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- Why make these sourdough bagels?
- 1. Make the Levain
- 2. Mix the Bagel Dough
- 3. Bulk Fermentation
- 4. Overnight Proof
- 5. Shape
- 6. Final Proof
- 7. Boil the Bagels and Toppings
- 8. Bake
- Can I double this recipe?
- Why are my sourdough bagels flat?
- Can I use sourdough discard to make sourdough bagels?
- Are these sourdough bagels vegan?
- Are these New York-style or Montreal-style bagels?
- What can I substitute for barley malt syrup in bagels?
- Why do my bagels have wrinkles?
With a chewy crust, a dense, yet soft interior, and the added flavor from a long fermentation, these sourdough bagels are versatile enough to make your own bagel adventure!
I went to college in New York City and thus, had my fair share of bagels. The bagels were often from a street cart, wrapped in parchment paper, ultra-chewy if not toasted, and slathered in probably too much cream cheese.
Were they the best bagels in New York City? Absolutely not. But to 18-year-old Brandon, getting one was like a little ritual in sustenance that said “You’re a New Yorker!”. And most importantly, as I perused all of the bagel flavors and cream cheese options, they were a little adventure on what path I’d choose to take that day. Would I stick to a classic combo I know and love or switch my order up and try something new?
However nostalgic and great a simple bagel is to me, you can’t escape that many have strong opinions about their preferred bagels and how they should be made. It’s so contentious that even political candidates are judged for their bagel orders! Thus, I hesitated to make a recipe I knew couldn’t satisfy every bagel craving, or maybe even mine.
Why make these sourdough bagels?
After lots of recipe testing, I finally landed on my ideal sourdough bagel recipe. At their core (or hole?), is a baseline appreciation for flavor and texture that’s exemplified by the sourdough, a touch of rye flour, and the muted sweetness of barley malt syrup.
Most significantly, the recipe is versatile enough to make into your own!
You can add whatever toppings you want, schmear them in cream cheese or don’t, add lox, toast them, shape them into your preferred size, etc.
It’s a make-your-own bagel adventure and you can use this recipe to jumpstart your own bagel journey just like I would start my mornings in college. And to me, that’s why these are my favorite homemade sourdough bagels.
👨🏫 Baker’s Percentage Table
I include a baker’s percentage chart to quickly scale a recipe up or down. This sourdough bagel recipe makes eight medium-sized bagels.
With baker’s percentages, the total weight of all flour in the recipe is 100%. The other ingredients are noted in relation to the total weight of flour. This is why the percentages below will add up to over 100%.
If you want to learn more, the King Arthur website has a more detailed reference page on why and how baker’s percentages are calculated.
|Bread Flour||510 grams||95.3%|
|Rye Flour||25 grams||4.7%|
|Sourdough Starter*||35 grams||6.5%|
|Barley Malt Syrup||41 grams||7.7%|
*Note: 35g of bread flour, 35g of water, and the 35g starter are for the levain.
If you do not want to build a levain, use about 105g of active sourdough starter instead.
⏰ Sample Schedule for Sourdough Bagels:
Below is a sample schedule for making these sourdough bagels. However, you’re always welcome to adjust the schedule based on your own needs. As always, fermentation times depend on the ambient temperature (warmer= proofs faster, colder=slower).
For example, you can make the levain the night before with a smaller percentage of sourdough starter and more flour and water (i.e. 10g of starter and 48g each of flour and water). That way, your levain is ready in the morning, and you can mix your dough earlier.
|1. Make Levain (5hrs)||10am-3pm|
|2. Mix Dough||3pm|
|3. Bulk Fermentation (4-5hrs)||3:30-7:30pm|
|4. Overnight Proof||7:30pm-8am|
|6. Final Proof (4 hrs)||8am-12pm|
|7. Boil and Bake||12pm|
Can I shape the bagels and proof them overnight in the refrigerator?
