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Sourdough Bagels Revisited

bwraith's picture

Sourdough Bagels Revisited

Many thanks to Susanfnp for posting a great sourdough bagel recipe based on Nancy Silverton's bagel recipe. She also provided a number of key tips as I made these. I posted photos of the first time I did these, and now I have some photos of my second attempt, as well as a spreadsheet with more details such as bakers percentages and preferment percentages.

Sourdough Bagel Recipe (revisited version)


  • 335 grams (12 oz) 90% hydration white flour starter
  • 20 grams (0.6 oz) sugar
  • 12 grams (0.4 oz) malt syrup
  • 14 grams (0.6 oz) salt (I made salt bagels, so the salt in the dough is reduced to avoid too much salty flavor. Use 17 grams salt normally)
  • 2.8 grams (0.1 oz) instant yeast
  • 359 grams (12.5 oz) water
  • 186 grams (6.5 oz) first clear flour (I used KA First Clear Flour. Substitute a high ash or whole grain flour - maybe rye, whole wheat, Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo, or just use white flour)
  • 587 grams (20.5 oz) high gluten flour (I used KA Sir Lancelot High Gluten Flour. Substitute bread flour or other high protein white flour.) This time I corrected an error in the previous version and made the hydration lower, probably around 56%, which unexpectedly made the bagel dough stiff enough that it was a bit more difficult to shape the bagels. However, I used Susanfnp's suggestion to spray the surface of each 3 oz piece with a fine mist before shaping. This makes a world of difference.

Mix Dough - Day Before Baking

I had to mix and knead these by hand, since I have no mixer in this house. While reading the Nancy Silverton recipe, the idea seems to be to get a very stiff dough. I mixed all the dry ingredients in one bowl. I mixed the water, levain, and malt syrup in another bowl and then poured the wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Using a dough scraper I worked around the bowl a few times to get the ingredients initially mixed. I then vigorously kneaded the dough, using a traditional squeeze and fold kneading technique. This was not so easy with the stiff dough, but after about 5 minutes, the dough started to become elastic and fairly smooth, even if very stiff. After a few more minutes, the dough seemed fairly similar to what I had with the mixer in my first attempt at this recipe, documented in a previous blog entry. Since the dough is so dry, there is no need for dusting the counter with flour. In fact, you should avoid any extra flour, as the dusting can interfere with the smooth sheen of a proper bagel.


Divide the dough into about 18 3 ounce pieces. Since the dough is so dry, it may develop a dry skin fairly quickly, so proceed smartly to the shaping stage. Don't dilly dally at this point, as the dough pieces will become too puffy quickly if they are allowed to sit at room temperature for very long. However, the pieces need to rest a short time, maybe 5 to 10 minutes, so that the gluten will be relaxed enough to shape the bagels.

I was more experienced and faster at shaping this time. The first batch of nine was placed on a jelly roll sheet, and immediately refrigerated. I discovered the next day that the first batch needed to rest on the counter for about 1/2 hour to ferment enough to come to the surface while boiling. The second batch, which had risen a while longer, was ready for boiling immediately out of the refrigerator the next morning.

If you have a fine mist spray (I have an atomizer meant for olive oil that I use for water), you can make shaping easier and avoid the dry skin, particularly on the pieces you shape last, by spraying a tiny amount of water on the pieces before you shape them.

To form the bagels, roll out an 8 inch rope shape with your palms. If the dough is too stiff or you make a mistake and want to start over, let that piece rest a few more minutes, and move to the next piece. Take the 8 inch rope and hold it between your palm and your thumb. Wrap the rope around your hand and bring the other end together with the end you are holding between your palm and thumb. You now have a "rope bracelet" wrapped around your hand. Rub the seams together on the counter to seal them, then take off the bracelet, which should look a lot like a bagel, hopefully. Stretch it out so you have a large 2.5 inch hole. It looks big, but it will shrink or even disappear as the dough rises during boiling and baking. The hole needs to be big looking compared to a normal bagel.

Place the bagels on parchment dusted with semolina flour on a sheet.

This time I used coarse corn meal, as I had no semolina available. This worked fine and seemed to make no difference to my results.

Cover with saran or foil or place the whole sheet in an extra large food storage bag (XL Ziploc is what I'm thinking here). The idea is to lock in moisture to avoid any dry skin forming yet allow room for some slight expansion as they puff up. Place the sheets in the refrigerator to retard overnight.


