The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Shaping bagels - and bagel boards

LindyD's picture

Shaping bagels - and bagel boards

Last Saturday night I decided to try baking bagels.  I had just received my order of KAF Sir Lancelot flour, so I turned to Hamelman's "Bread" and used his straight dough bagel recipe (which I later discovered is the same recipe used by our good friend, baker Norm).  Happily, my Artisan mixer survived, but due to my own lack of planning, at 11:45 p.m. I was staring at three pounds of very stiff dough, ready to be shaped into bagels.  

I cut the dough into four-ounce chunks, rolled each piece into a 10-inch long log, then shaped it by wrapping it around my hand and sealing the ends. By then it was well after midnight, I was half asleep, and did something really stupid: I moved the bagels to parchment covered baking pans.  No oil spray, cornmeal, or semolina flour on the parchment.  Into the refrigerator they went for the night.  Didn't discover the consequences until the next day - but that's a topic for a thread on "stupid bread tricks."

Miraculously I managed to bake 13 wonderful bagels, thanks to the restorative powers of good Sir Lancelot and lots of boiling water laced with malt syrup.  

I've seen comments here about just rolling the dough into a ball, then poking your finger through the center.  Is this as effective as the technique noted above?   

Have any of you used canvas or linen covered bagel boards?  Do these make any major difference in the end product?

The KAF high-gluten flour produced a wonderfully chewy texture.  It was so impressive, I ordered six more bags.

arhoolie's picture


I've seen comments here about just rolling the dough into a ball, then poking your finger through the center. Is this as effective as the technique noted above?


I've taken a bagel making class at Zingerman's here in Ann Arbor.  We were taught the same shaping method you describe above.  From what we were told, shaping them as you did results in a bagel whose cross-section is more rounded.  This apparently increases the surface tension of the dough allowing it to assume a more rounded profile. 

Shaping bagels by poking a hole in the center of a dough ball and then stretching it out results in less surface tension in the dough and a flatter profile.  My own limited experience with making bagels supports this.



LindyD's picture

Thanks, Brian, for that good explanation.

I have Zing Bakes envy and keep promising myself that one of these days I'll get down there for one of their full day classes.

Did they use any bagel boards?

sephiepoo's picture

Not to naysay at all, but from my own experience, I find that rolling into a ball and poking a hole in the middle works pretty well.  I didn't have a problem with it being flatter at all.  If you're going to go that route, just make sure to stretch the hole in the middle a little wider, as the gluten has a tendency to make the dough try to fill it back in.  I also did a little rolling between my hand and the board to smooth out the edges of the hole.  I'd been using a version of the KA website's recipe for Baby Bagels, but I was also steaming them instead of boiling.

When rolling into a snake and sealing the ends together, I found that I had to be really careful to make sure I sealed them really well otherwise they came apart when I boiled them (I was boiling prior to discovering the steaming trick).  Those first bagels were pretty awful to look at! :)

Yumarama's picture

When making the snake/tube version, I just have a wet pastry brush handy and moisten the ends of the bagel a bit to help them stick together.

As to poke or rope, why not try making a couple of whichever you don't usually do and see if you can really tell there's much of a difference in the end product. Maybe in looks, the rope seems a little better but in how the bagel comes out, surface tension, etc. see if you can spot the difference.

I've done both and honestly, can't really say I found much difference, other than looks. I also just like doing the rope version because I find it just a little more personally interesting and satisfying to do.

I have not used a bagel board, haven't run across any info on why it might be better either. So I stick to bagels on stone and I've been happy so far.

Oh and if your bagels somehow stick to the parchment, cut the paper and just drop the stuck bagel into the boiling water anyway. The parchment will peel off easily after a few seconds.

Or so I'm told, I've never had that problem. Nope. (lol)

jannrn's picture

I have made bagels more times than I can count and have NEVER tried the rope shaping way....I have ALWAYS poked my finger in the middle of the ball and for the most part have had no trouble with their shapes at all. I am a blessed bread baker in that MOST of the time, what I make comes out well. I just love that they are home made!!

ejm's picture

I've shaped bagels using both methods and for me, either way works and ends up with virtually the same thing - I'm afraid I don't recall noticing whether the cross-sections were rounder or not. They are both pretty much as easy as each other to do (although I do favour the poking a hole and stretching the hole by turning the ring around first a couple of fingers then my hands. One thing that is very important is that the hole should be quite large or the bagel tends to close up when being baked.)

