Don’t let the steps in this homemade bagels recipe frighten you: it’s so easy that even beginner cooks can do it. In fact, my son helps me make them at least twice a month now.
This recipe also skips the high-fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring, which seem to be in every commercially-baked food these days. You’ll still get the same bagel you love and can add any flavorings you like.
How to Make Homemade Bagels
Mix the Dough
Combine flour, sugar, salt, and undissolved yeast in a large bowl (if mixing by hand) or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the mixing paddle.
With the mixer set on slow, drizzle in warm water. Once the water is incorporated, beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Then, gradually add 1/2 cup flour and turn the setting to high.
Continue mixing for a minute then add additional flour as needed to make a soft but only slightly sticky dough. At this point, you can add any flavorings you like. (See below for ideas.)
There are two ways to knead dough. Which method you choose is a matter of personal preference and how much time you want to spend on it.
I like to knead by hand if time permits. To me, it’s one of the most satisfying parts of making homemade bagels or bread. There’s something about the back and forth motion and concentrated effort that’s just so soothing.
- To knead by hand: Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and gently pat it into a circle. Use the palms of your hands to push the top of the dough down and away from you, then fold it back over itself and repeat. Give the dough a quarter turn, then push and fold twice again. Keep going like that, turning the ball every two pushes, for ten minutes.
- Kneading with a stand mixer: To use the stand mixer for this task, switch to the dough hook. Set the rate to low (speed 2) and let it run until the dough begins to clear the sides of the bowl and wrap around the hook. Continue running the machine until the dough is smooth and elastic. This process usually takes around 5 minutes.
How to Know When You’re Done Kneading
An easy way to check if dough is fully kneaded is by doing the “windowpane test.”
- Grab a golf ball-sized amount of dough and pinch it between the thumb and index finger of each hand.
- Pull your hands slowly apart; if the dough stretches thin like a windowpane without breaking, you’re done.
- If it breaks, keep kneading another minute or two and repeat the test.
Be Patient on the First Rise
Next, transfer the dough into an ungreased bowl and cover it lightly with a clean towel. This is the first rise, so you want to keep the mixture warm while the yeast works its magic. Wait for 25 to 30 minutes before proceeding. Unlike other bread doughs, don’t expect the dough to double in size.
I usually put mine in the microwave (without starting it), but in the oven with the light on works, too. Or, if it’s warm enough in your home, you can set it on the counter. Just be sure to keep it away from drafts!
Punching Down the Dough
Once the dough has risen for 25 minutes, punch it down. This step is just what it sounds like: you use your fist and aim for the center. It’s not necessary to be rough, just plunge your hand in there one time to release any large air bubbles.
Once you’ve pushed down, gently scoop the dough out of the bowl and plop it onto a lightly floured work surface.
Shaping Your Homemade Bagels
Gently pat the dough into a 12-inch log. Using a very sharp knife or a length of uncoated dental floss, slice twelve 1-inch sections. Don’t saw the dough, just slice it, so you aren’t compressing it.
From here, there are two ways to shape bagels.
- Form them around your hand. This traditional method starts by rolling each of the sliced pieces into a small log them wrapping them individually around your hand to form a circle. Overlap the ends by roughly 1/2 inch and press them together to form the bagel.
- Poke a hole in a ball. Take a slice of dough and shape it into a ball, then poke your thumb through and gently stretch the result until it looks like a bagel.
Don’t Skip the Second Rise
Once you’ve shaped your bagels, they need to rise again. This allows the gluten strands to strengthen, so the bagel holds its shape through the boiling and baking process.
So, put the shaped bagels onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. (I use these.) Cover the bagels with a clean kitchen towel and let them rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 20 minutes.
Boiling is What Makes Bagels Different
There’s a contentious post floating around on the internet that suggests making bagels without a second rise and without boiling. It looks like a delicious recipe, but it’s a recipe for bagel-shaped bread.
The traditional, centuries-old step of boiling bagels in a water bath is what gives them a firmer, denser texture. So, during the second rise, bring a pot of water to boil and stir in the brown sugar. At the same time, preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C / gas mark 5.
