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.
Learn to make Sourdough Bagels and Bagel Breakfast Sandwich