(originally posted on November 23, 2008 on my photo blog)

Bagels in the Bay Area typically aren't actually bagels. They're bread cooked into a donut shape. My understanding is that this is due to a shortcut taken in the bagel-making process, whereby rather than boiling the dough before baking, the bagels are baked in an oven into which steam is injected.

This is, apparently, a really bad idea, because it results in bagels that aren't chewy. If you make your own bagels, you can avoid this travesty. Here's the recipe I use, which is based on Peter Reinhart's recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

For planning purposes, note that this is the sort of recipe you start in the evening (at, say, 6 p.m.), and finish in the morning. And you really need a stand mixer. And space in your fridge for two baking sheets. Note that the recipe calls for malt syrup (but apparently you can substitute honey, though I haven't tried that), and bread flour (though my twist is to use all purpose flour and vital gluten flour, both of which I measure by weight).

Also, I understand you can use entirely all-purpose flour if necessary.  This will result in a lower gluten content, which may make the bagels either denser or less chewy (or both), though I haven't tried it myself, so maybe it would be just fine.


  • 1 t. instant yeast
  • flour:
    • 4 c bread flour
    • OR 540 g. bread flour
    • OR 525 g. all purpose flour + 15 g. vital gluten flour
  • 2½ c. lukewarm (110° F) water
  • ½ t. instant yeast
  • flour:
    • 3¾ c. bread flour
    • OR 505 g. bread flour
    • OR 495 g. all purpose flour + 10 g vital gluten flour
  • 1 T. salt
  • 1 T. barley malt syrup (honey apparently is an acceptable substitute)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 T. baking soda
  • Semolina flour (cornmeal is ok)
  • Toppings (e.g., sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt; I recently tried celery seeds, which I really liked)


  1. Combine the yeast and flour in your stand mixer's bowl.
  2. Add the water and mix together with a spoon (i.e. you don't need to use the stand mixer). You'll have a sticky batter.
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until it nearly doubles in size and is bubbly. This will probably take two hours or more.
  1. Using the dough hook attachment with your stand mixer on low, add the yeast, about ¾ of the flour, the salt, and the malt syrup. Mix until the dough forms a ball (this won't take long).
  2. Slowly add the remaining flour. The dough will be quite stiff, so you may need to up the power on the mixer a bit as things go along. You may also need to pause the mixer periodically to push the dough down if it rides up over the top of the dough hook.
  3. Let the mixer knead the dough for about 6 minutes. For my stand mixer, at least, this is quite a workout. You're aiming for a smooth, satiny dough. It shouldn't be tacky. Add a splash of water or a bit of flour as needed.
  4. Clean your counter, and wipe it with a damp cloth (alternative: work on a dry silicone baking mat). Place the dough on the counter, and divide into 18 (normal sized bagels) or 24 (smaller than average bagels) equal pieces (I use a scale for this to keep the pieces equal in weight; usually I end up with about 70 g. per bagel if I'm making 24).
  5. Ball up the pieces, individually, and let them rest under a damp towel for 20 minutes. Don't skimp on the time here.
  6. While the dough rests, prepare two baking sheets by lining them each with parchment paper, and misting the parchment paper with cooking spray (e.g. PAM).  (Alternative: use a slicone baking mat, sprayed with cooking spray.)
  7. Once the dough has rested, shape each piece by pushing one thumb through the center, working your other thumb in from the other side, and enlarging the hole by rotating around your two thumbs until the hole is 1 to 2 inches wide. Keep the bagel evenly shaped while you do this.
  8. Arrange the bagels on the baking sheets, mist the tops with cooking spray, and loosely cover with plastic wrap. The bagels should have an inch or two between them, as they will get larger when you boil them. Let rest for another 20 minutes. Again, don't cheat on the time here. If you don't let them rest long enough, your bagels will be dense and won't float when you boil them.
  9. After this second rest, store the bagels overnight in the fridge. (Apparently two days, or even three or four, is ok, but unless you have a lot more space in your fridge than I do, you'll stick with overnight).
  1. Set your oven racks toward the middle and preheat to 500° F. I use GE "True Temp" convection bake, which means my oven is not really at 500° F, but some temperature that GE has decided is the convection-bake equivalent of 500° F when using conventional bake.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, with the baking soda. You want to use as wide a pot as you have.
  3. Remove the bagels from the fridge and place as many as you can comfortably fit in your pot (for me, this is 6 bagels; your mileage may vary). I stick them in upside down (so that they'll be right side up after I flip them). They should float immediately. If they don't, I'm guessing you cheated on one or both of the 20 minute resting times the night before.
  4. After 2 minutes, flip the bagels with a slotted spoon. Meanwhile, dust the empty part of the baking pan (i.e the space where the bagels that are now boiling used to be) with semolina flour. After the bagels have boiled for another 2 minutes, return them to the baking pan.
  5. Top the just-boiled bagels with your choice of toppings, and then continue on with your next batch of bagel boiling, until all the bagels have been boiled and topped. You either can sprinkle bagels with your toppings, or you can have the toppings in a small shallow bowl and press the bagels into them.  The latter method seems to get the toppings to stick better, but it's harder to control the amounts this way.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes. If you are not using convection baking, midway through rotate the pans 180 degrees and switch shelves. Your bagels should be a light golden brown at the end.
  7. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes.
I've taste tested this recipe on a variety of New Yorkers, and they all seem to agree that these bagels are far more authentic than the typical so-called bagels you find in the Bay Area.