Is there anything better in the morning than freshly toasted bagels slathered in cream cheese or melted butter? If you answered yes, then you must know that the correct answer is freshly toasted homemade bagels slathered in cream cheese or melted better. Congrats, you win points.
But how hard is it to make homemade bagels, really?
The answer is VERY EASY. Like, SHOCKINGLY EASY.
Before you know it you'll be impressing all your best brunch friends with a fresh tray of homemade bagels sprinkled with everything topping or finding that you suddenly have time to eat a complete breakfast every morning because it turns out bagels are a lot more fun to look forward to than eating that granola bar you usually grab on your way out the door.
Once you know how to make your own bagels, you'll make them over and over again because while you'll know how secretly easy they are to make, your friends won't — and getting to bask in those impressed reactions? Priceless.
The recipe at the end of this post I adapted from my favorite bagel recipe by Kamran Siddiqi at the Sophisticated Gourmet — the proportions and measurements are mostly the same, but I've made some adjustments to the preparations over the years, and have included here a lot more information about the ingredients, tools, and the methods for shaping them which I hope you find helpful at the start of your own bagel journey.
Also, even though the recipe is way easier to make if you have a mixer, I've made it many times without a mixer (I JUST LOVE HOMEMADE BAGELS THAT MUCH, OK?) and while it requires a bit more upper-body strength for the kneading, it turns out great that way too.
There are some recipes I'd go nowhere near if I couldn't use a mixer, and I would tell you if I didn't think they were worth doing without a mixer, but that's not this recipe.
Homemade bagels are worth making, with or without a mixer.
a brief history of the bagel
If you want the full history of the bagel, look no further than Maria Baliska's excellent book The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread which charts the bagel's turbulent sociopolitical and socioeconomic journey from Jewish bagel peddlers in 17th century Poland to Europe, eventually crossing the Atlantic to New York City and the United States (did you know that the bagel didn't enter into mainstream popularity in the U.S. until the 1970s???).
And lest you think the politics and geography of bagels is less fraught today, the NYC vs. Montreal bagel rivalry is still going strong.
Today New York and Montreal bagels are so different that they barely qualify as the same species. New York bagels are bigger, more pliable (New York City tap water has very low levels of calcium carbonate and magnesium, which produces softer gluten), and salty. Montreal bagels are sweeter (bakers add sugar to the dough, which, once rolled, is poached in honey-infused water), smaller, and crispier, with a chewy interior. Many Montreal bakers still hand-roll their bagels and cook them in the same wood-burning ovens they used when they first built their shops.Why the Montreal bagel is the superior bagel — The Takeout
But enough about history and geography. Tell me how to make bagels!
making the dough for those sweet, sweet homemade bagels
To make the dough itself add all your dry ingredients to a bowl — including your instant/active dry yeast! — mix them to combine. Then attach your bowl to the mixer with the dough hook and start the dough hook on the lowest setting.
Slowly pour the water into the center of the mixing bowl. How slow is slowly? Well, you're not dribbling it, but you're not dumping it in all at once either. It should take maybe 10-15 seconds to pour it all in.
Let the dough hook do it's thing, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl pushing the flour around the edges into the middle a few times throughout.
Once the dough has incorporated and there are no visible dry spots, increase the speed of your mixer to a medium-low or medium setting and let it run for 3-4 minutes. If you see the dough is sticking to the bowl, tap in a tablespoon or two of flour until the dough stops sticking.
bagel dough is a low hydration dough — here's what that means!
Bagel dough is a low-hydration dough which means the ratio of water to flour is very low. For example, when making artisanal sourdough or ciabatta with a very airy, open crumb, bakers often work with doughs that have a hydration level of 75% or more.
Doughs that have high water content are sticky and harder to work with. They're excellent for artisan breads where you want a lot of rise and large air pockets. That's not at all what you want when you're making bagels.
This particular bagel recipe has a hydration level of 60%. It's a dense, smooth, and cohesive dough that should easily form a ball. You're looking for something that is stiff and slightly tacky to the touch but that doesn't stick to your fingers.
Once your bagel dough is kneaded, you'll put it in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to coat it in the oil, and let it rise for an hour.
all purpose v. bread flour in homemade bagels
The original recipe for these bagels calls for bread flour, as do most bagel recipes. Why? Because bread flour is a high protein flour. It absorbs more liquid than all purpose flour and will result in a tighter crumb (aka the texture and size of air pockets of the inside of your bagel or loaf of bread).
As we've already discussed — bagel dough is a low-hydration dough and we want it to be stiff, smooth, and not sticky at all. Working with bread flour will help you get those truly optimal results.
That said, you absolutely can use plain old regular all purpose flour to make your bagels. You will probably never even notice a difference, unless you were to see them side-by-side. Unless you're someone who uses bread flour regularly, there is really no need to spend the money on a specialty flour when all purpose will do just fine.
how to shape your bagels
Most bagel recipes I've seen are for hand-rolled bagels, meaning you roll a long rope of dough, then loop it over your hand and roll it again, pressing the ends together to form the bagel shape. Ahh! It seems hard! Don't worry. That's not this recipe.
