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.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
Before you know it you'll be impressing all your best brunch friends with a fresh tray of homemade bagels sprinkled with everything bagel 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.
Try my mini bagels recipe for an adorably smaller version of this bagel recipe.
- Why You'll Love This Recipe
- About This Recipe
- A Brief History of the Bagel
- Ingredient Notes
- How to Make Plain Bagel Dough
- A Low Hydration Dough
- How to Shape Homemade Bagels
- Boiling Homemade Bagels
- Bagel Toppings
- All Purpose vs. Bread Flour
- Active Dry Yeast vs. Instant Yeast
- Kneading Bagel Dough By Hand
- Bagel-Making Timeline
- Practical Tips & Recipe Notes
- Recipe FAQ
- 📖 Recipe
- 💬 Comments
About This Recipe
Making bagels is what started my love of bread making. You can draw a direct line from me learning to making a bagel recipe I saw on Tumblr back in 2014 to me going to pastry school in 2020 to you reading this blog post right now.
That very first bagel recipe I made was from Kamran Siddiqi at the Sophisticated Gourmet and though the bagels I made were lumpy and misshapen, they tasted amazing. I was hooked. The more I made them, the prettier they became.
I've adapted that recipe only slightly to share it with you here. The proportions and measurements are mostly the same, but I've made some adjustments to the method over the years, and have included a lot more information about the ingredients, tools, and the techniques for shaping bagels which I hope you find helpful at the start of your own bagel journey.
Also, even though homemade bagels are way easier to make if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, I've made bagels 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, they turn 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.
Why the Montreal bagel is the superior bagel — The Takeout
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.
Traditional bagels are a much more laborious process than what you'll find here. This is a very easy, very simple beginner-friendly recipe.
Making bagels the "right way" is a two or three day process, with long overnight cold proofing in the fridge. Traditional bagels use barley malt syrup in the dough, and sometimes in the boiling water too. And if you want to be a real stickler about it, they must always be hand rolled from a long rope and baked on wooden boards wrapped in burlap and soaked in water.
So, no, this is not a traditional bagel recipe. But it is a great first bagel recipe. If you're new to bagel making, if you're new to bread making, if you're new to working with yeast, this simple and straightforward plain bagel recipe is a great place to start.
Here are the ingredients you'll need to make your very own homemade plain bagels. See the recipe card at the end of this blog post for the quantities!
- All-Purpose Flour - Bagels are traditionally made with a higher protein bread flour which gives them that chewy texture, but I use King Arthur Baking's all-purpose flour which has a relatively high protein content for an all-purpose flour. If you're using another brand of flour (like a generic store brand flour) you may have better results with bread flour.
- Instant Yeast - Sometimes called "rapid rise" yeast. This yeast does not need to be bloomed in water and can be added directly to the dry ingredients.
- Salt - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt which half as salty as other brands of salt. If measuring salt by weight, it doesn't matter what brand of salt you use. But if you're measuring by volume and using a different brand of salt, even a different brand of kosher salt, cut the amount of salt in half.
- Sugar - Plain granulated sugar is all you need here.
- Water - Lukewarm to the touch. Not hot. If you want to be precise, it should be between 100-110F.
- Egg - For the egg wash! The egg wash gives bagels their shiny browned crusts. If you're adding any toppings to your homemade mini bagels, the egg wash will also help them stick.
How to Make Plain Bagel Dough
To make the dough itself add all your dry ingredients to a bowl — including your instant yeast! — mix them to combine. Pour the warm water into the center of the mixing bowl.
Start the mixer on low speed and let the dough hook do it's thing, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to push the flour around the edges into the middle.
At this first stage you're just mixing the dough. The goal is to get the ingredients to combine and collect on the dough hook.
- If you the dough is wet and sticking to the sides of the bowl, tap in a tablespoon or two of flour as needed until the dough stops sticking.
- If the dough seems really dry and like it won't come together after about 5 minutes, dribble a teaspoon of water onto the dry bits in the bowl and keep mixing. Repeat only as needed. It's very easy to accidentally add too much water — resist adding it unless it really needs it.
Once the dough comes together on the dough hook, increase the speed to medium and knead for 3-5 minutes until the dough is smooth.
After mixing, the bagel dough will pull clean from the sides of the bowl and gather on the dough hook but will look lumpy and messy.
After kneading the dough, it will be smooth and elastic, slightly stretch and tacky to the touch but not sticky.
Shape the dough into a ball by tucking the edges under until you have a smooth top. Place it back in the mixing bowl, cover and let it dough rise in a warm spot (70-75F) for an hour.
The dough will just about double in size, but may not quite get there. The best way to test if your dough is ready is to use the fingerprint test.
The Fingerprint Test: Gently press a finger into the dough. If the indentation fills in quickly and completely, the dough needs more time to rise. If the indentation fills in slowly and partially, the dough is ready! And if the dough completely deflates and collapses under your finger, it has over-proofed.
A Low Hydration Dough
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.
