The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Smooth Looking Bagels

Tacomagic's picture

Smooth Looking Bagels


 With the recent increase in food prices everyone is suffering under, I've been making more and more of my families food in the kitchen, rather than buying it pre-fab (or whatever you call pre-made food).  Among many success at this I've "conquered"*: english muffins, crumpets, granola bars, bread, hot dog/hamburger buns, fruit roll-ups, salsa, tomato sauce, etc...  However, I seem to have one daily commestable that eludes my cooking genius**; the bagel.

I've made many attempts at these wonderful, round, single-serve, vehicles for cream cheese, but have met with limited success.  The first attempt left me with rather dry, salty, uninspired little rounds.  They were servicable, but not nearly what I think of when I picture a bagel.  The second attempt met with more success, producing "bagel sticks" (as I lacked the ambition for proper shaping) that were fluffy, nicely chewy, tasty, yet homunculus looking and with no outer crust (very homogenious softness).  I figured my failures there were due to the accidental omission of salt, and a low baking temperature.

 Undaunted I tried again, this time carefully setting out all the ingredients I would need so that the salt wouldn't fall by the wayside.  I also cooked them at a higher temperature, dropping it after 5 minutes (as I do with bread 500 -> 450).  However, they still failed to produce a nice, shiny, chewy/crunchy crust.  Rather, they looked shriveled and raisen like.  They hadn't lost any size during the baking... they just didn't seem to grow and smooth out any.  They just seemed to "freeze" in the same semi-wrinkled, post-boiling shape that they went into the oven with.

So I'm asking for help to tweak my method so that I have a chance at producing truely impressive "bagel shop" bagels.  Here is my method so far:

-Make the dough and allow to double in size (You're basic mix and proof).  During the ferment, I do one de-gas and fold.
-Seperate dough with a sharp knife and shape.  Shaped bagels are placed between two sheets of wax paper and allowed to rise for 45 minutes to an hour... until puffy.
-Bagels are placed in boiling water and allowed to boil for 2 minutes, turned, and boiled 2 minutes longer.
-They are removed from the water and placed on a baking sheet covered in corn flower.  The bagels are allowed to rest for 15 minutes, then baked.
-Last batch was baked at 500º F for 5 minutes, then lowered to 450ºF for another 15.
-Finally, they are cooled on a wire rack.

I wish I could provide a picture of these bagels, but I'm pretty sure my wife ate the last one yesterday morning (as I said, they looked funky, but tasted pretty good).  If I find a spare one sitting around somewhere... or if I have another partial success, I'll take a snapshot of it and post it here.

I'm planning on giving the sourdough bagel recipe I saw here a try, since the bagels pictured are exactly what I'm trying to accomplish... and I have some starter that's looking at me with big doe-eyes, wanting to be used in something.

Any help is greatly appreciated in this endevour.



*Conquered read as "Met or exceeded market quality."

**Genius read as "Base level of competence".

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I have a fairly long discussion of sourdough bagels at that has worked out for a number of people. That is about half the information in my bagel book.


Since you didn't post your recipe, it's hard to comment on that. However, here are some general suggestions and responses to your note.


Use high gluten flour. This is not a place for mere bread flour. Or 100% whole wheat.

The dough should be quite firm, around 50 to 55% hydration.

Bagel dough should never be puffy. If the dough is puffy, you're making doughnuts, not bagels.

Bagels need to be retarded overnight to develop their flavor. When you don't retard, you REALLY lose a lot with bagels!

Don't boil so long. 1 minute per side is enough.

Don't let them sit so long before baking. A soft puffy dough, a long boil, and a long rest all but gaurantee a puffy wrinkled up bagel.

You should put some malt extract in the boiling water. Not a lot, just a few tablespoons. It gives the bagels their sheen,

The bagels should be baked on tiles, with no more between the tiles and the bagels than some bakers parchment or silpat, and at about 500F for the whole bake. About 15 minutes, if memory serves.

Also, don't be afraid to let the bagels brown. The one on my web page is really a bit underdone, however that made it more accessible to most of my web audience.


As to the provenance of the recipe, it started as a recipe from George Greenstein's wonderful, "Secrets of a Jewish Baker." I converted it to sourdough nad a good recipe just got better. I sold these for over a year out of our bakery and had people stop me on the street to thank me and tell me they hadn't had bagels like that since they lived in New York City... and that bagels that good had become very scarce in New York City.





erina's picture

Hi Mike,

As usual, you contribute so much in this site.

I went to your own site and followed your recipe for sourdough bagels. This is going to be my first attempt to make bagels. Following closely to your recipe, the dough does not feel so stiff in my case, or at least I have expected much stiffer dough But I am sure the bagels are gonna be yummy nonetheless.

Actually, my concern is more on the idea flying around somewhere  that high-protein dough can not be kneaded by hand, otherwise it won't ever get proper gluten development. Do you find that true? I love to knead by hand, and my forthcoming bagels batch will be partial proof, although I would like your opinion.



Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Thanks for the kind words.

As to stiffness, I should re-read the recipe, it's been a while.  However, I normally use a high gluten flour like Sir Lancelot or All-Trumps.  These are around 14% protein, compared to the 12% of Harvest King and other bread flours.  If the dough is too loose. maybe you are using a bread flour or all purpose flour.  Higher gluten really helps here.