For the bagel recipe featured here, after the initial 1 hour rise, you'll punch back the dough (this is very fun!) to knock some of the air out of it, and then let it rest for 10 minutes (it's been through a lot).
Then, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. If you combined a few pieces of dough to get the right size dough ball, put the smaller piece(s) on top. Then you'll shape each piece into a round dough ball, just like in the pita recipe.
Gently flatten the piece of dough against a lightly floured surface, then tuck the edges up into the middle, pinching them together to form a smooth surface on the underside of the dough.
Flip the dough ball over and cup your hand around it, with your pinkie-finger flush against the counter. Slide your hand toward your body, dragging the dough ball with it. You'll see the front of the dough snag on the counter slightly, pushing the edge under itself and creating surface tension on top of the dough.
The dough will form an oval shape, so rotate it 90 degrees and repeat to get a nice circle. You don't always need to do this, but it's especially helpful if your dough is on the dry side or not sticking together well.
Once you've shaped all eight pieces of dough into little boules and let them rest for a few minutes, dip your thumb in flour and poke it through the bottom of the boule until it comes out the other side.
This is a great opportunity to push any extra edges or seams on the bottoms into the center of the bagel, sealing them shut. Once your thumb is all the way through, wiggle your other thumb in as well so the backs of your thumbs are pressed against each other, and start gently stretching and squeezing the dough until the hole is at least the same width as the sides of the bagel.
The bagel dough will shrink back when it rests (10 minutes!) before boiling and the hole will shrink again during boiling and baking, so don't be stingy in your stretching.
boiling your homemade bagels
I call the boiling and baking process "bagel botox" because it's at this stage that the surface of the bagels will puff up and smooth out. So if you're feeling like your bagels look funky after shaping them, don't worry...bagel botox is here to save the day.
When you boil your bagels, you'll notice they expand and develop an almost shiny, gelatinous exterior. That exterior prevents the bagels from rising too much in the oven.
You can control the texture and size of your finished bagels depending on how long you choose to boil them, but again, like the choice between all purpose or bread flour ... the difference here is, well, see for yourself:
You can boil your bagels for as little as 30 seconds or as long as 2 minutes per side (I usually go for the full two minutes). The longer you boil them, the thicker the crust will be and the chewier the texture of the bagels will be. If you boil them for 30 seconds per side, the crust will be thinner and more flexible, allowing them to rise more in the oven.
Some people add baking soda or barley malt extract to the water before baking (it helps the bagels brown and can change the flavor slightly), but this recipe is so much simpler than that — you literally just boil them in plain old regular water. Easy!
toppings & flavors for homemade bagels
If you're planning on using any bagel toppings, you'll want to apply them after boiling but before baking.
To get your toppings to stick to the bagels while they bake, make an egg wash by whisking together 1 egg + ¼ teaspoon of salt + 2 teaspoon of water and then use a silicone or pastry brush to brush the boiled bagels with the egg wash.
Then sprinkle with the topping of your choosing! Even if you aren't going to use a topping, I still recommend using an egg wash to get that beautiful shiny crust.
If you love the flavor of a topping but hate that it's only on one side of the bagel, mix up to ¼ cup right into the dry ingredients when you make your dough.
I love doing this with everything bagel topping in particular, because it infuses the whole dough with garlicky, oniony goodness that tastes amazing when sliced, toasted, and slathered in melty butter. Just make sure the topping doesn't include salt, because salt will throw off the chemistry of the dough.
- 10 Minutes: Mixing and kneading dough
- 60 Minutes: Letting dough rest, rise, and double in size
- 30 Seconds: Punch dough down
- 10 Minutes: Letting dough rest again
- 10-15 Minutes: Divide and shape your bagels
- 10 Minutes: Letting shaped bagels rest again
- 5-10 Minutes: Boiling bagels max 2 mins per side
- 20 Minutes: Baking!
Even if you take the longest amount of time on each of those steps, this recipe clocks in at ~2 hrs and 6 mins. The process may take you longer at first when you're still new to the shaping process, but once you get the hang of it you'll breeze through it.
A few quick tips
- If you're working in a dry environment or making bagels in winter when there's less natural moisture in the air, you may need to add up to an additional ¼ cup of water to the dough before kneading. If you do need to add water, measure out your ¼ cup, but then use a tablespoon measure to slowly add it in, stopping when the dough comes together and there are no large, noticeable dry spots. It's a lot easier to add water to a dry dough than add flour to a too-wet dough, so always err on the side of too-little water, especially with bagel dough. If you do end up with a dough that's too wet, add flour a ~⅛ cup at a time, giving it time to incorporate and absorb the excess liquid before adding more.
- Be careful not to tear the dough when you stretch the bagels out. Bagel dough isn't like play-dough or pie dough, where you can simply combine all the scraps and stick 'em back together. Tearing your dough destroys those beautiful strong gluten strands you spent so much time kneading. When the dough rests, those raw edges and seams will begin forming new gluten connections, so don't worry about them not being perfectly smooth all the way around. This is one of the hardest things to get right (and honestly, your bagels will still taste great even if you don't get this perfectly) so just know that it's something you'll get better at with practice.