I like this explanation about shaping in the recipe for the "Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels" and if a purist says either way works, then that works for me....

There are two schools of thought on this. One method of bagel formation involves shaping the dough into a rough sphere, then poking a hole through the middle with a finger and then pulling at the dough around the hole to make the bagel. This is the hole-centric method. The dough-centric method involves making a long cylindrical "snake" of dough and wrapping it around your hand into a loop and mashing the ends together. Whatever you like to do is fine.

Alas, went offline. I'm not sure when but the "Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels" recipe can be found on the Internet Archive Way Back Machine (Go to and insert "" into the window. Once there, go to one of the 2006 pages.)

-Elizabeth (hardly a bagel expert, but I know what I like :-))


edit: Glad to hear your bagels turned out well, Lindy! But I'm going to pretend that I didn't see anything about a possible problem with placing the shaped bagels on parchment paper that has not been floured. I have always put the shaped bagels directly on parchment and haven't had any difficulties... ignorance is bliss. (Nope I'm not looking at that part; don't make me; I have my eyes shut and my fingers stuck in my ears. Lalalalalalalala...)

baltochef's picture


I worked as a chef in a modern bagel shop for 2 years where the bagels were made by a bagel extruding machine, boiled in a 30-gallon kettle, placed on wet, burlap-covered aluminum bagel boards, toppings applied where applicable, baked 1/2 on the board, and 1/2 on the stones in a 450F oven that had 6 shelves that rotated like a Ferris wheel..

Even though baking bagels was not my primary responsibility, I eventually learned every facet of the business except making the doughs, and extruding the bagels..

Most bakers have to be very organized in order to complete all of the tasks of dough making, proofing, shaping, retarding, and baking during a 8-12 hour shift..Bagel bakers take this organization to a whole other level..Not only do they have to be in pretty damn good physical shape, but the sheer speed with which they have to work for 6-8 hours straight puts most bread bakers to shame..

The woman that baked off our bagels for the majority of the week was simply amazing..She usually basked off from between 10-16 racks of bagels per night out of the walk-in refrigerator..Each rack held 18 boards of bagels at 20 bagels per board for a total of 30 dozen bagels per rack..While she was baking off bagels, another baker was making dough, forming bagels, filling up boards and racks, proofing them slightly at room temperature, and rolling the racks into the walk-in to retard and finish proofing..Bagels were retarded overnight to be baked the following day(s) after being made..

The standard aluminum bagel board measures 25.5" long x 3.75" wide x 1" thick..It is made from U-shaped aluminum channel, and comes with a pair of spring steel clips that fit into the U of the channel to hold the burlap in place on either end of the bagel board..

Most home ovens will not be deep enough from door to back of the oven to accomodate the standard board so as to allow the home baker to use it properly..The only way I could see these boards being used in the average home would be to saw them in half lengthwise to create two 12.75" x 3.75" x 1" boards out of each standard sized bagel board..This would necessitate purchasing 2 extra clips for each board sawn in half..Plus a couple of spare clips in case one got lost, or broken..

A standard 25.5" board is made to work with 6 bagels, so the 12.75" boards would allow 3 bagels to be placed on them..

For baking bagels on burlap-covered boards, the home baker would need as wide of a 1-piece baking stone as their oven would accomodate in order to provide as much room as possible for flipping the bagels off of the boards onto the stone..

Most people are right-handed so the first bagel board is loaded into the oven one board's width to the right of the left-hand side of the oven..The bagels are baked for approximately 3 minutes on the wet burlap-covered boards..Then, with a quick flip of the wrist the entire length of the board is twisted quickly 180 degrees to the left, flipping the bagels over so that they rest with their bottoms facing up..They are left this way to finish baking..The bagels must be flipped off of the boards before the burlap dries out otherwise the bagel will stick to the burlap..

This was the procedure in our shop regardless of whether the bagels had toppings applied to them, or not..

IMO, a 1-piece stone would be best to keep as many of the seeds that fall off the bagels onto the stone so as to make sweeping the seeds off the stone as easy as possible..In addition to a stone, a peel, and the burlap-covered bagel boards, an oven brush designed for bagel ovens would definitely be on my list of tools to purchase..An example of a bagel oven brush is at the link below..

