With a punch of subtle, but complex sourness, these sourdough bagels are dreamy and the perfect for a lazy Saturday brunch. Or, make them in advance on the weekend for an easy grab-and-go weekday breakfast.
They have a beautiful tight crumb with a chewy bite and thin crust that's topped with just about everything: caraway, sesame, poppy seeds, and garlic. Or you can skip the topping and serve them plain.
Sourdough gives bagels a complex flavor, allowing just a hint of acidity to develop which balances the bread's natural, starchy sweetness. This process also encourages the breakdown of starches, meaning that sourdough breads (including bagels) are generally easier on both your digestion and blood sugar than those leavened with bakers yeast (1, 2).
But, beyond nutrition and flavor, there's another reason. The earliest bagels were leavened with sourdough starter or wild yeast from beer brewing. And when you bake your own, you tap into that deep tradition of Eastern European bread baking.
Historians suspect that the earliest bagels were made in Poland in the 14th century, and possibly rooted in the monastic German tradition of pretzel making (3). Both types of bread were leavened with a natural yeast starter since commercial yeast wouldn't be available for centuries, and boiled in an alkaline solution.
Today, one of the easiest ways to make your own would be to use sourdough starter and boil your bagels in water alkalized by baking soda.
While bagels are fairly easy to make (all you need to do is mix, rise, shape, boil, and bake), much of their success depends on your ingredients. And with so few ingredients, each one matters.
- Sourdough starter. Make sure your sourdough starter is proofed and bubbly before you make the levain so that its yeast is fully active.
- Bread flour. Bread flour has a high protein content which gives these bagels their characteristic chewy texture. You can substitute lower-protein flours, but your bagels may not have that classic bite.
- Barley malt syrup. Barley malt syrup gives bagels a subtle, but deep bitter-sweet note. You can substitute molasses in a pinch.
We used Unbleached Artisan Bread Flour from Bob's Red Mill to develop this recipe. Its high protein content means it stands up well to bagel-making, giving them the ultra-chewy texture. They also sell sesame and poppy seeds, too, which are perfect for topping your bagels. It's also an employee-owned company, and you can find it at your local grocery store.
Tips for better bagels
While bagel-making seems complex, it's fairly easy. But, if you're not careful, there are a few key places where your baking can go very right (or very wrong).
- Start the night before. Your levain needs 8 to 12 hours in advance before you'll be ready to build your dough.
- Use a proofed starter. One that's at its peak activity so that you have the most active and lively yeast to leaven your dough.
- Your dough won't double. In bread baking, we often wait for the dough double with each rise. This is a dense dough with little water content and it won't double in the same way that high-hydration artisan-style bread will.
- Your dough is ready when it looks puffy. Instead, look for your dough to puff up a bit rather than fully double.
- Use a kitchen scale. A kitchen scale ensures accuracy in your measurements and consistency in your results. It also helps you make sure that every bagel is uniform in size.
- Add your toppings after the water bath, that way they'll stick reliably.
Sourdough Bagel Recipe
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- ¼ cup sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
- 2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
- 2 tablespoons garlic granules
- 1 tablespoon real kosher salt
- Stand Mixer
- Baking Stone
Mix the levain.
- Whisk the starter and 70 grams warm water together in a medium mixing bowl until the starter completely dissolves into the water. Next, stir in 100 grams flour into the liquid ingredients to form a loose, shaggy dough.
- Cover the mixing bowl with a tight-fitting lid or with plastic wrap, and allow it to ferment overnight (8 to 12 hours) at room temperature.
Make the bagel dough.
- In a small bowl, whisk the 200 grams water with salt and barley malt syrup until the syrup fully dissolves into the water.
- Add the levain, 350 grams flour, and the liquid ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a paddle. Mix the ingredients together until just combined, and then remove the paddle and equip the mixer with a dough hook.
- Allow the machine to work the dough at medium speed about 5 minutes, or until smooth and pliable. Remove from the machine and continue kneading by hand about 5 minutes further.
- Form the dough into a ball, and then transfer it to a medium mixing bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with a lid or with plastic wrap, and then let the dough rise for 40 minutes to 1 hour.
Shaping and second rise.
- Divide the dough into even pieces. Press each piece into a flat disk, and then pull its edges toward the center. Turn the dough over so that the seam is on the bottom, and form the dough into round balls. Set them on your working surface, cover them with a tea towel, and let them rest about 20 minutes.
- Uncover the dough, and then press the handle of a wooden spoon into the center of each ball. Work the dough to form a hole about 1 inch in diameter. Cover the dough with a tea towel about 2 to 3 hours, or until puffy.
Heat the oven.
- Place a baking stone in the oven, and heat the oven to 500 F.
- Fill a large pot ⅔ way full with water, and stir in the baking soda. Bring it to a boil over high heat.
- While the water comes to a boil, mix the topping ingredients together in a medium bowl, and set it aside.
- Working with two bagels at a time, carefully drop them into the boiling water using kitchen tongs. Let them boil for 1 minute, and then turn and allow them to boil 1 minute further.
- Using kitchen tongs, invert the bagels into the toppings, and then set them on a cooling rack.
- Transfer the boiled and topped bagels to the preheated baking stone. Bake at 500 F for 8 minutes, and then turn down the heat to 450 F. Continue baking a further 8 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a bakin rack and allow them to cool completely before serving.
Substitute the barley malt syrup. Barley malt syrup gives bagels flavor and a distinct malty sweetness. It's worth picking up a jar if you plan to make this recipe frequently, but you can always swap 1 teaspoon molasses in a pinch.
Try whole grain. Substitute 150 grams whole wheat flour or dark rye flour for 150 grams bread flour in the dough.
Swap the toppings. This recipe uses the classic seed mix that makes everything bagels so delicious: caraway, sesame, and poppy seeds, as well as onion, garlic, and salt. You can use whichever toppings you prefer, keeping in mind that you'll need to dredge the bagels in them just after boiling and while the dough is still wet.
Citations and Resources
- Poutanen K, Flander L, Katina K. Sourdough and cereal fermentation in a nutritional perspective. Food Microbiol. 2009.
- Bo, S., et al. The acute impact of the intake of four types of bread on satiety and blood concentrations of glucose, insulin, free fatty acids, triglyceride and acylated ghrelin. A randomized controlled cross-over trial. Food Research International. 2017.
- Weinzweig, Ari. The Secret History of the Bagel. The Atlantic. 2009.