Another option is to shape the bagels after bulk fermentation and proof the shaped bagels completely in the refrigerator. I’ve seen other recipes use this method, but I don’t prefer it because:
- I often don’t have enough room in my refrigerator to proof a whole sheet of bagels.
- Shaping cold dough is easier.
- Judging the final proof is more challenging when relying on the refrigerator’s cold temps. The bagels can overproof, or the opposite, and you end up waiting hours for them to proof at room temperature.
A benefit to this method is that if the bagels do proof properly in the refrigerator, then you can bake them in the morning.
🛠 Tools Needed:
Click the links below for my tool recommendations.
- Baking Scale
- A baking scale is essential for sourdough baking and will instantly improve all of your baking! Weight measurements are more accurate and consistent than volume measurements.
- Stand Mixer (recommended)
- I recommend using a stand mixer to mix the bagel dough; however, you can definitely mix the dough by hand and knead it. The dough is quite stiff. Follow the same indicators as you would if mixing with a stand mixer.
- Large sheet pan (19.5×13.5″)
- To use one sheet pan for this recipe, I like the large ones linked above by Nordic Ware. However, if you have half-sheet pans, use two for this recipe so there’s enough room for the bagels to proof and bake.
- Spider Strainer
- Use the spider strainer to easily move your bagels to and from the boiling water.
- Brød and Taylor Folding Bread Proofer (optional but helpful)
- My home tends to stay cool, so I proof all of my breads in this convenient proofing box that can also act as a slow cooker.
🛒 Ingredients Needed:
Click on the links below for my ingredient recommendations.
- Bread Flour
- Using a high-protein content bread flour is crucial for this recipe because it gives bagels their distinctive chewy texture.
- If you don’t have bread flour, use all-purpose flour.
- Rye Flour
- Sourdough Starter
- Use active sourdough starter in this recipe at 100% hydration. Sourdough discard will not have the leavening power needed for bagels.
- No sourdough starter? Learn how to make one in a week with my day-by-day guide.
- Sea Salt
- I like finely ground sea salt because it incorporates more easily into the dough, but Kosher salt also works fine.
- Barley Malt Syrup
- This is the gold standard ingredient for making great bagels and is usually pretty common to find in a well-stocked grocery store. Eden is the most popular brand.
- The barley malt syrup adds complexity, a mild sweetness, and enzymes, and gives color to your bagels that can’t compare to other substitutes. This recipe adds it to the bagel dough and boiling water, which is common for New York style bagels.
- If you can’t find barley malt syrup, substitute it with molasses first and honey second.
- Your Choice of Toppings
- Use any toppings you want for these bagels or make them plain. My favorite toppings are everything bagel seasoning, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds.
- Cornmeal, for dusting
- Lastly, use a dusting of cornmeal or semolina flour to prevent sticking to the parchment paper.
🥯 How to Make Sourdough Bagels
If it’s your first time making sourdough bagels, be sure to follow this detailed recipe guide as you bake.
1. Make the Levain
Mix 35g of sourdough starter, 35g of bread flour, and 35g of water in an empty jar.
If you’d prefer to skip making a levain, use about 105g of active sourdough starter instead.
Cover and set it in a warm location (75-80ºF) for about five hours until doubled and bubbly.
2. Mix the Bagel Dough
Once the levain doubles in size, add the following ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment (or into a large bowl if mixing by hand):
- 475g of bread flour
- 25g of rye flour
- 9g of sea salt
- All of the levain (or 105g of active sourdough starter)
Then, in a liquid measuring cup, mix together 265g of warm water and 41g (2 TBS) of barley malt syrup until the barley malt syrup dissolves completely. This will help the barley malt syrup incorporate into the dough more easily.
Pour the liquid mixture into the bowl and mix on low speed for a few minutes until most of the flour is hydrated. Rest the dough for at least 10 minutes to hydrate.
At first, the dough will be very dry and stiff. While tempting to add more water, please don’t! The dough will hydrate as it rests and during the next mixing phase.