Although this size brush is a bit too large for a home oven, it is the ideal shape (bristle length) for sweeping out seeds..What I might suggest doing is to purchase a single brush, saw off the handle, carefully saw it in half through the center of the bristles, and to coat both of the sawn bristle ends with a heat-resistant epoxy glue to stabilize the bristles where the saw cut was made..

This would give the home baker two brushes approximately 13"-15" long..Plenty long enough to sweep out cornmeal and seeds off of a hot stone..

I hope this information is helpful..


LindyD's picture

I have always put the shaped bagels directly on parchment and haven't had any difficulties... ignorance is bliss. (Nope I'm not looking at that part; don't make me; I have my eyes shut and my fingers stuck in my ears. Lalalalalalalala...)

LOL, Elizabeth.  Had you been in my kitchen the morning of Mother's Day, you would have needed your fingers stuck in your ears to avoid my rather zesty comments as I tried to separate the bagels from the parchment.   You must have magical parchment...

Bruce, thanks for that education on mass bagel baking.    I've got a chop saw, circular saw, heavy duty staple gun, lots of plywood, and can get canvas or linen at the local box store.   I imagine I could make a few bagel boards in a couple of hours, but I'm still uncertain of their purpose.

After I got my bagels unstuck and did some necessary first aid on the shaping, they went into the boiling barley syrup water, then into a ice bath, then were dipped in sesame seeds and placed seed side down (per Hamelman) on parchment.  The bagels and parchment were loaded on the stone and after five minutes or so, I just donned my Ove-Glove and flipped each bagel using my tongs.   The seeds that fell on the oven floor were cleaned up with my mini-shop vac after the oven had cooled.

If the bagel board is simply for flipping purposes, then I'll stick with parchment since I'm baking only six at a time.   Less stuff to store.

ejm's picture

I doubt that it's a difference in parchment paper - more likely a difference in time the shaped bagels are on the paper. I usually make "same day" bagels (using an overnight starter though) so my shaped bagels are only on the parchment paper for a couple of hours at most.

But here's something new to me: you put your parboiled bagels in an ice bath! And that doesn't wash away the barley syrup? Does Hamelman mention why the ice bath is done?

I confess it's been a while since I've made bagels (I've been distracted by multigrain bread and baguettes).

I see from photos of the bagels I've made that the ones shaped by the rope method - on the right - look MUCH more uniform (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

bagels - September 2006bagels shaped by poking hole in center bagels - January 2008
bagels shaped by making a rope and forming into a circle

Paddyscake's picture

Not the best picture. I find the poked bagel comes out better for me. I don't like the look of a seam in a bagel. As with all bread shaping, a little practice and you find the method that works best for you.


LindyD's picture

Those are lovely, Betty.  Mine were not as handsome.  After the fiasco with the parchment, I figured I was lucky if they were round!  But they tasted great and I didn't have any seams.

Will be making another batch tomorrow (during daylight hours) so I'll try both methods.  Is that cheese on the top of the bagel on the bottom right? 

Paddyscake's picture

that's what counts! I just find the finger poke easier and faster. Some people like their bagel looking like a doughnut, with a big hole in the middle. Personally, I like the chubby, fat the bagel on the bottom right, yes, topped with cheddar cheese.

Thanks for the compliment. I have a sneaking suspicion that you will have some very awesome bagels tomorrow!

Please post!


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

There I was, it was 3 AM, and I had to show my night baker how to boil the bagels.  I'd retarded them overnight, and for the first time, they wouldn't come off the parchment paper.  And when I tried to get 'em off, they just deformed.


In a move born of desperation, and enabled by having a very large boiling pot, I just put the next pan of bagels into the boil still on the parchment.  They all released without incident, I pulled the parchment back out of the water, and put it back on my pan to continue to use.

We didn't make that our normal practice, but we did use that when the bagels stuck.




LindyD's picture

Hamelman advises to chill the boiled bagels for three or four minutes to cool them after the hot water bath. Dan DiMuzio calls for the same procedure in his book.  Reinhart and Glezer don't mention anything about chilling.

The ice water bath makes sense, otherwise the dough would continue cooking from the residual heat while you're boiling the rest of the batch. The malt syrup permeates the dough somewhat, so I don't think there's all that much loss in the chilling process.