Bring 5 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of baking soda in a good sized stock pot to a boil. Place a bagel in the pot and make sure it floats to the top. If so, you can do 4-6 bagels at one time. They should only be in the water for about 20 seconds. Push them under periodically with a wooden spoon, so the tops are submerged for a few seconds. In my case, I never managed to get the bagels out before about 30 seconds were up, but they came out fine. If the test bagel won't float, lift it out with a slotted spoon, and gently place on a rack to dry and allow the bagels you have removed from the refrigerator (I did 6 of them at a time) to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes and try again.

In fact, the batch I had shaped first the night before did sink to the bottom when I tested one. So, I left the first batch out for about 1/2 hour before it was ready. I then put them back in the refrigerator, since the baking and boiling process for the other batch was extending beyond 1/2 hour. I could tell the first batch was beginning to be ready, since I could detect a very slight puffiness in them after 1/2 hour.

The first batch floated immediately out of the refrigerator, probably because my second batch were formed and shaped after a rest of about 20 minutes while I was working on the first nine the previous night. Except for letting the first batch rise on the counter for 1/2 hour, I kept the bagels waiting to be boiled in the refrigerator to avoid any excessive rising. If you let them rise very much, they will puff excessively and become more like a bun than a bagel.

Dip in Seeds

Make plates of seed beds. I made three seed beds. One was 2 parts caraway seed, 1 part anise seed, and a pinch of salt. Another was 2 parts dill seed, 1 part fennel seed, and a pinch of salt. The last was poppy seed and a pinch of salt. I also made salt bagels, but those were done by just sprinkling a little kosher salt on some of them with my fingers.

Right after the bagels are removed from the boiling water with a slotted spoon, place them on a rack to cool for a few seconds. After they have cooled of slightly and dried enough not to ruin the seed bed with too much wetness, pick one up and place it round side down (the tops down), and gently press them into the seed bed. Pick them up and place them right side up on a sheet lined with parchment paper and dusted lightly with semolina flour or coarse corn meal.

This time I made only salt bagels. It wasn't convenient to get seeds, and my kids and I both love the salt bagels anyway. I just sprinkled a very, very light layer of kosher salt on them with my fingers while they were sitting on a rack just after they were boiled. The salt sticks to the wet surface, so you don't need to do anything but just sprinkle the salt on them. Careful, you can definitely put too much salt on them, even if you use a somewhat smaller amount of salt in the dough, as I did in this case.


Preheat the oven to about 400F. No preheat may work, but I'm not sure. It seems easy, from my limited experience, for them to rise too much. The result will be an open bread-like crumb, instead of the very chewy, more dense crumb expected in a bagel. So, I didn't risk a no-preheat strategy in this case.

If you have a stone, you can transfer the parchment paper on a peel to the stone and bake directly on the stone. I baked them for about 20 minutes at 400F. You can also bake them on the sheet.


Allow the bagels to cool.


The bagels were chewy and delicious, as they were last time. However, I think the lower hydration was a definite improvement. I succeeded in getting a stiffer, drier dough this time. They had less tendency to rise excessively, even though I let them sit on the counter a little longer than last time. The resulting crumb was a little more dense and seemed just like the real thing this time. Last time, the slightly higher hydration gave me a slightly more open crumb, which seemed just a hair too soft and open like ordinary bread. This time, the crumb was dense and chewy and just right for a bagel.


Floydm's picture


bwraith's picture


Thanks, I thought the photos came out well this time, and this recipe is a good one -easy, forgiving, and resulting in bagels that are the real thing, as far as I'm concerned. My thanks to Susanfnp, once again, for the original post and all the pointers.


susanfnp's picture

... again! Did Will help you make them?

I like the lobster pot, too.


bwraith's picture


Steamers and lobsters are the proper and more usual occupants of the lobster steaming pot, but it worked to boil the bagels in it. Somehow, it made sense to include it in the photo.

Will was asleep and out cold last night when I finally decided to make the bagel dough and shape them. I also ended up baking his raisin bread. Poor guy, he tried so hard to stay up, and I even tried to wake him up. He assured me he wanted to wake up to bake the raisin bread, but nothing reasonable would rouse him. They sleep as if they've been anesthetized at that age.

Now he seems reluctant to make a post on it, but maybe he will eventually. He did everything but turn the loaf onto a peel, slash, and bake.