Now, continue mixing on medium speed for about 10 minutes, or until the dough passes the windowpane test. If mixing by hand, knead the dough on the counter rocking back-and-forth to bring the dough together and develop enough gluten.
The dough passes the windowpane test when you can pull a piece of it and stretch it between your fingers into a thin membrane without it tearing. If the dough tears, then it needs to be mixed more (like making brioche).
3. Bulk Fermentation
Cover the dough and place it in a warm location to bulk ferment for 4 to 5 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
At the end of bulk fermentation, the dough should be domed, feel light, and it may have some visible air bubbles in it.
The sourdough yeasts perform best around 78-80ºF, so I like to keep my dough in my handy Brød and Taylor bread proofer, especially if it’s winter time.
4. Overnight Proof
Transfer the dough to the refrigerator to proof overnight and for up to 48 hours.
As mentioned in my sample schedule above, you can shape your bagels and then overnight proof them. However, I find that the bagels tend to over or under proof in the refrigerator, so I prefer shaping and doing the final proof on the day I want to bake them.
Shaping bagels can be a little tricky if you’ve never made them before, but it only takes practice with one or two to get the hang of it!
First, remove the cold dough from the refrigerator and turn it out onto a clean work surface. There’s no need to add flour as you’ll use the tension of the work surface to shape them.
Then, divide the dough into eight equal-sized pieces. I use my baking scale to weigh the entire batch of dough and then divide the weight by eight. Each of my pieces tends to be 110-120g.
Like making dumplings or dinner rolls, pinch the ends/corners of the dough together into a taut ball, turn it over, and use your hand and the surface tension to roll each piece of dough into little spheres. Let them rest for about 10 minutes. This preshaping will help reduce wrinkles on the bagel ropes and prepare the pieces to be rolled out into ropes.
While the preshaped balls rest, prepare a large baking sheet with parchment paper and a generous dusting of cornmeal or semolina flour. This is important so the bagels don’t stick to the parchment paper as they proof.
How to Shape Bagels
If you’ve ever made pretzels, the process of shaping bagels is quite similar.
Use both hands to roll out each dough ball into a rope with slightly tapered ends about nine inches long.
Place one hand palm-side-up on top of the center of the rope and use the other hand to connect and overlap the two ends of the rope on each other.
Turn your hand over (with the connecting ends on the bottom now) and slowly roll your hand back and forth on the work surface to fuse the ends together. Remove your palm from the hole and adjust the shape as necessary to center the hole.
Repeat with the remaining bagels and space them evenly on your prepared baking sheet dusted with cornmeal for final proofing.
- Don’t roll out the ropes too long (or short) or you’ll end up with a thin bagel and a large hole or a thick bagel with no hole (more like a bialy).
- Try to keep the thickness of the ropes even around the bagel or you’ll have misshapen bagels once proofed (which you can’t correct). However, they’ll still taste great!
- Remember that the bagels will get larger during proofing and the holes will fill in some.
- Make sure the ends are fused together. Roll them together more if they’re loose or fall apart when connected. You don’t want your bagels to separate when you boil them.
- If you mess up, reshape it into a round and restart the process!
6. Final Proof
Proof the bagels in a warm location for about four hours, or until they’ve doubled in size and feel full of air when poked. Since bagel dough is already dense, it’s okay in this instance if they’re slightly under proofed.
How do I know when Bagels are Proofed?
One way to test if your bagels are done proofing is to place one in a bowl of room-temperature water to see if it floats. The idea is similar to the sourdough float test to determine if enough gases have built up in the dough. If the dough sinks, then tap dry the bagel and continue proofing for longer.
7. Boil the Bagels and Toppings
Boiling bagels is a necessary step to get a chewy, leathery crust. Once again, it’s a similar process to making homemade soft pretzels.
While simple, the boiling step is a little bit of a coordinated dance, so make sure you have your working space clear, and you have all of your tools and materials ready to go, which I’ll go over below.
