Growing up on the East Coast, I learned bagels can be a pretty delicate subject. There’s a particularly fierce rivalry in the Northeast, between bagels made in New York and those from New Jersey. Friends and family argue over whose bagel is better, and unless you want a lecture, you never ask whether said bagel should be toasted. Who knew a simple piece of bread could fire up so much debate?
Now that I’m in the Midwest, there’s no contest over whose bagel reigns supreme. The best bagel is one made in a home kitchen. With that in mind, we’ve got the tips you need to make fresh, chewy bagels right in your own kitchen.
Before we get started, our expert Food Editors break down the basics for making bagels from scratch.
Baking Is a Science
Baking requires precision. Pay attention to these three elements to ensure success:
- Time: From kneading to rising to boiling, timing is everything in this recipe. Have a timer on hand with an alarm loud enough to hear from another room.
- Measurement: The correct ratio of liquid to dry ingredients is crucial to achieving the right texture. For most breads, the eyeball method just won’t do. Most bakers swear by a digital scale, but a good set of measuring cups works, too.
- Temperature: The temp of your ingredients impacts the rise and bake you get. Keep a thermometer on hand-it doesn’t have to be fancy, but it must be accurate.
Your Hands Are the Most Important Tools
Creating bagel dough-kneading it and shaping it into loops-is very hands-on, and the necessary skills get easier with practice. As you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to tell by feel when a dough has been kneaded and proofed enough.
Use the Right Flour
With bagels in particular, don’t skip out on the bread flour. Unlike all-purpose flour, bread flour is made from hard wheat, which is higher in protein. This gives bagel dough the necessary strength and elasticity to create a soft, chewy texture.
Boil Before Baking
Speaking of texture, it’s essential to boil your bagels before baking them. The bubbling water sets the outside of the bagel, allowing it to form a chewy crust. (Pretzels are boiled for the same reason!) Be sure to keep an eye on them while they boil. If they’re in the water too long, they’ll form a thick exterior and an overly dense interior.
How to Make Bagels
Now, without further ado, here’s how to make bagels. This recipe makes quick and tasty bagels with a hint of honey.
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1-1/4 cups warm water (110° to 115°)
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup honey, divided
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
4 to 5 cups bread flour
Slotted spoon or kitchen spider
Optional toppings: minced onion, sesame seeds and poppy seeds
Step 1: Combine wet and dry ingredients
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the oil, sugar, 3 tablespoons honey, brown sugar, salt and egg. Mix the ingredients together well, then stir in enough flour to form a soft dough. The flour will give the dough just enough binding to stick together. It should feel very pliable and give way easily in your hands.
Test Kitchen Tip: Keep a thermometer on hand to measure the warmth of the water. Water that’s too hot can kill the yeast, while too-cool water won’t activate the yeast as quickly.
Step 2: Knead the dough
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, scraping the bowl as needed, and begin to knead by hand. Press and fold the dough with panache. As you knead, the dough will tighten, taking on a slightly elastic feel. It won’t recoil like a spring, but it should have a fair amount of memory. A visual cue that the dough is close to perfect is when it loses its matte surface and gains a subtle shine. You’ll know it’s done when it feels smooth and heavy in your hands. This takes about 8-10 minutes of kneading.
When finished, grab a tea towel and cover the dough, letting it rest for 10 minutes.
Step 3: Shape into rings
Release your inner boxer and punch the dough down. Then divvy it up and shape it into 12 balls.
Test Kitchen Tip: To help prevent your hands from sticking, moisten them with water before shaping the dough.
Time to shape the bagels! Use your thumb to create a hole in the center of one dough ball. The hole should be about 1-1/2 inches wide. Next, stretch and shape the bagel into an even ring. This’ll prevent it from becoming lopsided and will help it cook evenly. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Place the bagels on a floured surface. Cover and let rest for another 10 minutes. After they’ve rested, flatten the bagels slightly with your fingertips.
Step 4: Boil the bagels
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, bring 8 cups of water and the remaining honey to a boil. One at a time, drop the bagels into the boiling water. You’ll need to flip them soon enough, so don’t overload the pot. (It’s no fun trying to handle bagels in a crowded pot of scalding water.) Cook bagels for 45 seconds, then turn over and cook 45 seconds longer.
Test Kitchen Tip: Make easier work of boiling bagels by using a kitchen spider. It’s wider and lighter than most slotted spoons, which makes flipping a snap. Plus, the bagels sit perfectly still in the round basket as you remove them from the pot to drain.
Step 5: Drain and season
Remove bagels from the water using a slotted spoon or kitchen spider, allowing any extra water to drain off.
At this point, sprinkle any desired seasonings on top.
Step 6: Bake
Place the bagels about 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes. Flip each bagel and bake 5 minutes longer or until golden brown. The end result is a dozen perfectly chewy, slightly sweet bagels.
When you’re finished, I implore you to eat at least one bagel while it’s still warm. No bakery in any state can beat a homemade bagel fresh from the oven. You can certainly top it with classics like cream cheese and tomato or egg and cheese, but if it’s a special occasion, I like to spring for some quality capers, cream cheese and lox.
Be sure to print out a few business cards, too. Once your friends and family have a bite, you’ll be giving that bakery downtown a run for their money.
Looking for ways to fill out a fantastic brunch? Bake up these crowd-pleasing 13×9 breakfasts for some cozy down-home flavor.