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Saturday, November 9, 2013

How To Make Plain Bagels

There are many different recipes and methods for baking bagels. The process that I am going to explain is very similar to what is done in professional bagel bakeries. However, it has been modified to fit the confines of a typical home kitchen.

Baking bagels the authentic way requires a bit of skill and practice, but when done right can produce fantastic results in your own home oven!

Plain Bagels

Helpful Tools
  • 8 quart stock pot
  • standard home oven and range
  • large spatula
  • large metal tongs
  • bread machine
  • large handled plastic strainer
  • cooling rack
  • custom burlap covered bagel boards
  • baking/pizza stone (12"W x 12"D) Note: It can be larger but not smaller
  • cookie sheet
The Recipe

1 1/2 cups of warm water (110 to 115 F / 45 C)
1 Tbsp dry bread machine yeast
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp barley malt syrup (available at health food or bakery supply stores)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 1/2-5 cups of bread flour
2 tsp of wheat gluten
2 tsp of kosher salt
1/4 cup corn meal

Note: Makes 12 bagels

Mixing The Dough

I like to use a bread machine to mix and knead the dough. So I put all the ingredients directly into the bread machine pan. In order to dirty as few dishes as possible.

  1. Pour in 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil.
  2. Pour in 1 1/2 cups hot water.
  3. Barley malt syrup is refrigerated and doesn't really pour; so I usually scoop 1 Tbsp out and then place the measuring spoon into the warm/hot water until it dissovles.
  4. Add 1 Tbsp of granulated sugar.
  5. Add 1 Tbsp of bread machine yeast.
  6. Add 1 1/2 of the 4 1/2 total cups of bread flour.
  7. Add 2 tsp. of wheat gluten.
  8. Let this stand for about 5 minutes.
  9. Add remaining 3 cups of flour.
  10. Add 2 tsp. of kosher salt.
  11. Set the bread machine to its dough setting and have it knead the dough for about 20 minutes.
Stuff to do while waiting for the dough...

  1. Center baking stone on middle oven rack.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 F
  3. Fill the stock pot half way with water and bring to a rolling boil.
  4. Evenly cover cookie sheet with 1/4 cup of corn meal (to prevent bagel dough from sticking)
  5. Wet down the burlap bagel boards liberally with cold water. You may need to do this again just before loading the boards with bagels.

Form and Shape Bagels

Remove dough from bread machine and divide and shape into 12 dough-balls.

Push your thumb through the center making a hole and shape the bagel by rotating it around with both hands. Be sure to make the hole larger then normal as the dough will rise during the baking process.

Boil The Bagels

Using the large plastic handled strainer place 6 bagels at once into the boiling water and gently stir.

Try to keep the bagels submerged in boiling water as much as possible. Boil for about 45 seconds.

When the bagels are finished boiling they should feel a bit spongy and offer little resistance when doing a pinch test.  Be careful they are really hot!!

Note: If the bagels are not boiled long enough they will turn into baseballs in the oven. If they are boiled too long then they will go flat and lose there shape.

It is critical that the bagel boards are wetted down liberally with cold water so they don't get too hot to handle!!

Scoop the bagels out all at once with the strainer and place onto burlap boards bottom-side up (usually a little yellow from sitting on the corn meal).

Note: The purpose of the bagel boards is to provide a non-stick surface that will stay relatively cool in the oven while drying the bottom of the bagels. This allows the bagels to be flipped after 2 minutes of baking and helps to preserve the bagels shape. It also ensures the bagel is baked evenly on the top and bottom.

Set the oven timer for two minutes and place the bagel boards into the oven.

Flip The Bagels

After two minutes flip the bagels.

Set oven timer for another 10 minutes.

Remove The Bagels

When bagels turn a shiny golden brown color carefully remove them with large metal tongs or a spatula and oven peel.

Put the hot bagels onto a cooling rack.

Homemade plain bagels

Repeat the baking process for the remaining 6 bagels.

Note: I would reduce the boil time to 25-30 seconds for the second batch to prevent over boiling the bagels. This is due to the yeast being more activated in the remaining unbaked bagels.



