Bagels are a very special bread that originated in the Jewish communities of eastern Europe as far back as the early 1600s . These special breads are first boiled prior to baking, which makes them chewier and with a lovely, shiny crust. Bagels have always been one of my favourite treats, next to doughnuts, of course.
About a decade ago I toyed with making bagels risen with yeast. They were delicious but I didn’t make more than a few batches before moving onto something else. It wasn’t until discovering the art of sourdough that bread making became an obsession for me. I find traditional food practices fascinating and find great purpose in learning to prepare foods that have been made daily for centuries.
I am rather proud of these bagels. The crumb is soft and moist, yet perfectly chewy and the crust is malty and caramelised and crispy. Just the way a good bagel should be. The only thing missing is a bit of smokey flavour from a wood fired oven. A hot pizza stone is not a bad trade off, and if you love pizza and sourdough bread, a pizza stone is a very useful tool and a great investment.
Bagels might seem intimidating to make, but they are actually very simple to prepare. You just need to do the process once in order for it all to make sense. The second attempt will be much easier on the brain and these will soon become a really straight forward and highly requested staple in your household.
Being sourdough, these bagels are more digestible and nutritious than a store-bought bagel, and way better on the budget. The overnight rise in the fridge also creates a more complex and delicious flavour. Another plus is that they can be made and shaped and then frozen, so you don’t have to commit to baking 16 bagels all at once.
I find it easiest to think of bagel making as a two-day process, similar to sourdough bread-making. The dough is made one day, and the bagels are baked the following day.
For the sponge:
125g bubbly ripe starter (fed 6-12 hours prior)
100g rye flour
400g high grade white flour or strong flour
big pinch diastatic malt powder (optional)
500ml warm filtered water (about 30 degrees Celsius)
For the dough:
20g sea salt (3 tsp)
30g raw sugar or barley malt syrup (2 TBLS)
350g-450g high grade white flour or strong flour
100g rye or wholemeal flour AND 325g-425g high grade white flour or strong flour
3 litres water
1/4 cup honey or barley malt syrup or raw sugar (optional, it adds colour and flavour)
1 TBLS baking soda (to encourage rapid boiling)
sesame seeds or poppy seeds or sunflower seeds for topping (optional)
DAY 1: Making the Dough
- To make the sponge: In a large glass or plastic bowl combine the starter, water and flours and malt powder if using. Mix vigorously with a dough whisk or wooden spoon for about a minute until smooth and aerated. Place the bowl into a plastic shopping bag and tie it closed. Leave the sponge in a warm spot to rise for 6-12 hours or until it has noticeably doubled in volume.
- For the dough: Add the salt and sugar or barley malt syrup to your sponge mixture and mix vigorously until evenly mixed in. Start to add the extra flour 1/4 at a time and mix the dough until each 1/4 cup of flour is absorbed fully. If using additional wholemeal or rye flour, start with this first and then move onto the white flour. After the first 100g or so of added flour, you can tip the dough out on the bench and continue to add the flour by kneading it in by hand. If you have a stand mixer and dough hook, this could be a very useful tool for bagel making!
- Continue to add the flour 1/4 at a time until the dough stops getting stuck to your hands and the bench. It will feel tacky and moist, but should not be gluey or get stuck. I have found 405g of additional flour to be my magic number, but you may have a different number.
- Once the dough feels slightly tacky but not too sticky stop adding flour and continue to knead for an additional 5-7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough back into the bowl or leave it on the bench and cover it with the plastic bag. Allow to rest and proof for 30-45 minutes (if your house is very cold, you may need to leave it in a warm spot in a covered bowl for this time).
- Line a baking sheet with baking paper and lightly dust it with flour, or lightly dust your bench with flour. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Roll these portions out into a log about 18cm long and place onto the floured baking paper or floured bench surface. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Shape the bagels: Take one of the logs of dough and wrap it around your fingers, overlapping the ends by about 4 cm. Your fingers will be through the centre of the bagel. Gently press the ends together and then roll the seam on the bench a few times to fuse the ends together. You can use a little water before overlapping if the dough isn’t sticking to itself. Place the shaped bagels 2cm apart onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Cover with a large plastic bag (I use a large unscented bin liner to put the baking tray into in order to keep the rising bagels moist). Once covered, leave to rise for another 30 minutes.
- Place covered baking tray into the fridge and allow to proof overnight in the fridge for 12-36 hours. If freezing, place the tray of bagels into the freezer. Once frozen I remove the bagels from the tray and pop them into a bag and leave in the freezer until ready to use. Remove bagels from the freezer 1-2 hours before you are planning to boil and bake.
DAY 2: Boiling & Baking the Bagels
- Preheat oven 45 minutes before baking to 250 degrees Celsius or 230 Celsius Fan Forced (500F or 450F Fan forced). A good, hot oven is important for bagels. Place oven rack on second lowest setting and place a pizza stone onto it if using. Line a board or the bench with clean, dry tea towel for the wet bagels to rest on after boiling.
- EITHER dust a pizza peel with cornmeal and sesame seeds, OR line a baking sheet with parchment
- Fill a large, wide pot (like a soup or stock pot) with the 3 litres of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add honey or barley malt syrup or sugar, if using. Slowly add the baking soda a tsp at a time to prevent boiling over. Leave the heat on high to ensure rapid boiling the whole time.
- Remove bagels from the fridge and carefully lower them 3-4 at a time into the boiling pot. Boil bagels for 1 minute on each side, turning them once with the slotted spoon.
- Remove bagels from the pot and line them up on the towel. Sprinkle bagels with toppings now, as they are the stickiest at this point. Proceed with the remaining bagels, until all of them are done and sprinkled.
- Transfer bagels to either the prepared pizza peel or lined baking sheet and either slide bagels onto the hot pizza stone OR bake on the tray.
- BAKING TIMES: Pizza Stone method will take much less time. I find my oven set at 230 Celsius Fan Forced only takes about 10-12 minutes to bake when using a pizza stone. HOWEVER, baking on a tray may take up to 20-25 minutes and the tray may need to be rotated halfway through. Keep an eye on the bagels and check around the 15 minute mark for the tray method to see how quickly they are baking. With either method the bagels should have a lovely and rich caramel colour on the outside. You will need to trial this in your own oven and make note of the time needed. You may also need to raise or lower your oven rack depending on the heat distribution.
- Once cooked, remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before scoffing at least two. Be sure to cool completely before storing them.