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Recipe: Make your own bagels at home

It’s immensely satisfying to realize that a common store-bought item is makeable at home. This guide explains how to make bagels. The result is a traditionally chewy, crusty bagel that’s far fresher and tastier than those puffy dough rings from your average store. This recipe yields a dozen, and you’ll want to reserve an afternoon and the next morning to complete the process, making it an ideal weekend project.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • >> Dough ingredients:
  • 2-1/4 cups lukewarm water (105 to 110 degrees), divided
  • 2 tablespoons barley malt syrup (available in natural food stores and some supermarkets)
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (about 2-1/4 teaspoons)
  • 6-1/2 cups (885 grams) bread flour (or 6 cups bread flour and 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour), plus more for kneading (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons (17 grams) Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1 tablespoon (17 grams) Morton kosher salt (when measured by volume, Morton salt packs more densely than Diamond, making it twice as salty)
  • Neutral oil, to grease baking sheets
  • >> For assembly:
  • 2 ounces EACH sesame seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, dried minced garlic, dried minced onion and/or flaky salt (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup barley malt syrup, plus more as needed

>> NOTE ON FLOUR: For the crustiest, chewiest bagels, use bread flour. Swapping in 1/2 cup of whole-wheat flour will make the bagels slightly less chewy but will also give them a boost of flavor.

MIXING AND KNEADING

>> To make dough: Pour 1/2 cup lukewarm water into a small bowl. Add barley malt syrup and yeast; whisk until both dissolve. Let sit until mixture foams, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine bread flour and salt (and whole-wheat flour, if using). Make a well in the center. Add yeast mixture and remaining lukewarm water, and mix, using a flexible spatula or wooden spoon, until dough is shaggy.

Knead the mixture in the bowl several times, continuously folding it over and onto itself and pressing down firmly to bring it together in a solid mass, then turn it out onto a clean work surface.

Continue kneading until there are no dry spots — adding more flour only if needed to prevent stubborn sticking — until you have a stiff but very smooth dough that is still slightly tacky, 15 to 20 minutes. (This amount of kneading, necessary to develop the gluten for a chewy bagel, is best done by hand; the motor of the average stand mixer would strain against the very stiff dough.)

Gather dough into a ball, dust it lightly with flour, and place it in a large, clean bowl, seam-side down. Cover with a damp towel and let the dough rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

SHAPING AND PROOFING

Lightly punch down dough to knock out some air; turn it out onto a clean work surface. Cut dough into 12 equal pieces (4-1/3 ounces or 125 grams). If you prefer a slightly smaller bagel, make a baker’s dozen (13) and weigh out 4-ounce portions.

Preshape pieces into tight balls. Working one ball at a time, gather all the irregular edges and pinch them together firmly to make a teardrop shape. Place dough seam-side down on work surface and cup your hand down and over top of the dough in a loose grip (like a claw, or like you’re playing the piano). Move your hand in a rapid circular motion, dragging the dough across the surface until it has a high, tight dome. Repeat with all the pieces, then cover them with a damp towel and let rest 5 minutes.

Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment; brush parchment lightly with oil; set aside. Working a piece at a time, roll out a ball on the surface beneath your palms into a 9-inch-long rope. Apply extra pressure at the ends to thin them slightly, then wrap the rope around one hand where your palm and fingers meet, overlapping the ends by an inch or so along the inside of your hand.

>> Tip: Don’t add flour to your work surface. The friction with the surface will help stretch the dough.

Roll dough under your hand back and forth several times to seal the ends, then slip the ring of dough off your hand and stretch it to even out the thickness all the way around until you have a ring that measures about 4 inches across. As you form each ring, place it on a parchment-lined sheet, arranging six to a sheet and spacing evenly.

>> Tip: You can also poke a thumb through the ball of dough to make the hole and then widen and stretch with your hands into a ring, but the wrapping and rolling method tends to give more of a classic bagel look.

When you’ve formed all the bagels, cover each baking sheet with a piece of plastic, followed by a damp towel to create a sealed, moist environment for the bagels to proof slowly. Transfer baking sheets to the refrigerator and chill at least 4 hours and up to 24.

BOILING

Heat oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the center position. Fill a large, wide Dutch oven halfway with water and place on stove (don’t turn on heat yet). Set a wire rack next to the Dutch oven. Spread several tablespoons of each topping on separate large plates in generous, even layers. Set plates next to rack.

Remove one baking sheet from refrigerator. Fill a small bowl with room-temperature water, then carefully peel one ring of dough off the parchment and transfer it to the bowl. It should float, indicating the bagels are ready. Pat the ring dry on a towel and return to baking sheet. Remove other baking sheet from refrigerator.

>> Tip: The dough sank? That’s OK! Let both sheets sit at room temperature, covered, to finish rising. Test again every 10 minutes after the first 30 minutes.

Set Dutch oven over high heat and bring water to a boil. Whisk in baking soda and 1/4 cup barley malt syrup. The water should look like strong black tea; add more syrup by the tablespoon until it does.

Bring everything back to a boil, reduce heat if necessary to maintain a gentle boil, and skim any foam from surface. Uncover one baking sheet and carefully transfer as many bagels as will comfortably fit in one layer to the Dutch oven, leaving some room for them to bob around. Boil 1 minute, turning halfway.

Transfer bagels to wire rack and repeat with remaining bagels on the first sheet. They will swell in the water, then deflate when removed, but will puff up again in the oven. Discard parchment that was underneath the bagels but reserve the baking sheet.

BAKING

>> To add optional toppings: Working with one boiled bagel at a time, place it on one of the plates with the toppings and turn to coat so the topping adheres to the wet surface of the dough on both sides. Place coated bagels on the empty baking sheet, flat-side down, and repeat with the remaining boiled bagels, spacing evenly.

Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until bagels are deeply brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet 180 degrees after 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, repeat the boiling and coating process with the second sheet of bagel rings, adding more toppings to the plates as needed.

Transfer the second sheet to the oven when the first is finished. Let the bagels cool completely on a wire rack before slicing with a serrated knife.

>> Tip: Bagels are best eaten the day they’re baked, but they also freeze well. Place in a resealable plastic freezer bag and freeze up to one month.

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