  1. Should we but the bagels on the wooden board?
    Because I don't have one
    is there any replacment?

  2. Ebtehal, you can use a spatula or long metal tongs to remove the bagels. The oven peel (wooden board) just makes things a little easier and helps to remove all the bagels at once.

  3. Why is it nescarry to boil the bagels?

  4. There are many reasons: Boiling the bagels is necessary to produce the correct bagel texture (shiny golden brown crust with a chewy interior). It helps preserve the shape and also gives a sticky surface for any desired bagel toppings.

  5. What are "custom burlap covered bagel boards"? And how might one make them?

  6. Good question Erin. In the future I intend on putting together a post that offers more clarity about the bagel boards I use. For now here is a brief explanation.

    I originally had some made out of wood and burlap from a fabric store. This worked ok for a while but eventually the wood gets warped and the fabric store burlap tends to fray quite a bit.

    So I finally broke down and bought a commercial style bagel board designed for a rotating oven from here.

    I purchased 1 bagel board and 4 clips. Then I used a chop saw and cut the bagel board exactly in half and used the two sets of clips to create two 12 and 3/4 inch turning boards. These bagel boards fit quite nicely on my pizza stone. I bought a burlap roll from here too.

  7. Are there any substitutes for barley malt syrup such as honey, molasses, or dark corn syrup? (Also it appears the brown sugar or honey should also be on the ingredients list.)

  8. The recipe I have listed is the latest rendition. It has been gradually modified out of trial and error. The instructions have now been modified to be consistent with the listed recipe.

    In terms of malt substitutions, the barley malt seems to give the bagels a more authentic flavor. However, I have tried substituting honey when I have been out of the barley malt and had satisfactory results. I have not tried the dark corn syrup so I cannot comment on that one. Try it and let me know how it goes.

  9. I live in Denver. Any changes to the recipe you would suggest for high altitude? Thanks

  10. The recipe should be fine for Denver. I currently live in Salt Lake City and have not had any problems with it.

    One tip when mixing the dough is to follow these guidelines. After 5-10 minutes of mixing the dough should start to appear elastic and soft. It should not be sticky or flakey when touching it. If the dough feels too dry then add 2 to 4 Tbsp of water. If it looks too wet and is really sticky then add a 1/4 cup of flour.

  11. I live at 6200ft and have tried making bagels several times. I boil the bagels like the recipe states and then bake them. They always seem to come out feeling like bricks. The flavor is good but they each feel like they weigh 5 pounds. Any tips to make them lighter?

  12. how big should the balls be to form the bagels and how exactly do you form them into a nice round shape?

  13. Linda, I usually make the size of the dough ball somewhere between a golf ball and a racquetball. I usually make them larger if I am going to use the bagels for sandwiches.

    As far as shaping the bagel goes I push my thumb through the center of the dough and then put both thumbs together into the bagel hole and using my fingers and thumbs together to stretch the hole while shaping the bagel. This can be don by rotating the bagel around your thumbs and squeezing the outside into shape.

  14. Anonymous, The bagles should not be turning out heavy like you describe at all. Here are some things I would try.

    1. Make sure you are using good quality white bread flour.

    2. Reduce the boil time for the bagels.

    3. Reduce the amount of gluten you are mixing with the flour. (You can remove this all together to reduce bagel density)

    4. Make sure you are using good bread machine yeast.

    5. Allow the bagels to rest for about a 1/2 - 1 hour before boiling them.

    I hope this helps.

  15. I have a 2 lb. breadmaker. Is it alright to put 4-1/2 to 5 cups of flour in it? The instructions say not to exceed 3 cups. From the pictures, it looks like you have the same type of breadmaker.

  16. Linda, My breadmaker is a 2lb one and I have not had any problems with 4-1/2 to 5 cups of flour. I used to acutally try to double the recipe but that was a little hard for the bread machine.

    I have done this for the last 3 years. My bread machine is a Sunbeam.

  17. I'm confused about the standing time. In the original recipe it calls for the bagels to rest twice (once after kneading and again after forming into bagel shape. You don't call for any rest time but don't they have to rise a little before boiling/baking? Also, you only have them cooking for 12 minutes but the original cooks them for 17-25 (at 425). Mine did not brown much after 12 minutes.

