Note: This recipe was originally posted in June, 2104. I’ve updated it to reflect what I’ve learned in a year of weekly bagel making. It’s much simpler now.
I’ve been playing with sourdough bagel recipes. There’s a ton of variety in both ingredient proportions and methods, so I experimented to find what works for me…and should work for you! I had no idea that bagels are the subject of holy cooking wars. Sheesh, people, lighten up!
The first recipe I tried listed all ingredients in grams, and at the time I didn’t have a scale that was precise enough. I read tirades about how real bakers only measure by weight, not volume, that cups and tablespoons aren’t precise enough, and that measuring in grams is necessary to prevent catastrophic failures. Fortunately, other recipes by mellower bakers use cups and tablespoons. It turns out that you don’t need to be that precise to make great bagels.
Then, to knead or not to knead; to rise or not to rise. Some recipes let the dough rise for hours, as you would a regular loaf of sourdough bread. Others have you knead several times, letting the dough rise in between. Yet others don’t allow the dough to rise at all. I looked for some theory behind these differences, and found nothing that made sense. I like letting the bagels proof for a couple hours, then leave them in the fridge overnight. That way they’re ready for baking first thing in the morning.
All the recipes I looked at assume you have a stand mixer to mix and knead the dough. I left my big KitchenAid in the US, so I use the food processor with a dough blade. It works to a point. Bagel dough is really stiff, so I mix as much as possible in the food processor and knead in enough flour so the dough is no longer sticky by hand. With my Cuisinart I can add all four cups of flour, then take the dough out and finish kneading with a bit more flour if the dough is sticky.
There are two theories about how to shape the bagels. One is to role the dough into a rope, form a circle, and pinch the ends together. The other is to take a ball of dough, pinch a hole in the center, and form the bagel shape that way. At first I was a fan of the rope method, but now I’m pinch-a-hole-in-the-center fan.
Another item of contention is whether you must use non-diastatic malt powder, either in the bagels themselves or in the water used to boil them. Some say you can’t make real bagels without it. Well, non-diastatic malt powder is not a staple at tiendas in Guatemala, so I took the advice of another recipe and use baking soda in the boiling water.
Some recipes say that when you boil the bagels, they should sink first then rise back to the surface…and if that doesn’t happen your bagels are useless. If they don’t have enough flour or you let them rise to much, they won’t sink. Don’t worry about it–they’ll still be good.
I start my bagels in the early afternoon before the morning I want to make them. That includes the time for the sourdough starter to be fed and ferment. (If you don’t have sourdough starter or know someone who can give you some, here’s a site with info on how to make your own.)
This recipe is for whole wheat sourdough bagels with sesame seeds. If 100% whole wheat is too dense for you, replace two cups of the whole wheat flour with hard white (bread) flour. Hard (bread) flour is higher in gluten than all-purpose flour.
My other favorite bagels are sourdough rye. Simply replace two cups of the whole wheat flour with rye flour. Add about 2 tablespoon of caraway seeds to the dough before you divide it, and omit the sesame seed topping.
- 1 cup sourdough starter (fed and allowed to ferment overnight or at least 8 hours)
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 cups whole wheat flour
- Approx 1/4 – 1 cup hard white flour as needed
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- Optional topping: about 1/2 cup hulled sesame seeds mixed with 1/2 tsp salt.
Preparing the Dough
- Mix the sourdough starter, water, and salt in a large bowl, mixer, or food processor.
- Add two cups of flour and mix well.
- Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until you get a stiff dough.
- Knead the dough until if forms a nice smooth ball. It should not be at all sticky. Cover and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 10 pieces. Form each piece into a ball, then cover and allow to rest another 10 minutes.
- Line two cookie sheets with Silpat liners or parchment paper.
- With each dough ball, flatten it into a disc, then punch a hole in the center of the disc with your finger. Shape the dough into a bagel shape.
- Set the bagels on the lined cookie sheets. Leave space between the bagels for them to expand a bit.
- Cover with a kitchen towel and allow the bagels to proof 2-4 hours. They should be about 25% bigger than they were at the beginning of the proofing. If they proof too long and get too puffy, the bagels will be more bread-like and you won’t get that dense bagel texture.
- Place the covered trays in the fridge overnight, or about 8-12 hours.
The Next Morning
Put a pot of water on to boil. The pot should be deep enough for the bagels to be fully submerged. Preheat the oven to 425.
- Place a cooling rack on the counter. I put a dish towel underneath it to soak up dripping water. If you’re using a topping, put it on a plate to dip the bagels in after they’re boiled.
- When the water is boiling, add the Tablespoon of baking soda.
- Drop 3-4 bagels at a time into the boiling water (not too many–give them some space). If the bagels sink, then let them rise to the top. Remove the bagels from the water with a slotted spoon and place them on the cooling rack.
- If the bagels don’t sink, just boil them for 30 seconds, then turn them over using a slotted spoon and continue boiling another 30 seconds.
While the next set of bagels are boiling, dip the still-wet boiled bagels into the topping, then place them on the lined baking sheets.
- When all the bagels are boiled and on the baking sheets, put them in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. If you have to put them on two shelves, rotate them 1/2 way through.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.