Baking Bagels at Home

There are few things as pleasing in life as baking on a cool, rainy spring day. While that may sound like one of Ruth Reichl’s haiku-like Tweets, baking doesn’t always have to be some unobtainable skill only enjoyed by well-off food mavens with oodles of time.

After you've done your baking, imagine serving up fresh, homemade bagels for brunch. Friends and family will be incredibly impressed that you’re giving Riechl a run for her money. Also, the do-it-yourself approach is also a good way to produce a bagel that is of reasonable size, as opposed to the gigantic bread specimens that pass for New York City bagels these days.

The good news is that, according to Adam Kuban (pictured below) who writes for the food blog Serious Eats, making bagels is quite doable.

“I think that once you start making a round thing with a hole in it, [people start thinking] ‘whoa, that’s crazy, that’s too much work,’” admits Kuban. “But it’s really much easier than making bread.” Adam Kuban

Kuban started making bagels in the 1990s, when he was living in Kansas and unable to find a bagel that would live up to his New York standards. He landed on Bernard Clayton’s "Complete Book of Breads," which includes a relatively easy recipe for a bagel that requires a minimal list of ingredients.

Kuban got hooked to making them himself, and says these days he bakes bagels nearly every week. He adds that using a stand mixer or food processor makes the task even easier.

Part of the trick is boiling the bagel dough for just the right about of time, which produces a chewy outer layer.

“If you boil them too long, you get  too thick a layer on the outside. If you boil them too short, you get that kind of roll texture to them,” says Kuban, who adds barley malt syrup to the water to give bagels a sweetness and shine.

If tracking down barley malt syrup or devoting up to three hours to bagel making is daunting, Kuban defers to a Serious Eats New York bagel poll that was done several years ago. The Bagel Hole in Park Slope, Brooklyn proved the winner of the Serious Eats taste test and poll.

Nonetheless, New Yorkers will likely continue to debate the contentious issue of “Best Bagel in the City” until the end of time. In the meantime, baking up a batch of delicious homemade bagels might just settle the score.

“It’s actually a lot easier than it looks,” says Kuban. “It’s very magical.”

Here’s Kuban’s recipe, adapted from "Complete Book of Breads."

Homemade Bagels, à la Jo Goldenberg
Makes 10 bagels. Active time: 1 hour. Total time: 3 hours.

  • 19.25 ounces bread flour (3 1/2 cups) [530g]
  • 1/4 ounce instant dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons; or 1 envelope active dry) [7g]
  • 1/2 ounce sugar (2 tablespoons) [43g]
  • 1/2 ounce salt (1 teaspoon) [16g]
  • 12 ounces hot water (1 1/2 cups, 120°–130° F) [340g]
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons malt syrup (for the boiling water; alternatively, you can use 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar)
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water (optional, for toppings)

1. Add all the dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until mixed, about 5 seconds. With processor running, slowly add the water; process until dough comes together and rides up over the blade, about 30 seconds. Continue processing until dough becomes satiny and elastic, about 30 seconds more.

2. Transfer dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

3. After dough has risen but before you divide and shape it, prepare your water bath. Add the malt syrup to 6 quarts of water over high heat and let it come to a boil as you continue with the following steps.
 Also, preheat the oven to 400° F.

4. After dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and press down with your fingers to expel the gases. Divide dough into 10 equal portions.

5. Ball a portion of dough, then roll it into a "rope" about 7 inches long and about 1 inch thick. (Tip: I like to taper the ends slightly in preparation for the next step.)

6. Wrap the dough around the back of your hand, overlapping the ends in your palm. Place your hand, along with the dough, palm-down on the work surface and roll dough back and forth until ends crimp and seal together. Place dough ring under a span of plastic wrap while you repeat rope-and-loop process with remaining dough portions.

Tip: You can brush a little water on the ends to help them stick, but this dough is wet enough that it usually comes together without help. 
A note on hand size: The recipe calls for wrapping the rope around your palm, but I like a smaller, tighter bagel, so I wrap it around my first three fingers, as shown. If you have a smaller hand, you could probably wrap it around all your fingers.

7. Allow bagels to rise again for 10 minutes. At this point, your malt syrup–water should be boiling. Use a skimmer or slotted spoon to carefully add bagels, one at a time, to the water. (Note: no more in the pot than three at a time.) Bagels should sink but then rise again after a few seconds. Simmer for 1 minute, flipping bagels at the 30-second mark.

Tip: The original recipe calls for this second rising, but I often skip it. I've found it makes very little, if any, noticeable difference.

8. Remove bagels from water with skimmer or slotted spoon to a clean kitchen towel. Pat dry.
If making plain bagels, proceed to Step 10.

9. For bagel toppings: Place bagels on wire cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Brush bagel tops with egg-water mixture. Shake on desired toppings—sesame seed, poppy seed, kosher salt, minced onion, and minced garlic are classic (at least in NYC).
The baking sheet will collect excess dry toppings (such as sesame or poppy seeds). Simply pour them back into their containers for reuse.

10. Place bagels on prepared baking sheet. Bake until light brown and shiny, 15 to 20 minutes. Flip, and bake until reverse side is golden-brown and shiny, about 10 minutes more.