antiorario

Easy as bagels

Bagels on an oven rack

I’d like to say that making bagels is easy as pie, but I can’t. While making traditional American pies (and even un-American ones) can be quite challenging, making bagels is way easier.

The questions that I get most often from people who know bagels is, “Do you boil them too?,” followed by a certain surprise at the fact that yes, I do boil them. What do they think I am, someone who can’t follow a recipe?

And a recipe I did follow (in Italian), but ended up perfecting it, especially when it comes to procedure. So, here we go.

Preparation time

The whole procedure should take about 3 hours, including 130 minutes of rising, during which you can go about your business.

Ingredients

  • 550 g all-purpose flour1
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 300 ml water
  • 10 to 15 g baker’s yeast2
  • 1 tablespoon honey3
  • a large pot filled with about 3 l of water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • toppings of choice. I normally use:
    • sesame seeds
    • poppy seeds
    • a mix of dry chives and crushed chili peppers.

Procedure

Making the dough

Mix the salt into the flour. I find it easier to use a large glass bowl for the dough. It might help, but it’s not necessary, to line the inside of the bowl with a small amount of olive oil.

Warm up the water (about 20 seconds in the microwave will make it just warmer than room temperature). Add the yeast, then let it sit for a few minutes before stirring. Add the honey, then stir the mixture until everything is dissolved into the water.

Add the water to the flour progressively until it’s completely absorbed. Here starts the dirty job of working the mixture into a uniform ball of dough. Keep an extra amount of flour handy, in case the dough is too sticky. Keep working the dough until it stops sticking to the hands, and becomes a smooth, elastic mass.

Considering all ingredients, the dough should weigh around 900 grams, or just shy of that.

Leave the dough in the bowl, cover it with a clean cloth, then let it rest for about 90 minutes at room temperature or higher. It seems the perfect temperature should be around 30°C. This is where using a large bowl comes in handy, because if the temperature is right, the dough will rise to about double its original volume.

Shaping the bagels

After the dough has risen, work it again for a few minutes. It doesn’t matter if it loses volume (it’s part of the process). Cut it up into ten pieces of equal weight.4

Work each piece into a ball, then make a hole in it using your fingers. You can twirl the resulting ring of dough around your finger (like an awkward hula hoop) to make the hole large enough not to close up during the second rising.

Place the rings on a baking sheet (flour it first, or use a sheet of baking paper to prevent the dough from sticking), then cover them with a cloth and let them rise for another 40 minutes.

Preparing the next move

At the end of the second rising, put the pot of water on the stove, and add the spoon of sugar to the water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the flame. During the whole procedure, the water should keep boiling in small bubbles.

Preheat the oven to 220°C if not using convection.5

Beat the whole egg and the milk together in a small bowl.

Boiling the bagels

This part of the procedure is truly what turns those rings of dough into bagels. The longer they boil, the chewier they’ll become. I’ve read weird techniques for placing, turning, and removing the bagels from the boiling water, but in the end a single slotted spoon will suffice. I use a pot large enough to accommodate three bagels at a time, but of course, the more the merrier (and the faster the procedure).

Lay a clean cloth on the counter, on which you’ll place the boiled bagels. Before placing the bagels in the water, reshape them by hula-hooping the holes again. Don’t worry if the bagels seem too small, or if the holes seem too large: boiling and baking will fix that.

Using the slotted spoon, place as many bagels as you can fit into the pot. It’s okay if they touch occasionally, but they shouldn’t overlap—each should float by itself. Boil on one side for one minute, then quickly turn them over (a quick move with the slotted spoon will do it), then boil again for another minute. Quickly drain each bagel, then lay it on the cloth.

Let the bagels cool for a few minutes, then brush the top of each with the egg-and-milk mixture (to make things faster, you can do this while more bagels are boiling). Sprinkle the toppings of your choice over the bagels.

Baking the bagels

Instead of using a baking sheet, I prefer placing the bagels on a rack, with the help of baking paper. They come out slightly striped, but at least I don’t risk overheating the bottoms.

Before moving the bagels from the cloth to the baking paper, make sure they’ve cooled enough (but not enough to be cold), otherwise some of the dough will stick to the cloth. A spatula may come in handy.

Bake for about 20 minutes, then take the rack out and let the bagels cool for a bit. Although it’s tempting to dive into the cream cheese right away, a few extra minutes will save your fingers and make the baking perfect.

Toasting cold bagels before consuming isn’t just standard procedure, but will also restore their softness even after a couple of days.


  1. What’s known in Italy as type 0 flour, ideal for bread, pizza and such. (See more correspondences of flour types.) It’s my intention to try making bagels with flour that’s richer in gluten, if I can get my hands on some. ↩︎

  2. The right amount depends on the type of flour, the temperature, and so on. The recipe I followed mentioned “one teaspoon,” so I went by approximation. A slightly larger amount of yeast won’t hurt. ↩︎

  3. I use organic orange-blossom honey, my favorite kind. ↩︎

  4. The original recipe says eight pieces, but if the dough rises well there’s definitely enough for ten. This also helps if you feel that the average New York bagel is a bit oversized. ↩︎

  5. Another difference from the original recipe, which calls for baking for 20 minutes at 180°C. When I did that, I had to bake for 20 more minutes, because the bagels were far from golden. I assume the recipe didn’t mention that the suggested temperature was for a convection oven. I’ve mostly stopped using convection because it tends to burn stuff, so on my second try I simply raised the temperature to 220°C. ↩︎