In teaching many baking classes, I find that kneading is a lot like sex.  Everyone thinks they are good at it, and no one wants to be told better ways to do it.


However, I find many people knead with their arms and get tired.  A martial arts teacher told my son, "your arms are weak, but your body is strong.  When you hit someone, hit them with your body, just let your arms transfer the force."  The same is true of of kneading dough.  I move my body, steping forward and back.  My arms never get tired.  I have a video of this at


Kneading bagels isn't fun, but it can be done.  You can also do the stretch and fold on bagels.


So... you can do it.  Most recently, I've been using my DLX and it does a very nice job on bagels.




buskers bagels's picture
buskers bagels

I am trying to figure out what exactly would cause a bagel to wrinkle after it is pulled from the oven.  I have made Bagels a long time, and have experimented with several variations of bagel recipes, and use use professional equipment.  However recently, my new bagels are coming out of the oven alright, then getting wrinkles as it cools.  I am wondering if anyone out there has the professional answer to why this would be happening.?????

Tacomagic's picture

Thanks a lot Mike, I think you nailed several of my bigger problems that I'll have to correct for my next batch (Good thing I bought that baking stone last weekend, it'll come in handy methinks).

 So far from what I can see I need to do the following:
-Lower Hydration (I was dancing around 60-65%, which is way too high apparently)
-More Gluten (The best bagels I've made so far I accidently added too much extra gluten to the wheat flour I was using, which might explain the great tasting/looking results... although still wrinkly)
-Retard them instead of counter-top raising
-Skip the resting phase after the boil
-Use the stone I just bought

 I'm to make the possibly bad assumption that if "domestic" yeast is used, I should follow the same basic steps as with the sourdough varients, yes?  Well, with different rising times anyway.  I have an in-law who hates sourdough flavor (ack)... and she's comming over next week.  Wouldn't be a problem except that she loves bagels... and I've completely run out since the last batch.  Thus, I'll have to make a milder batch with active dry yeast for her.

 I also read through your bagel recipe, and indeed the very mistake I made was assuming bagel dough would be exactly like any other dough I've worked with so far.  I aimed at a fluffy/slack dough, and that was probably what made my bagels more like round breadsticks (Granted, they tasted amazing dipped in pizza sauce).  I think that alone accounts for 90% of my problems.

Thanks again!

Confusion is a state of mind... or is it?

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

All of the same contraints apply with yeasted bagels.  High gluten flour (All-Trumps or Sir Lancelot). Firm dough.  Boil with malt.  Retard over night.  Boil.  Bake quickly and hot.

I'm sure the wrinkly things tasted good.  I just think they probably weren't good bagels.

Have fun,



Tacomagic's picture

Ok, so I hit the kitchen and produced... BAGELS!

The batch

Ready for its closeup

 With the exception of the three on the lower left, all the bagels turned out much more... bagelish than any previous batch.  They came out of the oven hard and smooth, softening up to chewy after they cooled (the picture is of cooled bagels).  The taste was perfect, and they toasted beautifully.  The only thing I'd like to try now is reducing the hydration a little more.  The weather around here has been pretty humid lately, so I think my hydration could have been a little lower.  I'm not sure how stiff the dough should have been, but the dough was not significantly firmer than any of the 50% grain breads I've made.  I also think it's time to start adding toppings.

The three in the lower left were unfortunate casualties.  For some reason they stuck to my parchment paper and seperating them left the bagels a little ragged looking.  They were otherwise fine.  I also noticed that I have a much more uniformity of bagel appearance when I do the rope method as compared to the hole-punch.

Thanks Mike, you've made my bagel dreams come true.


Confusion is a state of mind... or is it?

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

You're welcome for the advice, and thanks for the follow up!  Those are very nice looking bagels!  And your next batch will be better!

I'm not sure how much impact local humidity has, but as I commented earlier, if you used bread flour, you were on the lower edge of having enough protein in the flour. I prefer high gluten flours for bagels.

And now, the dirty trick. From time to time I've had bagels stick to the parchment. And I really wanted to get them off. I finally remembered parchment paper has a releasing agent on it that is heat activated. So, I dumped the bagels - still on the parchment - into the boiling water. The parchment separated from the bagels in seconds.


Hope that helps next time,



Tacomagic's picture

You know, I never even thought of dumping the bagels in with the parchment paper still attached.  I'll have to remember that next time they decide to stick.

 Thanks again Mike,

Confusion is a state of mind... or is it?

Marina's picture

Hi Mike -

I'm using Peter Reinhart's bagel recipe, and with while delicious, the skin is not smooth, it's covered with tiny pimple-like bumps.

What am I doing wrong?  I've lived in NYC for years, and am more used to smooth-skinned bagels.  I got my recipe from the link below:

Would appreciate any tips you can provide!

Thank you!  -  Marina




bblackburn's picture

Try using malt in the boiling water instead of baking soda. I once made half of a batch with baking soda and the other with malt; the one that went in the baking soda water had a lot more tiny blisters on the surface. Also, tho longer you retard the dough (in the fridge or whatever),  the more tiny air bubble will develop. I believe most NY bagels are proofed in room temp so they don't develop the blisters you see.