Thanks again for that excellent bagel recipe. Using the correct lower hydration, which I had erred on last time, and faster shaping seems to have kept them from rising too much, just as intended. They seem to me to be absolutely the real thing, especially now with the slightly more dense crumb.


zolablue's picture

Bill, I have been trying to not make these.  (wink)  They looked so fabulous when Susan made them (naturally) and also your first attempt.  But now this is killing me!  These are simply gorgeous, gorgeous!  My mouth is totally watering. 

I finally decided I don't want to use that first clear flour for anything else but bagels or rye bread so this will be a great way to use it up.  Let me say again those just look super!

I've been off here for a few days so am trying to catch up.  I loved your son's blog and would love to see more.  That was so cool.  I hope we hear about the raisin bread and was wondering if you've ever had a chance to try the Dan Lepard recipe I had made a couple times which is so yummy.  If you've already posted about it, forgive me, as I said I'm trying to catch up with all the things I've missed the past few days.

bwraith's picture

I don't see how you could be disappointed if you try these bagels. They are just delicious and really surprisingly easy, especially for a dough handling prodigy with hands insured by Lloyds, ZB...

On DL's raisin bread, I'm here in Nantucket and don't have my whole library, which is getting ridiculous. I've ordered so many books over the last couple of years. You'll be very pleased to know that I did bring Glezer's Artisan Baking with me, along with Hamelman's book, Bread, and the BBA (of course).  My apologies to Dan Lepard, if he happens to read this. So, I just made up a raisin bread for Will, but what a shame not to use such a great recipe when I know it exists. I know you're going to tell me the recipe is posted somewhere here, but I was under a lot of pressure to produce something for Will to work on. When he gets it in his mind to do something, you have to respond quickly or be nagged half to death unmercifully for any delay.

Will did post something on the raisin bread. I added photos to it for him and corrected the spelling, hehe.


zolablue's picture

I love the "nagging unmercifully" part as I think I can relate.  Like a child, I am, yep, just ask my hubby.  Hey, it is one of my endearing qualities so he says although he probably isn't referring to any nagging part.  (wink)

Yep, the recipe is posted here or rather a link to not only the recipe but incredible photos in perfect procession.  I'm quite sure you were more than capable of coming up with a great recipe though.  I'll look for the post.  Yum!  My husband is a raisin fiend and your post reminded me I need to bake this bread for him again soon.

Paddyscake's picture

Thanks Bill for posting the revisited version. I thought I was doing something wrong because my last batch of bagels was too bready. I thought maybe I wasn't working fast enough. I will try this new version soon..we have to eat up the last batch first!

bwraith's picture

Hi Paddyscake,

I'm sure Susanfnp or Elagins may have some better tips, since they've clearly been down the path a lot more than I have with the bagels, but here are my tips on making them chewy and dense, as they should be if the real things.

1) Use cold water to make the dough.

2) Cut 3 oz pieces one at a time and shape, so the dough mass stays cooler.

3) Don't dilly dally shaping them.

4) Make the dough very stiff and use high gluten flour, i.e. low hydration around 50-60% is what worked with my mix of KA Sir Lancelot High Gluten Flour and First Clear Flour.

5) In the morning, test a bagel in the boiling water, and if it doesn't rise to the top when you put it in the boiling water, let the batch sit for 15-30 minutes. That was enough for mine to be ready.

6) Boil for literally only about 20 seconds.

7) Although I let them dry for a few seconds after boiling before dipping them in seeds or applying salt, it is literally only about another 10-20 seconds.

8) Get them right in the oven after dipping in seeds or salting them.

Good luck with the next batch.





Buster1948's picture

Thank you for your detailed postings. After reading your postings and seeing your results, I finally got up the nerve to try making bagels.  I'm afraid that mine are pretty sad looking next to yours, but they have a very good taste and texture.  I've recognized certain mistakes, the most serious seems to have been leaving some bagels in the boiling water too long, which seemed to cause some cracking and to make them more fragile and difficult to manage without damaging them. Also, my shaping technique needs some work. In addition to your suggested toppings, I used sesame seeds on a couple and onion flakes on a couple of others; all the seedings went well in accordance with your directions.  Unfortunately, I'm even less adept at posting pictures here than at making bagels, so have given up. Of course, I'll try doing bagels again after I have eaten the ones I just killed.


browndog's picture

Very pretty photos, really tempting bagels, a good visit all-around. It's interesting to follow the tweaking. I'm with Zola here, these must be made, or something similar...I'm foot-dragging on the sourdough part, since I still credit magic with every success I've had..and you. Of course. How big a deal is the first clear, do you think? Zola speaks of it it so ungently, but it seems popular with some of you. Is it worth an effort to find?