  18. Hi Robin,

    I don't specify standing time because by the time the bagels are formed and ready to be boiled they seem to have raised enough. Proper boiling is what seems to really activate the yeast.

    If you do rest the bagels I think the best time for this would be after you have formed them. Cover with a towel for about 10-15 minutes. Note: this will reduce the boil time.

    In terms of bake time, the original recipe bakes them at 425. I bake mine at 450. This is why I have a shorter bake time. However, I specify 10 minutes because this seems to be the earliest time someone would want to pull the bagels out. Bagel color and texture is subjective. Some people like softer lighter colored bagels while others prefer a denser golden brown bagel. I simply start evaluating when I will pull the bagels out once I get to 10 minutes of post-flip bake time.

    It's also good to note that whole wheat bagels and bagels that have fruit in them seem to take longer to bake, while bagels with nuts or seeds on them bake slightly faster.

  19. wondering what determines the surface of the bagels. Mine doesn't turn out smooth. How do you get that nice and smooth surface? I don't have an oven stone or burlap board. Is that the reason why?

  20. I just wanted to thank you for this site. I made these bagels today and they are delicious!

  21. This may be a stupid question, as I have very little knowledge about bagel-baking, but is the bagel board required? I don't think it would turn out as pretty, but could I cook it on a pizza stone?

  22. Tons-of-Wheat,

    Some people cook the bagels on parchment paper and then flip them with tongs with reasonable success. Cooking the bagels directly on a pizza stone with out first drying the bottoms out on a bagel board would cause the bagels to stick and they wouldn't turn out very well.

  23. Jakin,

    The bagel surface is determined by several factors. Here are a few suggestions.

    1. Make sure you boil the bagels in water with a rolling boil.

    2. The baking stone helps to dry the crust of the bagel out more quickly which also promotes an authentic bagel shine and texture.

    3. Adding a bit of wheat gluten to your flour also helps.

  24. Bagelman, Love the post. I was in the market to try and make bagels and found your page. It is fantastic. I was going to try a recipe from a Cook's Illustrated magazine. They claimed their success was dependent on using high gluten flour (~14%) vice the lower gluten bread flour (~13%). In your recipe, is the addition of 2tsp of Wheat Gluten serving the same purpose?

    Also, they indicated a 13-18 hour retarding time in the fridge helps develop better flavor, I guess from slowing the yeast activity and kicking in some bacterial action. I noticed (and liked) that yours goes directly from making dough to making bagels.

  25. dpwright44,

    I am glad you like the bagel site.

    The addition of wheat gluten helps give the bagel dough a more firm texture. It also helps the bagels to withstand the boiling that must be done prior to cooking them. However, I have made bagels without the additional gluten with reasonable success.

    I know other recipes do call for proofing and this does help slow down the yeast activation. I am not sure if it enhances the flavor or not.

    My recipe is a no proofing time bagel recipe and the dough is designed to be baked within an hour or two for best results. The goal was to make fresh bagels from start to finish in under an hour.

  26. Hello! I live in Norway, where I don't think they even have steamed bagels, and being a native New Jerseyite I definitely miss them! These look super authentic and I will definitely give them a try! Just a quick question: what are some tips for making them without a bread maker? I switch host families one more time this year and its hard to know what type of baking gear a given family will have.

  27. Hi Keith, you can always knead the bagel dough by hand. The process is similar except you will gradually add the flour in as you mix the dough. Once you have added most of the four then just flatten the dough then fold it in half and flatten again. Repeat vigerously for about 30-40 minutes adding more four as needed to get the right dough consistency. Good luck with your next host family.

  28. I printed Emeril's recipe and have made it twice. The surface texture is wrinkly, but they have good flavor. I have Wheat Gluten and have thought about adding that the next time for texture. I think I'll try your recipe here and see how they compare.

  29. How do you get your bagels to have such nice shape? Mine look kind of lumpy and are not as tall or round as yours! I am sure that they will taste great when I bake them in the morning though!