Hand-rolled, New York style water bagels are chewy, crusty masterpieces. A fun kitchen project, this classic recipe turn out homemade bagels just like the ones at your favorite bagel shop. (They taste amazing even if you don't get the shape perfect the first time).
This post is part of the Eating New York series.Yum
Bagel making is done in four stages:
- Mixing the dough and (almost immediately) shaping the bagels. Tricky bit: getting the knack for shaping the bagels.
- Leaving the shaped bagels to rise, generally overnight in the fridge. Tricky bit: timing this step correctly.
- Boiling the bagels in a big pot of water mixed with a bit of malt. Tricky bit: batching, because you can only boil 2 to 3 bagels at a time, but need to get them into the oven right after boiling.
- Immediately after boiling, baking the bagels on a baking stone in a hot oven. Tricky bits: transferring the wet bagels to the hot oven and knowing when to flip them over.
You don't need a lot of special equipment for homemade bagels. However, there are two specialty pieces that help make bagel-baking more successful: a baking stone and bagel boards. Neither are necessary; you can bake bagels on ordinary sheet pans, but these are handy to have around if you enjoy baking projects:
A baking stone mimics the conditions of a bakery oven (read: hot, very hot). It preheats inside the oven prior to baking. Heads up: without bagel boards, the bagels have a tendency to stick to the baking stone, but a peel will generally nudge them loose without too much fuss. I talk more about baking stones and peels and using them in my post on New York pizza.
Bagel boards (optional)
The bagel's rounded shape is traditionally achieved by using bagel boards, which are just ordinary pieces of wood covered in burlap. You soak the burlap, then place the just -boiled bagels top-down on the wet bagel boards. Baking them this way helps the bottom half puff up nice and round. After a few minutes, you use the board to turn the bagels right-side down on your baking stone.
Even more than that, though, I find bagel boards to be a handy tool for loading your bagels into the oven. Plus, as I mentioned above, when started off on boards, bagels don't stick to the baking stone, like at all. I'm a fan. I would not be making bagels very often if not for the boards, which make it a lot easier.
Stanley Ginsberg has instructions on DIYing bagel boards in his cult classic Inside the Jewish Bakery, but I'm not sure you'd save much by the time you track down untreated lumber, get it cut to size, figure out where to get the right grade burlap, and then invest in a heavy-duty stapler. I bought mine online at the wonderful Breadtopia for about $30.
Wire skimmer (spider)
This multi-use kitchen tool is another thing that makes bagel making easier. It's tricky getting the bagel out of the water bath without a wire skimmer (also called a spider). A large slotted spoon also works, albeit not as well.
This is the time to schlep out and get yourself some bread flour, because bagels really need the elasticity. All that extra gluten is one of the things that make a bagel a bagel. I use King Arthur's bread flour (in the blue bag), which, happily, is carried by my local markets.
Do bagels really need malt?
Yes. Sorry. You add some malt to the bagel dough, then some more to the water in which you boil the bagels before baking them. But it's not too hard to track down and not too expensive, either. Malt is like superfuel for yeast. It makes yeast doughs rise like there's no tomorrow, gives them a flavor boost, and browns up their crusts. (Malt is not to be confused with malted milk powder, which is a different, and a dairy, product.) Apparently most all-purpose flour formulations actually include a proprietary amount of malt powder mixed into them. Malt can be made from lots of different grains but barley malt is the most common in the US. It comes either powdered (it looks like white whole wheat flour) or as a syrup (which looks like molasses). For bagels, you can use either powdered or syrup; they work the same way. It's not hard to find kosher certified. There is also non-diastatic malt, which gives the bread flavor and color but doesn't pouf them like diastatic malt (the yeast food in it has been boiled to oblivion). I found lots of varying opinions, most calling for regular (diastatic) malt. For what it's worth, Stanley Ginsberg says to use regular, diastatic malt in both the bagels and the boiling water and the guy literally interviewed the entire New York bagel bakers' union.
Working with bagel dough
Bagel dough is stiff and matte, and easy to work with. You'll want to knead it for a fairly long time, to develop the gluten. After it's stiff and pliable, let it rest for 15 minutes or so, then go ahead and divide it into twelve equal portions. A scale is handy here, because it's hard to eyeball.
After some experimenting, I've settled on 3 oz / 80-85 g as the ideal size for a bagel, which is to say, big enough for a sandwich, but not oversized.
How to shape bagels
Bagels are shaped right after mixing. They rise already shaped. The classic way to shape a bagel is to make one long strand of dough and pinch off a bagel-sized portion from it, then roll it around your hand to seal. Apparently experienced bagel makers can do this maneuver one-handed, in a single take. Us mortal home bakers, though, are welcome to divide the dough into pieces and roll each into a squat strand.
After rolling the dough into a strand about 8" / 20 cm long, you'll taper the edges, just a little bit, and join them. Put your hand inside the hole and roll the seam side until it's well adhered. Then, even out the bagel by rolling the other side, with your hand still in the center of the bagel. (This is what is meant by "hand-rolled bagel.")