@Mike - thanks for the tip about tossing the bagels attached to the parchment in boiling water.  I'll keep that in mind tomorrow morning, just in case.  Good to see you back here.

summerbaker's picture

If everyone can stand another comment on this, here is a pic (that I included in another recent post - sorry for the repeat) of bagels that were created via the finger poke method.  BTW there has to be a better name for this since I keep picturing the Pillsbury Dough Man in the commercials, which has nothing to do with bagels!  However, whatever you want to call it, it works for me.  If you like larger holes you just stretch the dough more.  Picture twiddling your thumbs but with your pointy fingers inside the hole.  Rotate quickly!

These have been lye boiled, then baked.

As to the parchment paper stickiness: I have to spray it very lightly with cooking spray but the one time spray lasts all of the way through the proofing, draining after boiling and baking.  I was initially afraid that the wet just boiled dough would end up sticking during baking, but they didn't at all.

Lindy, I'm glad your bagels came out, though I'm not surprised given what a competent and experienced baker you are.


jannrn's picture

Ok....I am still very new to your site, but have been baking for my ignorance is about hang out pretty far, so I hope yall (yes I am Southern) will be patient with me.....I have made countless dozen bagels with the finger poke method and have NEVER heard of boiling them in malt or lye! PLEASE educate me!! What does it do for them?? I did have a patient once from NYC who told me the problem with most bagels is the local water and to always put some baking soda and sugar in the water I boil them in.  As for the method of shaping....I poke the index finger in the ball, and slowly turn it as I stretch it with my first 2 fingers of both hands in the middle. Works like a champ for me! I am not too keep on the roll it out methos as I started making them when my children were small and found the finger poke method to be faster!! Necessity is the mother of invention!! BTW...I am LOVING this site and am SO grateful for all of your help!! I look forward to getting the emial telling me about posts!!! Thank you all again!!!!!


jannrn's picture

Also, PLEASE tell me spelling is optional!! I usually DO spell much better than the above!! Good Lord!!!

LindyD's picture

Thanks, everyone, for all your great comments.  I tried both shaping methods and got the best results with flattening each four-ounce piece of dough, then rolling it into a log, wrapping it around my hand and sealing the edge.  I couldn't get good surface tension using the poke-it-in-the-belly technique, or uniformity in the size of the hole. 

Summer, I've read about using lye for bagels and pretzels, but I'd rather not wear safety glasses and chemical resistant gloves when preparing food.  I admire your dedication to authenticity and your pretty bagels.  I'm guessing the concentration of lye in the boiling water is probably minimal, but since Murphy's Law rules in my kitchen, I'll stick with barley malt syrup. 

Jannrn, bagels are refrigerated overnight.  The dough contains no sugar (at least for traditional bagels) and a tiny amount of yeast - 1.3% for the recipe I'm following.   Popping the bagels into boiling water reactivates the yeast (which get lethargic in the refrigerator) and the barley malt adds some flavor, a touch of sweetness, and a deeper color to the baked bagels.  Boiling also adds to the chewiness of the bagel. I think lye is supposed to result in a deeper colored bagel.  I don't know if there's any aftertaste.

NY water is legendary where some foods are concerned.  Recently the Food Network Show "Food Detectives" did a blind taste test of three pizzas because of the claim that NYC water produces the best pizza.  One pizza came from CA, one from Chicago, and the other from NYC.  Not only did all three pizza chefs correctly identify the NY pizza, they voted it the best of the three.

It's been a while since I've had H&H bagels, so I can't compare mine to the NYC product.  No matter:  the Hamelman recipe is very good.

Blue Moose Baker's picture
Blue Moose Baker


I have been working to perfect my bagel making for some time.  I am currently using a recipe from Pro Baking by Wayne Gisslen.  Today I made myself a set of bagel boards from thick wood planks covered with a tight-weave burlap.  I am curious, however, how to apply toppings to the bagels when I am using the bagel boards.  Which side to I put the toppings on if I am going to be flipping the bagels onto the baking stone??  Also how long should I bake the bagels on the boards before flipping them onto the stone??  Any thoughts, ideas, or recipes would be most appreciated.



LindyD's picture

Hi Skylar,

According to Jeffrey Hamelman, whose formula is the only one I bake, after the bagels have been boiled and chilled in ice water, press the bagels into a tray of the seeds of  your choice, then place on the board, seeded side down.

The bagel boards then go into the oven (you soak the boards first) to your preheated stone.  When the tops begin to dry out (three or four minutes), flip the boards so the bagels are directly on the stone and finish baking.

I'm quite happy with the way my bagels turn out sans boards, so I skip that step in his formula.