How a Bagel is Born


Everybody, I mean EVERYBODY, loves bagels. How much? Let’s just say that anyone who has ever been introduced to these has a bagel story. Once you know how to make these, nothing else will even come close. They are at once chewy and crunchy, salty and satisfying. You’ll be surprised that you can enjoy these amazing breads in just five easy steps. Complete the first three steps on a Friday or Saturday night and on a lazy, weekend morning you can finish the last three. Get the family or some friends in on the action and what seems like a lengthy process is finished rather quickly. Give it a go; you’ll surprise even yourself. And you’ll LOVE the end result. Make a double batch. They freeze beautifully and their chewy-crunchy gloriousness doesn’t diminish.


Basic Bagels

STEP ONE: Mixing the dough

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add together:
2 ¼ cups tepid water
2 T. granulated sugar
1 T. salt

Sprinkle over wet mixture:
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

Stir with a spoon. Add:
3 T. solid vegetable shortening
¾ cup / 100 grams all-purpose flour

Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and pouring shield. Mix on low until all ingredients are combined. Add by cupfuls:
5 ¼ cups / 750 grams all-purpose flour

Once the dough is combined, mix on medium for 5 minutes. Test the dough. The feel of the dough should be uniform, pliable and alabaster. Between your index and thumb, the dough will be slightly sticky but will pull away from your fingers, leaving no residue behind. Add more flour if necessary to get it to this stage.

The mixed dough ready to rise.

STEP TWO: The rise
Form the dough into a ball and place it back in the work bowl.

2 T butter

Pour butter over the dough. Using a pastry brush, brush the surface of the dough evenly with the butter. Gently lift the dough from the bottom of the work bowl and run the dough over the surface of the bowl to cover with the melted butter. Put the dough back and distribute any excess over the dough surface and sides of the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap for one hour.

Punch dough down and refrigerate for 4 hours (or overnight).

The finished dough after the overnight rise.

If desired, prepare toppings: sesame; poppy seeds; minced, sautéed onions; coarse sea salt; grated pecorino; fennel seeds, black cumin seeds.

STEP THREE: The gluten cloak

Preheat the oven to 260°/500°. (see POINTERS below if baking in a brick oven).

Bring a large, wide stockpot of water to boil.

TIP: Weighing the pieces means even baking and standardized results

Prepare a baking sheet lined with a tea towel that has been rubbed with flour. Dump dough onto lightly-floured worktop. Form the dough into one long roll and cut in half. Working with the remaining half, cut into five equal parts, weighing approximately 140 grams/5 oz. Repeat with other half.

The magic begins: forming the dough ball.


Working efficiently, form each piece into a ball. Hold the dough ball between index finger and thumb while using the middle finger of your other hand to push dough up, using downward pressure from your index finger and thumb to form a tight blemish-free dough ball.
Turn the ball, smooth side down, onto the work surface. Using your hands coax the dough up from the bottom and onto itself. Pinch to close. Keep doing this until you have a perfectly formed ball with a knot at the top. Flip the ball onto your work surface so the unblemished side is facing up.

Finishing the gluten cloak: Coaxing the dough up and onto itself creates the crunchiness

Repeat until you have ten pieces. Place on prepared baking sheet and cover with a tea towel.

Working with each piece, plunge your thumb into the very center of the ball, working your thumb in to form a circle.

Creating the shape

Pierce the dough through and flip your hand over, rotating your fist so the dough works itself centrifugally around your thumb. If you’ve hit a bullseye, the dough will be evenly distributed. More often than not, one side will be fatter than the other or slightly uneven. So, once the hole is large enough, work the ring with your index fingers and thumbs to even it out, until it has a diameter of @ 9 cm/3.5 in. (or no larger than the diameter of the skimmer you’ll be using later to lower the bagels into the boiling water).

Stretching and evening out the ring

Repeat with the remaining pieces. Return finished pieces to floured baking tray, covering with a tea towel.

STEP FOUR: The boil

Line a second baking sheet with a sheet of parchment.

To the boiling water, add:
¼ sugar
1 tsp baking soda

Place one of the dough rings onto a large skimmer (preferably large enough to cradle the ring). Add more rings, being careful not to overcrowd them (4-5 at a time works fine, depending on the width of your stockpot). Like gnocchi, the bagels will fall to the bottom of the pot and rise to the top as they cook. Boil 90 seconds on each side, flipping them over gently with the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the bagels to the sheet (making sure any excess water drips from the skimmer), keeping the smoothest side of the bagel upright. Continue until all the bagels have been boiled.

Creating the chewiness: The bath is where the other magic happens

STEP FIVE: The bake

Mix together:
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon cold water

Brush egg white mixture generously over boiled bagels. Finish with prepared toppings. Using both hands, gently lift prepared bagels onto two baking sheets lined with parchment or silicone baking mats (five per tray).

Place in oven. Fill a small glass with 4 T water and throw on the oven wall. Close oven door immediately. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate pans and bake for an additional 8-10 minutes.


•Using too much flour in STEP THREE will inhibit the dough from forming the gluten cloak. Use as little as possible.
•If preparing in warmer months, keep all dough in the refrigerator as you proceed through STEPS 3-4. It is important that the dough stays cold.
•After boiling in STEP FOUR, the bagels will deflate and turn wrinkly as they cool. This is normal, as they will rise yet again in the oven.Using too much flour in STEP THREE will inhibit the dough from forming the gluten cloak. Use as little as possible.
•Throwing in water at the beginning of baking in STEP FIVE replicates the moist air that is the hallmark of brick oven baking. Without it, the dry heat of a conventional oven draws moisture from the bread itself, inhibiting creation of that hallmark of wood-baked bread—crusty exterior and moist, chewy interior. This is especially true of bagel dough, whose intermediate step of boiling enhances the chewiness of the finished bread by adding additional moisture to the dough. You’ve never truly had a bagel until you’ve eaten one baked in a brick oven.

Check out Bagels Four Ways for tips and ideas on how to serve these (click here).

For guidance and tips on using a brick oven, see our BRICK OVEN GUIDE (click here).