Because they proof for a long time and get a water bath, bagel holes have a tendency to close up. You want your bagels to look a bit scrawny after you first shape them--they'll puff up nicely. Aim for getting three fingers through the hole when you put your hand in to roll the bagel.
Letting the bagels rise
Bagels on the left are going in to the fridge; on the right, coming out of the fridge after a 15-hour cold rise.
Bagels get a long, cold rise. Methods differ as to whether they go straight in or get to rise on the counter a bit before chilling. I like leaving the shaped bagels out to rise until just slightly puffed, 15 to 20 minutes. Then, cover and put them in the fridge for a long, cold rise, 12 to 18 hours.
Boiling the bagels
Just before baking, bagels get a quick dip in a boiling water bath with a bit of malt added to the water. This is what gives bagels their characteristic chew and speckled exterior. They go into the water upside-down and stay for just a minute on each side. I use an interval timer on my phone to keep track. After about a minute, you'll see a thin ring of slightly darker crust around the sides. Flip, using your skimmer, and cook for another minute right-side up. The bagels will still be almost completely raw. As soon as they come out of the water bath, they go into the oven.
Baking the bagels
The bagels are cooked mostly right-side up, with either the first few or last few minutes devoted to the bottoms. If you're using just a baking stone (or an ordinary sheet pan), your bagels will bake for about 20 minutes right-side up, then upside-down for the last 4-5 minutes. If you're using boards, it's the opposite: the bagels bake upside-down for 4 minutes on the boards, then right-side up for 20 minutes.
Your bagels will look all sad and floppy when you first put them in, and it'll take them a while to start looking like bagels. But they will! Take them out when they're golden, neither pale nor browned.
I know, you expected to see a bagel piled high with cream cheese and lox and rings of onion and capers, and that is honestly an excellent idea. It's just that I consider whitefish and Swiss to be the ultimate bagel sandwich. Another of my unpopular food opinions.
Homemade bagels (parve)
- Baking stone (recommended)
- Pizza peel (optional)
- Bagel boards (optional)
- Food scale (recommended)
- Covered sheet pan (optional)
- Wire skimmer (spider) or large slotted spoon
For the bagel dough:
- 4 cups bread flour - 500 g
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- ½ tsp granulated sugar - 65 g
- 1 ½ cups warm water - 360 ml
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp malted barley powder or syrup
For the water bath:
- 1 Tbsp malted barley powder or syrup
- sesame seeds
- poppy seeds
- everything bagel seasoning
Mix the dough (the night before or 12 hours ahead):
- Place the sugar and water into your stand mixer bowl (fitted with a dough hook). Mix together. Add the yeast and leave until foamy, about 5 minutes.
- Add the bread flour, salt, and malt to the bowl. Mix on the lowest speed until the dough comes together. Increase the speed to 2 and continue kneading for 7 minutes. The dough will be stiff and matte.
- Let the dough rest in the mixing bowl for 10-15 minutes.
Shape the bagels:
- Turn out the dough onto your work surface. Divide it into portions of 3 oz / 80-85 g. It's worth it to weigh it on a food scale, for well-shaped and evenly baked bagels.
- Roll each portion into a strand about 8" / 20 cm long. Taper the ends and overlap them.
- Place your hand inside the hole in the center of the bagel - at least three fingers should fit through. Roll the seal side gently until adhered.
- Without removing your hand, roll the opposite side of the bagel to even it out.
Rise the bagels:
- Place the shaped bagels on a lined sheet pan and cover. (You can use cling wrap or a sheet pan cover.) Put them directly in the fridge and leave to rise overnight, no longer than 12 hours.
Boil the bagels:
- If using bagel boards, wet them thoroughly before boiling the bagels. If not using boards, prepare a peel or platter near the stove for transferring your bagels into the oven.
- Bring a large stock pot of water to a boil. Add the malt (diastatic or non, dry or syrup) to the boiling water.
- Remove the bagels from the fridge. Working two to three bagels at a time, as many as can fit in the pot without touching, place them right-side down into the boiling pot of water.
- Boil the bagels for 1-2 minutes. Flip over and boil for another 1 minute. They will still be mostly raw.
- Place the bagels right-side up on a peel/platter, or right-side down on bagel boards.
Bake the bagels (without boards):
- Using a peel or a spatula, carefully transfer the boiled bagels, right-side up, to the baking stone.
- Bake for 20 minutes, until light golden in color. Flip over and bake right-side down for an additional 4-5 minutes. The bagels should be deep gold and well speckled.
Baking with bagel boards:
- If using bagel boards, place the boards (with the upside-down bagels on top of them) right on top of the hot stone. Bake for 4 minutes.
- Using the board to flip the bagel, turn them out right side down onto the baking stone. Remove the bagel boards from the oven. Continue baking for 20-25 minutes, until deep golden in color and well speckled.