Prepare your Workstation
First, preheat your oven to 450ºF (232ºC).
Then, boil a large pot of water on the stove and have your spider strainer nearby.
Near the pot, I like to have another sheet pan with a wire rack so the bagels can drip some of the water off after boiling.
Finally, have whatever toppings you’re planning to use nearby in bowls or small plates that the bagels can fit in for dipping.
Boil the Bagels
Boil the pot of water. Once it is boiling, add a couple of tablespoons of barley malt syrup to the boiling water and stir it in until the water is dark brown.
This is the traditional way of boiling bagels for added crust color, but if you don’t have barely malt syrup, you can use honey or molasses (like making Montreal-style bagels). If you prefer an even darker crust on your bagel, add a tablespoon of baking soda to the boiling water (but watch out, as the water will bubble quickly!).
Transfer two or three bagels at a time to the boiling water. They should float. If they sink, they might pop back up in a minute. If they never float…well, they may need to proof longer.
Boil the bagels on one side for about 45 seconds. Then, flip them over and boil for another 45 seconds. Use the spider strainer to lift each bagel and place them on a wire rack to let some additional water drip off. Repeat with the remaining bagels.
The skin of the bagels will be a little slimy and have a gelatinized texture, which is normal. The boiling precooks the crust, making it chewy as it bakes. The bagels will poof up some during boiling as you are essentially parcooking them.
After boiling all the bagels, you can bake them plain or add toppings. Some of my favorite toppings include everything bagel seasoning, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds.
Add whatever toppings you choose to small plates or bowls and dip one side of the slightly wet bagels onto the toppings. This is the best method to top the bagels with seeds as the seeds will stick better than if you sprinkle seeds on top.
Alternatively, you can cover both sides of the bagels in seeds for extra seed coverage.
Evenly space the bagels on a clean parchment-lined baking sheet to bake.
Bake the bagels at 450ºF (232ºC) for 20-25 minutes or until the bagels are deep brown. If your oven bakes unevenly, rotate the pans halfway through.
Note: At this hot temperature, toppings can sometimes burn near the end of baking, especially dried garlic and onion toppings.
Be sure to check on the bagels halfway through baking and cover the tops with aluminum foil if you notice any browning.
Let the bagels cool for at least 15 minutes before enjoying them!
How to Store:
Fresh bagels are always best and don’t need toasting the day they’re made! However, these sourdough bagels store well too.
My favorite method of storing bagels is to freeze them. Once completely cool, you can slice them and place them in a freezer-safe bag and freeze for many months. If you want bagels, simply reheat them in a toaster or oven!
At room temperature, the bagels will remain in the refrigerator for a few days or slightly longer. Keep them in brown paper bags or sealed containers and toast them before eating.
How to Serve:
There are many ways to serve bagels, including schmearing with cream cheese (and many different cream cheese flavors), toasting, with butter and jam, with lox, using as breakfast or lunch sandwiches, or just plain. Choose your own adventure!
Sourdough Bagels FAQs:
Can I double this recipe?
You can easily double this sourdough bagel recipe to make 16 bagels. Double all of the ingredients and proof/bake them on two sheet pans..
Why are my sourdough bagels flat?
It’s possible that your bagels overproofed if they flattened once baked. Next time, don’t proof them as long during the final proof.
Can I use sourdough discard to make sourdough bagels?
Use active sourdough starter in this recipe for the best results. Sourdough discard is too acidic and may not leaven the bagels properly.
View more sourdough discard recipes here.
Are these sourdough bagels vegan?
Yes! These sourdough bagels are vegan.
Are these New York-style or Montreal-style bagels?
These bagels lean towards New York-style bagels since I only use barley malt syrup for sweetness, but they fall somewhere in between in terms of size and texture.
Montreal-style bagels usually use honey water during boiling and they are often baked in a wood-fired oven. The result is a denser, sweeter bagel vs. the doughy bread-like New York-style bagels. These bagels combine a bit of both worlds to me!