Boil the bagels for 3 minutes, then turn them over and boil an additional three minutes. Depending on the size of your pot, you may be able to do two or three at a time. You don’t want to crowd too many in the boiling water, or they’ll stick together and tear when you try to turn them.
Remove the boiled bagels from the water using a slotted spoon and place them on a baking rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining bagels.
When your last batch has cooled for 5 minutes, transfer all of the bagels to two lined baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between them on all sides.
Bake Partway Before Adding Toppings
Bake the bagels for 10 minutes at 375°F. Meanwhile, combine the egg and water to make an egg wash.
After 10 minutes of baking, brush the tops of the bagels with the egg wash and sprinkle with any toppings you want to use (like poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or minced onions). Return them to the oven to bake an additional 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and cool on a rack.
Since this homemade bagel recipe is preservative-free, it’s best to eat or freeze them within a couple of days. They freeze very well if your family isn’t the kind to gorge themselves on freshly-made bagels. (Mine is.)
If you’re going to freeze bagels, slice them first. Store sliced bagels individually in plastic wrap then tuck them all into a resealable bag before freezing.
To serve, pull a wrapped bagel out of the freezer, pry it open with your fingertips, and pop it into the toaster for a warm, delicious bagel with your favorite toppings.
Flavors or Toppings
To make flavored bagels, stir in your flavorings during step four. Some I’ve used with success are blueberries and strawberries, both chopped fresh ones and thawed from frozen with most but not all of the juice drained out. For savory bagels, stir in garlic powder, onion powder, caraway seed, or even crumbled bacon.
- Stand mixer with a dough hook (optional)
- 2 baking sheets with rack
- Large pot for boiling
- Slotted spoon
- Parchment paper or 2 silicone mats
- 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour divided
- 3 tbsp white sugar
- 1 tbsp table salt
- 1 package active dry yeast If using yeast from a jar check the label for equivalency
- 3 cups very warm water 120-130 F
- 6 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 egg white lightly beaten
- In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, combine 1½ cups flour, white sugar, salt and undissolved yeast.
- While beating slowly, drizzle in warm water. Mix by hand for 4 minutes, or with stand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape bowl as needed.
- Add ½ cup flour and beat rapidly by hand for 3 minutes, or with stand mixer on high for 1 minute, scraping bowl.
- Stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough, usually around 2 cups. If you’re adding flavors, now is the time to mix them in.
- Turn onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic (around 10 minutes), or knead with the stand mixer for 5 minutes.
- Place dough in UNGREASED bowl, cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in warm, draft-free place for 25 minutes. (Note: dough will not double in size!)
- Punch down dough and turn onto a lightly floured board. Gently shape dough into a rounded 12-inch long log and cut it into 12 equal-sized slices.
- Roll each piece into a log and wrap it around your hand to form a circle with the ends overlapping by 1/2 inch, and press the ends together. OR roll each slice into a ball and push your thumb through the center to make a hole, then use your fingers to shape the dough around the hole into something that looks like a bagel.
- Preheat the oven to 375F / 190C / gas mark 5. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
- Put the shaped bagels on a lightly floured baking board and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in warm, draft free place for 20 minutes. (Note: dough will not double in size!)
- While dough rises, bring the water to boil in a pot or large pan and stir in brown sugar. Lower the heat to a simmer, then add 2 or 3 bagels to water at a time. Don't crowd them. Simmer for 3 minutes, flip, and simmer for an additional 3 minutes. Remove bagels from water with a slotted spoon and place them on a rack to cool.
- When all bagels have cooled for 5 minutes, transfer them to cookie sheets, keeping them around 1 inch apart. Bake them for 10 minutes.
- While bagels bake, combine egg white and 1 tbsp. cold water in small bowl.
- Remove bagels from oven and brush with egg white mixture. (If you want to top your bagels with onion flakes, poppy seeds, garlic powder, pretzel salt or other goodies, now's the time.)
- Return the bagels to oven and bake an additional 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and cool on wire racks.