Local food mega-site the Heavy Table recently stirred up controversy by deeming, after conducting a metro-wide tasting, the Bruegger’s bagel to be the best bagel in the Twin Cities. To have a giant national chain beat out all the local options was understandably upsetting to the many people whose culinary ethos is built around eating as locally as possible. I fall into this camp, when it comes to bagels at least, since I almost always choose Common Roots, for reasons entirely related to the cafe’s proximity to my home (this is a lazy decision, not an ethical one). Still, people are passionate about their bagel purveyors, and if you’d like to avoid the debate altogether your best bet is to make your own.

As with so many things bread-related, the first place to turn is Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. His bagel recipe takes two days: one day to mix and shape the dough, an overnight refrigerated fermentation, and the second day to boil and bake the bagels.

The dough consists of a sponge (1 tsp or .11 oz instant yeast, 4 cups or 18 oz bread flour, 20 oz water) that is mixed and left to rest two hours, until bubbly. To the sponge is added another ½ tsp or .055 oz instant yeast, 3 ¾ cups or 17 oz bread flour, 2 ¾ tsp or .7 oz salt and 1 Tbsp or .5 oz barley malt syrup.

With a total of 35 oz of bread flour hydrated by only 20 oz of water (57% hydration) this is a very thick, heavy dough. In the days before I owned a stand mixer I would labor for ten minutes kneading this dough into shape, and it was tough. A stand mixer with a dough hook makes the kneading easier, but be careful: the thickness of this dough will heavily tax the mixer’s motor and on weaker models could even cause failure. Pay attention to how your mixer is holding up throughout the process.

After the dough is kneaded together – whether by hand or by machine – it should be immediately divided into balls of 3.5 oz each. Rest the balls for 20 minutes under a damp towel, and then comes the fun part: shaping. There are two methods: the dough can be rolled into a thick rope and then doubled back on itself to form a ring, or – and this is my preferred method – you can punch a hole in the center of a dough ball and gradually enlarge the hole around your thumb, rotating the bagel. After each bagel has been formed it should be placed on a parchment-lined sheet pan.

Reinhart recommends letting the formed bagels rest at room temperature for ten to twenty minutes until a bagel dropped in a tub of water floats after ten seconds. When I was last making bagels I completely overlooked this step and the bagels came out fine, so you can do with it what you will. In any case, the bagels should end up covered in plastic wrap and in the refrigerator overnight.

If you’re very industrious and/or intent on having fresh bagels for breakfast, the next morning wake up early, set a large, wide pot of water to boil and heat the oven to 500ºF. When the water is boiling, place as many bagels as will fit comfortably – no crowding! – in the water; the bagels can come straight out of the refrigerator. Boil for one to two minutes on the first side, then flip and boil another one to two minutes on the second side (boil longer for chewier bagels). After both sides have been boiled, place the bagels back on the parchment-lined sheet pan – maybe sprinkled with a little cornmeal in the intervening time to prevent sticking – and top as desired. I sprinkled on sesame seeds or dehydrated onion in this case. Continue boiling and topping all the bagels.

After every bagel is boiled and topped, they are ready to be baked: bake 10 minutes total, rotating the pans halfway through. Allow to cool 15 minutes before eating. They are great fresh and also freeze very well; cutting the bagels in half before freezing facilitates easy future toasting.

Two days making bagels might seem like a lot of time, but it’s not actually that much active, working time. And when compared to the alternative – trying to navigate the minefield of the bagel shop preferences of your friends and loved ones – it’s a fairly easy choice to make. After all, after two days spent making them, nobody will have the nerve to tell you your bagels aren’t the best.


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7 comments on “Bagels”

  1. Kim Ode 18 November, 2010 at 9:31 am

    These look delicious. Beauties! And totally worth the two days. I also subscribe to Reinhart’s recipe, although if I remember, I’ll add a spoon of vital wheat gluten to the dough to boost the chewiness factor, and a spoonful of barley malt syrup to the water bath. Just another latyer of flavor. Great post.

  2. Brian 24 November, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I’ve always wondered why many recipes call for adding baking soda to the water!

  3. Tom 24 November, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    I think it’s time to do a side by side tasting: boiled in alkaline water versus boiled in neutral water

  4. Rabbi Avi Olitzky 25 November, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Seven Stars Coffee House ( have the best bagels in town, hands down.

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