Will's got the acting bug to go with the baking bug, does he? Good for him, though it must be kind of sweaty in a lion costume under the lights this time of year, whew. Nothing quite like theater.

bwraith's picture


I'm glad you're having fun with the sourdough projects, and it's my pleasure to have helped along the way. However, I'm not sure how much help you really needed after seeing some of the superb renditions on your blog.

As far as first clear flour, we seem to have a mix of opinions from 0% to 100%, so who knows? Zolablue clearly is not a fan, but she seems to be reserving judgement on using the first clear for bagels. Stan and Brotkunst seem to be in the 100% camp and appear to have some very nice results. I've taken the middle path, as I believe it is a small component of less refined flours, so I use it as a way to bring that element into breads that are mainly white flour using relatively small fractions of first clear flour to the total flour weight, as well as a little rye or WW. In particular, it seems to me that the first clear flour has a different quality of gluten that for me seems a bit on the chewier side when baked. For bagels, that seems like a good thing, so I've used 20% first clear flour in these bagels.

I know that any number of recipes specify using just high gluten flour, so you should be well away from the edge of the cliff doing that. I think you could bring in some elements similar to the first clear flour by adding a little whole wheat and maybe a little rye to the mix, but maybe susanfnp or elagins can comment on alternatives, especially if they've tried one. I've done two batches so far, so all the above is of a speculative nature.

Will does seem to enjoy acting and is on the outgoing side generally. That's an understatement his siblings will find amusing, should they read this. Yes, he does seem quite sweaty after his performances. The baking may be a passing fancy, but I'll take all the attention I can get from them, as they run off on their own agendas most of the time, leaving me to putter around all by my lonesome. Oh, and it was Vermont maple syrup on that French Toast.


weavershouse's picture

After seeing your bagels I finally ordered the clear flour. I have to try these. Great job Bill.                                                                                                weavershouse

bwraith's picture

Hi weavershouse,

Have fun with them. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.


Yippee's picture

Hello, Bill:

Your beautiful bagels have motivated me to give Susan's recipe a try.  My bagels have been shaped and retarded overnight.  I understand the key to dense, chewy bagels is not to over proof them.   However, the surface of my bagels looks dry and shriveled, and they are very tiny, even though I had rolled out the dough to 10" strips for each bagel as the recipe calls for.  

All these factors have made me wonder if I should at least let them proof a little longer until I see some puffiness in them after I take them out of the fridge, before I boil them.  

Was the size of your bagels the same as a store bought?  Mine are about the same size as the Sara Lee bagels or about the size of a Thomas English muffin.    I just need some assurance that I'm doing alright.  Otherwise, I'll retry it from scratch.  Thank you.


bnom's picture

I followed your bagel recipe and they came out with good chew. color and flavor.  Mine however did not puff in the fridge overnight and very little in the 30 minutes or so I let them rest before boiling. So I'd have to concur with Bills comment that allowing a bit of proofing before retarding (or after) is needed. 

Honestly, I'd have to say Bernard Clayton's bagel recipe in his Breads book is simpler and better (he doesn't use weight measurement though).

The way I've shaped bagels in the past is to simply make a roll, stick my thumb through the middle and stretch it out into the shape I want.  I think I may have to try both methods together...the thumb through the middle is certainly easier and led to better shaped bagels.

dorothy62's picture

Valódi mestermunka, nagyon tetszik, én is meg fogom sütni, gratulálok.

Yumarama's picture

"Genuine masterpiece, love it, I'll bake it, congratulations."

(I was curious, gotta love )

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

These came out perfectly.

For the 186 g, I used half whole wheat and half light rye flours.

I did bulk ferment for 1 hour before shaping, however.

Thanks for the recipe.


wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

Just tried a couple of these bagels for breakfast.

I thought they were good, but not a great.

I used 93 g whole wheat + 93 g light rye for the 186 g part.

Here they are (with loaves of rye I made on the same day).