Bagels have a tight crumb with small air pockets. That comes from the way you knead the dough and knock the air out, and from a low amount of water in the dough.
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 smooth and elastic and slightly tacky to the touch but that doesn't stick to your fingers.
Once your bagel dough is kneaded, put it in a lightly greased bowl, cover it, and let it rise for an hour.
How to Shape Homemade 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. There are benefits to that method — it compresses the gluten network inside the bagels, giving you a tighter, denser, chewier crumb.
But I've never really had success with that shaping method. So don't worry. That's not this recipe.
For the bagel recipe featured here, after the initial 1 hour rise, you'll deflate the dough (this is 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. I recommend using a kitchen scale for this step so that your bagels are all the same size.
If you combined a few pieces of dough to get the right size dough ball, stack the smaller piece(s) on top of the largest piece.
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 Homemade Bagels
I call the boiling and baking process "bagel botox" because it's this step that gives you that gorgeous smooth, shiny, taut bagel crust.
The boiling process gelatinizes the starches in the crust, setting them in place while also activating the yeast and air inside the dough to encourage the bagels to expand. The gelatinized crust will also prevent the bagels from expanding too much in the oven.
The boiled bagels will have a slight texture to them, but will completely smooth out in the oven. So if you're feeling like your bagels look funky after shaping them, don't worry... bagel botox is here to save the day.
Right before boiling, stretch the bagels one more time. This will prevent the bagel holes from shrinking closed as they bake!
You can boil your bagels for as little as 30 seconds or as long as 2 minutes per side. I usually go for about a minute per side, but it's really up to you.
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.
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:
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!
Use a wire spider to remove the bagels from the hot water. Arrange the boiled bagels on a lined sheet pan, and you're ready to add toppings!
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.
All Purpose vs. Bread Flour
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.
For more side-by-side comparisons of bread flour v. all purpose flour, check out this King Arthur Baking blog post.
Active Dry Yeast vs. Instant Yeast
Active Dry and Instant yeast are technically the same thing — meaning, they are both saccharomyces cerevisiae, a single-celled living organism used for leavening bread and doughs.
The only difference between the two types of yeast is that Active Dry yeast granules have a little coating around them which needs to be dissolved to reveal the yeast inside. The yeast can't start working until that coating has dissolved.
This is why Active Dry yeast is often bloomed in water before use — it dissolves that shell to expose the yeast!
But because of this extra little shell around the Active Dry yeast granules, you'll need to use slightly more Active Dry yeast to get the same effect as using Instant Yeast.
To calculate how much Active Dry yeast to use, increase the amount of Instant yeast by 25%. So for this recipe, you'd be using 7.5 grams of active dry yeast. Most scales can't measure that precisely, so aim for 7 or 8 grams of active dry yeast and you'll be just fine here.
You can add the Active Dry yeast directly to the dry ingredients just like you do the Instant Yeast. Your bagel dough just might need an extra 20-30 minutes of rising time because that little shell needs time to dissolve.
Kneading Bagel Dough By Hand
Don't have a stand mixer? No worries! Kneading bagel dough by hand requires a bit of upper body strength and takes a little bit longer, but is totally possible.
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the warm water into the center.
Start by mixing the water, slowly incorporating more flour from the sides into the center until a messy dough begins to form. Pinch and squeeze the dough, folding it over itself until all the water has absorbed and there aren't any big dry patches or clumps of flour.
Turn the dough out on to a clean, lightly floured surface. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes, folding the dough over itself, flattening it with the heel of your hand, rotating 90 degrees and repeating. Dust in more flour as needed if the dough is sticky. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth, elastic, and slightly tacky but not sticky.
Set a timer for the kneading step — kneading takes a lot of work and you'll get tired and think time is up sooner than it is!
Follow the rest of the recipe as written!
- 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 which is why I've written this recipe as being three hours, but once you get the hang of it you'll breeze through it.
Practical Tips & Recipe Notes
- 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 teaspoon measure to slowly drizzle 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.
This is because weighing baking ingredients is much more accurate that using volume (cup) measurements! If your flour or water measurements are off, your dough will behave much differently than it should and you won't get the same rise or texture as the recipe promises. I've included approximate volume measurements in the recipe card below to give you a sense of how much you need if you're not used to measuring by weight, but I really encourage you to use a kitchen scale if you have one. There is no set standard for how much "1 cup" of flour weighs, so its important to follow the weight measurements instead of trying to convert to cups.
I haven't tested this! Using sourdough discard or alone won't work, however. It doesn't have enough rising power and the recipe hasn't been formulated for slower sourdough rising times. You could replace some of the flour and water in the recipe with sourdough discard to add sourdough flavor (e.g. subtract 50g water and 50g flour and add 100g sourdough discard) but you would still need the yeast for the bagels to rise. I haven't tested this, so you may need to make some other adjustments to the flour and water to get the dough to the right consistency, but you're more than welcome to give it a try.
Yes! Reduce the amount of yeast to 4 grams. Cover and refrigerate the shaped bagels overnight. Boil and bake in the morning!
Homemade Plain 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).