Just so you know: You do not need New York water to make New York-style bagels. It’s a myth. Any tap water will do. Bagels are not a New York invention. They were made by European Jewish immigrants long before they arrived in New York.
And you don’t have to be an experienced baker or to spend a whole day in the kitchen in order to make proper crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside bagels. The process is pretty much the same as making bread, but it requires one extra step: boiling them in water before baking them. This procedure is what gives them their fluffy, chewy texture.
I tried two recipes. Both were very simple but the first recipe called for 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 cup of honey added to the boiling water, which made the bagels far too sweet. This recipe also said to roll the dough into fat sausages and then join the ends to form a ring. But this didn’t work well because the ends detached in the boiling water.
The second recipe, by Kamran Siddiqi at Sophisticated Gourmet, was excellent. As he promised, it is the best bagel recipe I’ve found. The bagels have the same flavor and texture as the ones we used to buy at David’s Bagels when we lived in New York.
A note about health: bagels are not the healthiest food in the world– they’re too doughy, which can clog the digestive system and make you constipated – but they’re also not terribly unhealthy. I strongly believe that anything you make at home, using unprocessed, organic ingredients (this recipe doesn’t work well with gluten-free flours), and eat in moderation, won’t harm you. Especially if you eat your bagel with avocado or nut butter and not only with cream cheese.
In case you’re interested, I found two interesting articles about the history and origin of the bagel, My Jewish Learning and The Guardian. Did you know that in the old days bagels were supposed to be a protection against demons and evil spirits, warding off the evil eye and bringing good luck? I didn’t know. Their round shape – no beginning and no end – symbolize the eternal cycle of life. For these reasons, they were served at circumcisions and when a woman was in labor and also at funerals, along with hard‑boiled eggs.
I’ve made a couple small adjustments to Kamran’s recipe. I added room temperature water, and let them drain on a cooling rack after I boiled them.
Makes: 8 medium-sized bagels
Total Time: 2 hours
Ingredients for the dough
3 ½ cups (500g) spelt or white bread flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 ½ tablespoons honey or cane sugar
1 ¼ cups / 300ml room temperature water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Oil (canola or vegetable oil) for greasing
1 egg white
Mixer or food processor (optional)
A large bowl
One baking sheet covered with baking paper
Small egg brush
Timer (I used my phone)
Optional Toppings: Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, coarse salt, minced fresh onion and/or caraway seeds
- Combine the dough ingredients in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook mix on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic for about 5 minutes. If the dough is too sticky add some flour, if it’s too stiff add a few drops of water (the humidity levels in the air affects the dough, so if it’s humid in your kitchen you might need to adjust your water/flour ratio.)
- If you don’t have a food processor or mixer put the ingredients in a large bowl and mix them with your hands until you form a dough, then transfer it to a floured countertop and knead it for about 10 minutes or until the dough feels stiff and firm.
- Roll the dough into a ball and put it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a plastic wrap or damp dish towel. Put the bowl in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down, and roll it into a loaf shape. Using a knife, divide the dough into 8 portions (you can use a scale to be extra precise – I didn’t) and shape them into balls. See pictures below.
- Lightly oil a surface such as a kitchen counter or baking tray (don’t wash your hands, you will need oily fingers to make the hole). Press your finger into the center of each dough ball to form a ring. Stretch the ring to about ⅓ the diameter of the bagel and place on the oiled surface. Repeat the same step with the remaining dough. Cover the bagels with a plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let them rest for 10 – 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). Line a baking tray with baking paper. Fill a large pot all the way to the middle with water and bring into a boil. Arrange small plates with your toppings.
- Gently put the bagels, three at a time (or as many as you can easily fit) in the boiling water, I did it with my hands but you can use a slotted spatula. The bagels should float immediately. Boil for 1 minute, then flip them with a spatula and boil for 1 more minute. Remove the bagels with a slotted spatula and place them immediately on a cooling rack to drain. While the rest of the bagels are boiling, transfer the ‘drained’ bagels onto the baking tray.
- Brush the bagels with the egg white and sprinkle with your chosen toppings. Bake for 20 mins or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. They will keep for 3-4 days but they taste much better if you freeze them after they cool down. But don’t forget to slice them lengthwise so they can fit in a toaster.