No doubt you have your preferred bagel brand or local bagel shop, but have you tried making your own? Our bagel recipe will walk you through it.
Note: This story was originally published on April 18, 2008 but we gave it a little refresh in honor of National Bagelfest Day on July 26 (not to be confused with National Bagel Day on January 15)—and, well, because bagels are awesome.
The quintessential—and elusive—bagel has a crackly exterior and a chewy interior. Shiny and caramel-colored, it tastes yeasty, the tiniest bit sour, and an even tinier bit sweet. The contrast in texture and the subtle sweet-sour flavor, when combined, define what it is to be a bagel. The ultimate bagel doesn’t need toasting to be delicious.
Many bagels are just the bland, bloated stepchildren of their dense, chewy ancestors. According to Ed Levine, the New York food maven and founder of Serious Eats, bagels once topped out at 3 or 4 ounces, while most sold today weigh as much as 6 or 7 ounces. “Bagels have suffered from bagel elephantiasis over the last 20 years,” says Levine. “It’s big, big, bigger, biggest. You’ve got to get the [2.5- to 3-ounce] minis.”
Even H&H, New York’s famed Upper West Side bagel bakery, has fallen prey to the Starbucking of bagels, adding girth and diluting flavor. Levine lists H&H’s flaws as too big, too sweet, and not chewy enough. “A bagel should be like a pizza crust at best: It should be chew that gives way to tender bread dough.”
2019 update: You can now make bagels in your air fryer, but needless to say, those are NOT even kind of authentic. Still, if you’re looking for an easier way to DIY brunch, that might be a good option. Now, back to the real thing.
What Not to Do: Bagel Bummers
Traditionally, malt gives bagels their sweet hint. But these days, most recipes bolster malt’s subtle flavor or replace the ingredient altogether with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. The resulting saccharine taste pleases modern palates that are accustomed to consuming sugary cereals, pastries, and coffee drinks.
Eden Foods Barley Malt Syrup, $11.29 on Amazon
A must for making authentic bagels.
Soft and fluffy, mild and pale, the rolls with holes in most of the country are bagels in shape only. Last December, I tasted my way through the best the Bay Area has to offer. I found hints of that addictive bagel flavor at Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels in Palo Alto, and strengthened my jaw on the chewy interiors from House of Bagels on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco. I even slummed it at Noah’s, a Bay Area chain with decent coffee but innocuous, puffy bagels.
What ever happened to the authentic bagel? I called Israel Rind, Brooklyn native and owner of Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels, to find out. Mr. Rind explained that nowadays most bagelries—including many in New York—steam their bagels instead of boiling them. Boiling is more labor intensive, but it’s what gives bagels their crackly crust and shine. Eliminate the process, and you remove that bagel texture. “A lot of places will give you a bagel that looks like a bagel but is not made like a bagel,” says Rind, who boils his. “It’s like trying to make wine in three weeks.”
When Ed Levine craves a bagel, he hits Absolute Bagels, also on the Upper West Side, or one of the other establishments on the list he compiled for the New York Times on the most authentic bagels in Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Levine calls the bagels at Absolute “near perfection: a bagel that is crunchy, not too dense or sweet, and just chewy enough.” Absolute owner Samak Thongkrieng explains that “malt is not so sweet like sugar; the taste is more mellow.”
Those of us who can’t drop into a shop like Absolute are left with only memories and dreams of the crackly, chewy bagels we grew up on, or tasted while passing through NYC. Having faced this cheerless fact, I turned to my oven.
The Homemade Bagel Recipe
My goal was to develop a recipe that produced the archetypal bagel flavor and texture, yet was quick and easy. It existed somewhere between the simplest recipe I could find, Nick Malgieri’s from “How to Bake,” and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s 10-page tutorial in “The Bread Bible.”
These are the ingredients you’ll need for making bagel magic: yeast, water, bread flour (which has more gluten and protein, which is a good thing here), malt syrup, kosher salt, sugar, and an egg. Oh, and whatever toppings you desire.
Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning, $7.99 on Amazon
May we suggest this cult-fave blend? (Far cheaper in-store if you live near a TJ's.)
As for the bagel making process, it’s really not that daunting. You’ll dissolve the yeast in water, and the wet ingredients simply get dumped in for an easy mix without having to worry about kneading.
The dough almost immediately comes together, and after a few minutes it starts to look shredded. Keep going for a little longer. Once the dough has come together and is smooth, it’s time to let it rise. After just a few minutes, the dough will have risen (though not doubled in size) and will spring back when poked.
You’ll divide that dough into 12 pieces, then roll each one into a 9-inch rope and connect the ends to form a circle. Next comes boiling: As soon as you add the raw bagels to the simmering water, they’ll sink, but bob to the surface in a matter of seconds. Once boiled, brushed with egg wash, and topped as desired (we chose poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and coarse salt), the bagels are off to the oven to be baked. And then, you feast.
What to Do with Your Bagels
Eat them for breakfast, serve them to your grateful and suitably impressed friends at brunch, use them for egg sandwiches any time of day (including lunch and dinner), or—in the unlikely even you get tired of eating them that way, try them in one of these recipes.
Courtesy of Shelly Westerhausen (cookbook author and blogger of Vegetarian ‘Ventures), this simple skillet creation is the perfect camping breakfast, but just as good on your kitchen stove. Get the Skillet Bagel Eggs recipe.
Perfect for weekend brunch or holiday breakfasts, this make-ahead morning casserole marries classic thruple bagels, salmon, and cream cheese with eggs and whole milk for a hearty, crowd-pleasing dish. Get our Smoked Salmon and Bagel Breakfast Casserole recipe.
Homemade Bagel Chips
This is another easy one: just cut a bagel in half, slice each side into thin rounds, and toss them in a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper (plus any other seasonings you fancy) before toasting them in the oven at around 350 for the best bagel chips ever, perfect for dipping in pretty much anything, or even garnishing soups and salads. Line the pan with parchment for easy cleanup.