form over the yolk, for a soft center; for a hard yolk, continue cooking until it becomes pale and dense.
Remove the pan immediately and transfer the egg onto the cheese-covered bagel bottom. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, top with sprouts and the upper bagel half, and eat immediately. Serves 1.
Tips & Tricks
- Breakfast sandwiches readily show off homemade condiments. The ones listed here are among my favorites, but you can replace them with whatever you have on hand, homemade or not.
- If your pan is truly nonstick, you might be able to baste an egg without butter. But if it tends to stick, even a quick smear will solve the problem.
- If your skillet didn’t come with a perfect-fit glass lid, size up. A larger glass lid might hang over and drip water onto your stove’s burner while the egg steams, but a small one can vacuum-seal to the pan and make you feel like you need to break something to get it off.
- With practice, you might be able to match temperature and time perfectly to baste your egg under a metal lid, but one you can see through will be easiest to work with. If you don’t own one, check the diameter of your pan and visit a thrift store, measuring tape in hand.
- Bagel sandwiches readily show off homemade condiments. You can replace them with store-bought ones or any of the other filling options in the recipe index. Pear–Ginger Marmalade and Roasted Garlic pair surprisingly well. Quick Homemade Mozzarella rests nicely under Barely Fermented Carrots. For a kick, choose a Curried and Pickled Green Tomato and smear of Hot Swedish-Style Mustard.
Like what you’ve learned but don’t have a sourdough starter? Now’s your chance! The 3rd Annual Sourdough Giveaway runs through January 31, 2020. Learn how to get your free sourdough starter here. Then join the Twice as Tasty Challenge by becoming a newsletter subscriber; click here to subscribe.