What can I substitute for barley malt syrup in bagels?
The best substitute for barley malt syrup is molasses, followed by honey. They both have the consistency of barley malt syrup, although neither has the muted sweetness and robust, malty flavor that barley malt syrup has.
Why do my bagels have wrinkles?
It’s normal for some wrinkles to be present on the crust of homemade bagels. However, you can prevent wrinkles by preshaping your bagels into balls before rolling them into ropes.
Additionally, make sure to generously dust the parchment paper with cornmeal as your bagels proof so they do not stick. If they stick to the parchment paper, the bagels can get twisted when transferred to the boiling water.
Sourdough Bagel Dough
- 475 grams Bread Flour
- 25 grams Rye Flour, or whole wheat flour
- 9 grams Sea Salt
- Levain, see above, or 120g of active sourdough starter
- 265 grams Warm Water
- 41 grams Barley Malt Syrup, 2 TBS, or molasses or honey (plus more for boiling)
- Cornmeal, to prevent sticking
- Toppings, such as everything bagel seasoning, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds
- Mix the levain ingredients together in a jar. Cover and set in a warm location (75-80ºF) for about five hours until doubled and bubbly.35 grams Water, 35 grams Sourdough Starter, 35 grams Bread Flour
- When the levain is ready, add the bread and rye flours, salt, and levain into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment (or in a large bowl if mixing by hand). Mix the water and barley malt syrup separately in a small liquid measuring cup and pour it into the bowl.Mix on low speed for a few minutes until the dough comes together and most of the flour hydrates. The dough will be dry and shaggy at first. Rest for at least 10 minutes to hydrate further.Then, mix on medium speed for about 10 minutes or until the dough passes the windowpane test. If mixing by hand, knead the dough on a clean work surface using a rocking back and forth motion.475 grams Bread Flour, 25 grams Rye Flour, 9 grams Sea Salt, Levain, 265 grams Warm Water, 41 grams Barley Malt Syrup
- Cover the bowl and transfer it to a warm location (75-80ºF) to proof in bulk fermentation for 4-5 hours until doubled in size.
- Transfer to the refrigerator for an overnight proof and for up to 48 hours.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and generously dust with cornmeal to prevent sticking.Remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn it out onto a clean work surface. Weigh the dough and divide the total weight by eight. Divide the dough into eight equal-sized pieces.One at a time, pinch the corners of the dough like a dumpling, turn it over, and use the palm of your hand to roll each piece of dough into a ball. Set aside and rest for 10 minutes. This preshaping will help prevent wrinkles in your bagels.Then, use both hands to roll out the dough ball into a tapered 9-inch (23cm) rope. Place one hand palm-side-up on top of the middle of the rope and overlap the two ends of the ropes together. Turn your hand over and use the surface tension of the counter to fuse the rope together. Remove your hand and gently adjust the bagel's shape as needed (see shaping images in the post above).Cornmeal
- Evenly space the eight bagels onto the prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap or damp tea towels, and proof for about four hours or until the bagels double in size and feel full of air when poked.Test if the bagels are fully proofed by placing one in a bowl of room temperature water. If it floats, then it's likely proofed enough. If it sinks, continue proofing longer.
- Preheat the oven to 450ºF (232ºC).Bring a large pot of boiling water to a boil. Add a couple of tablespoons of barley malt syrup and stir it into the boiling water until it's dark brown.Drop two or three bagels into the boiling water and boil on one side for 45 seconds. Flip and boil on the other side for another 45 seconds. Use the spider strainer to remove the bagels and place them on a wire rack to drain some of the water off. Repeat with the remaining bagels.At this point, you can dip the slightly wet bagels onto small plates or bowls filled with your chosen toppings.Toppings
- Place the bagels on a large baking sheet lined with clean parchment paper and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the crusts are dark brown. If you've added toppings, check halfway through to make sure the toppings aren't browning too fast. If so, lay a piece of aluminum foil on top.Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before enjoying.