Having spent most of my life in and around New York City, I’m pretty picky about bagels. They’ve got to be crunchy on the outside with a nice bite and a chewy finish. Oh — and lots of seeds on top. Now that I no longer live in the Big Apple, finding a good bagel has become a serious challenge. I finally decided a few years ago to start making my own, and am happy to report that it’s really not such a big deal; like anything truly good, it just takes a bit of time and effort. Here’s my version of a sourdough bagel that fits my criteria for the ultimate New York-style bagel. The recipe is based on one from Ciril Hitz’s excellent book Baking Artisan Bread (Quarry, 2008). Ciril’s formula uses commercial yeast, so I adapted it to use sourdough starter, but kept his baker’s percentages and most of his ingredient choices. To achieve a chewy interior, I use a high-gluten bread flour (also known as kyrol or pizza flour), which is easily available online. You can use all bread flour, if you prefer, but the bagels won’t have that special chewy texture that characterizes the quintessential New York bagel. The dough also includes diastatic malt powder, which aids in fermentation (and, consequently flavor) and helps give the bagels a nice golden exterior through caramelization. You should also be aware that bagel dough is a low-hydration dough, so it’s fairly stiff and will give your mixer a certified workout. If you’re worried about burning out your mixer’s motor, you can always knead the dough by hand. One more thing: make sure you’ve got a peppy, active sourdough starter before you begin, and give it a feeding about eight to 10 hours before you use it.
Makes 12 bagels
Sourdough Bagel Dough:
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) bubbly, active 100% hydration sourdough starter
- 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (441 grams) filtered water (72˚F/22˚C)
- 2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (388 grams) bread flour
- 2 ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons (388 grams) high-gluten bread flour*
- 2 ½ teaspoons (16 g) fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (12 g) diastatic malt powder**
*High-gluten bread flour, also known as kyrol or pizza flour, has a protein content of 14%, and is available here
**Note: Diastatic malt powder is available here
- 2 quarts (2 liters) water
- 3/4 cup (240 grams) barley malt syrup or honey
2/3 cup each of toppings such as sesame seeds, poppy seeds and everything bagel topping
Day 1 (morning)
Make the bagel dough:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the active sourdough starter with the water at low speed until well-combined. Switch to the dough hook and add the flours, salt and diastatic malt; knead on low speed for 4 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and knead for another 2 minutes. (Note: Because this is a low-hydration dough, kneading may put a strain on your mixer – misting the dough with a few sprays of water from a water mister will help it mix more easily. That being said, pay attention to how much your mixer is straining – you don’t want to burn the motor out. Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes.)
- Transfer the dough to a large bowl or plastic container that has been lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and cover. Allow to ferment at room temperature for 1½ hours.
- Give the dough a single fold: turn the dough out to a clean work surface, pat it into a rectangle, and stretch and fold it into thirds, like a business letter, as best as possible. Place the dough back into the container, seam side down, and cover. Allow the dough to ferment for another 1½ hours.
Divide the dough and shape the bagels:
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and then spray the paper with non-stick cooking spray.
- Turn the dough out onto a non-floured surface and cover it with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. Divide the dough into 12 (110-gram) portions.
- Take a piece of dough on an unfloured work surface and, using your hands, roll it into a 12-inch long log, with the ends slightly thicker than the center. Pinch the ends together gently to form a ring, letting them overlap by about 1/2 inch, and put your four fingers (not your thumb) through the ring. With the seam side down, lightly roll the part of the ring where the ends meet on the surface a few times to secure the seal and smooth it out.
- Place the bagels on the prepared baking sheets and cover them with a kitchen towel. Let them proof at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until they are slightly puffy. (If they still feel dense when poked, let them stand for another 20 minutes.) Once proofed, cover the bagels well with plastic wrap and refrigerate them for 12 to 24 hours.
Day 2 (morning or afternoon)
Boil the bagels:
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425˚F (or 400˚F for convection oven, which is preferable). Have a slotted spoon or spider at hand to remove the bagels after boiling. Set a large wire cooling rack over a piece of parchment or waxed paper.
- Put the seed toppings each on a separate plate.
- Put the water in a large pot, stir in the barley malt syrup or honey and bring to a boil. Use a large spoon to skim and discard off any impurities that rise to the top. Working with one tray of bagels at a time (leave the other tray in the refrigerator), add 2 bagels to the water and boil them for about 15 seconds.* Flip the bagels over and boil for another 15 seconds. Transfer the bagels to the cooling rack and continue to boil the remaining 4 bagels on the baking sheet the same way.
*Note: The bagels should float after a few seconds when you drop them into the boiling water. If they don’t, it’s likely that they are under-proofed. Give them more time to proof at warm room temperature and try again until they do float.
- While the bagels are still sticky, dip one side in the topping seeds, coating it well, then place the bagel on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining 5 bagels from the tray you are working with (the other tray should still be in the refrigerator). Bake the bagels for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are nicely browned. Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before eating. Repeat the boiling, topping and baking process with the remaining tray of bagels.