- The bagel holes will shrink as the bagels boil and bake, so if you prefer a bigger bagel hole stretch them again right before you drop them in the water.
other recipes you might like
Homemade Bagels in Less Than 3 Hours
- 500 grams all-purpose flour (4 cups, stirred and loosely spooned into a measuring cup and leveled off)
- 18 grams sugar (1½ tablespoons)
- 10 grams diamond crystal kosher salt (2 teaspoons, but use half as much by volume of any other brand*)
- 6 grams instant yeast (2 teaspoons)
- 300 grams warm water (1¼ cup)
- 1 egg (for egg wash)
- any desired bagel toppings
- Mix flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and any optional mix-ins together in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour the water into the center.Mixer: Connect the dough hook attachment, start the mixer on the slowest speed and give the dough a minute or two to incorporate, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.By hand: Pour the warm water into the well and use a wooden spoon or spatula to begin mixing, gradually incorporating more flour until the dough comes together.If the dough looks dry, add up to an additional ¼ cup water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing or kneading well between additions to give the water time to absorb. It’s a lot easier to add additional water to dry dough than it is to add flour to wet dough, and bagel dough is a low hydration dough so you definitely you don’t want it to be too sticky.
- Once the dough comes together into a shaggy mass, it's time to knead.Mixer: up the speed to low-medium and let the mixer run for 3-4 minutes, adding more flour if the dough appears to be sticking to the bowl. By hand: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gather it into a ball. Fold top of the dough down over on itself, rotating a quarter turn between each fold. Repeat for 8-10 minutes, incorporating as much flour as you can from the counter into the dough.You’re looking for a dough that is firm and stiff, smooth, and just slightly tacky to the touch. It shouldn’t stick to your hands or the bowl.
- Shape the dough into a smooth round ball, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Let it rise for an hour in a warm spot (70-72°F) until about doubled in size.
- Gently punch the dough down, knocking the air bubbles out of it. Let it rest for 10 minutes. It’s been through a lot.
- Preheat your oven to 425°F and fill a wide, deep pan or large pot (hell, even a wok if that’s all you’ve got) with at least 3 inches of water, and bring it to a low boil on the stove.
- Divide the dough into eight equal pieces (use a kitchen scale for precision) and shape them into balls. Gently flatten the piece of dough against a lightly floured surface, then tuck the edges up into the middle, pinching them together to form a smooth surface on the underside of the dough. Then flip the dough over, cup your hand around it, pinkie against the counter, and drag your hand towards your body. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat as needed until you have a smooth taught surface on top and a seam underneath.
- Starting with the first dough ball you shaped, coat your thumb in flour and poke it through the seam-side of the dough, pushing any extra edges into the middle. Slide your other thumb in and gently stretch the dough out until the hole in the middle is at least the same width as the sides. The hole will close as the dough rests and will close again as it boils and bakes, so don’t be stingy here.If you like a bigger hole in your bagel, stretch the dough out again before boiling.
- Cover the shaped bagels with a damp paper towel or clean dish cloth and let them rest for 10 minutes. They, too, have been through a lot.
- Gently drop your shaped bagels into the pot of boiling water, top-side down. Work in batches as needed. The bagels will expand as they boil so don’t crowd them. Boil bagels for 1-2 minutes per side. Boiling for 2 minutes per side results in a slightly chewier, airier bagel.
- Remove the shaped bagels from the water and put them on a parchment or silicone baking mat lined baking sheet.
- Brush each bagel with egg wash making sure to get the sides and centers. Add any desired toppings.
- When all the bagels have been boiled, egg washed, and topped, transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake them for 20 minutes, until golden brown.
- Remove the bagels from the oven and transfer immediately to cool °on a wire rack. Try to wait at least 15-20 minutes before cutting them open, but I honestly can’t blame you if you crack after five.
- To test if your dough is ready after it rests for an hour, gently press into it with one finger. If it immediately fills in the indentation when you remove your finger, your dough needs more time to rise. If the indentation only fills in part way or fills in very slowly, your dough is ready. If it doesn’t fill in at all or the dough seems to collapse, your dough has overproofed.
- You can mix in a ¼ cup of your preferred topping right into the dough to infuse your bagels with maximum flavor. Just make sure your topping doesn’t include salt, or it can throw off the chemistry of the dough.
- Store in an airtight bag with a paper towel to absorb moisture. Stored properly, they will stay good for 3-4 days. They’ll get a bit hard after the first day or so, but soften up if you toast them. You can also run them briefly under water (!!!), then microwave them for 10 seconds, slice them, and toast them (or put them on a rack in your regular oven for 10 minutes at 350°F).
- *If measuring salt by weight you can use any type of salt. If measuring by volume, and using any brand that is NOT Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, cut the amount of salt in half (1 teaspoon).