REAL Bagels

If you were stuck on a stranded island with only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? Without hesitation, mine would be some sort of warm, chewy, delicious bread. At, or very near, the top of my list of favorite yeasty-products is a REAL bagel. Since moving to Seattle, I’ve learned you need to specify. Apparently it’s impossible to get a boiled bagel out here. The Emerald City’s lame excuse for a bagel is really just an “o” shaped roll. And a bad one at that. *sad face*

My love of bagels runs pretty deep. Growing up we ate Lenders frozen bagels every morning while we sat in the living room and waited for the bus. (It’s worth noting that we had a pretty sweet bus-stop setup. Our road was long, flat, and flanked by cornfields, so you could see the bus coming from about a half mile away. We Winner kids certainly weren’t suckers standing out in the rain at the end of the driveway.) Sure, Lenders aren’t REAL bagels, but they are a legit gateway bread product. Especially toasted, you can crush a little mote with the tip of a butter knife around the donut hole for your butter to melt into. Good stuff.

When I was in high school, I spent practically every weekend at a horse show. The food trucks there ranged from moderately greasy to “please don’t tell your doctor you eat here weekly” greasy. BUT, they were typically manned by the owner’s cute teenage son, so sales were reliably robust. Food truck top choice for any time of the day: egg and cheese bagel. I’d eat half and give the other half to my horse, Mike. (Yes, my horse’s name really was Mike.) He did love a good, greasy egg and cheese bagel, but he also loved Otter pops, Snapple – which he drank directly from the bottle, and Girl Scout baked goods – which he would shamelessly steal from Bake Sale tables if you weren’t paying attention. True story.

Onto college, and the bagel obsession kicked into serious overdrive. In addition to my regular post-morning crew practice egg and cheese bagel from the dining hall, I also discovered what could only be described as one of the holiest places for Loyola students – Sam’s Bagels. A short hung-over stumble from the dorms, Sam’s made bagels in flavors that Lenders and the greasy food truck had never dreamed of! Cranberry orange, blueberry, chocolate chip (!), and the greatest invention in the history of bageldom: the everything egg bagel. It was a good thing I worked out a lot, because I ate a lot of bagels.

When I graduated, I thought long and hard about living in Baltimore long-term because of my four-year affair with Sam and his bagels. But alas, I landed in Manhattan. In retrospect, that is a pretty funny statement because if you know anything about bagels, New York is Mecca. I took full advantage. Pretty much every morning on my walk to work I’d stop at the deli and get my bagel and coffee. I didn’t even drink coffee! But it was a ruse to hide my unnatural obsession with my morning bagel. Chewy on the outside with little blisters of crunchy bagel crust on the bottom, warm and doughy on the inside. A New York bagel truly is a culinary work of art. Unfortunately, this 18 month long relationship was many, many years before the Atkins diet or the low-carb craze. My ass bore the majority of the carb-brunt.

Fast forward many, many years, and here I am, a bagel connoisseur, stranded in a soggy city of bagel-imposters. For a long time, I thought that maybe the secret ingredient in a decent bagel was the dirty east-coast water. Now I know laziness and downright ignorance is at fault. That is the only plausible answer because I can tell you, straight-faced, that REAL bagels are absurdly easy to make.

My only regret in my lifelong addiction to bagels is that it took me so long to bake them at home. I thought you needed some big cast-iron cauldron to boil them in. Wrong. You need a stockpot. Or a dutch oven. Or just a big saucepan. Hell, you could probably make them in a stainless steel bucket if it would fit on your stovetop. Point being, there are no secrets or special apparati necessary. I’m sure you’re thinking, well there must be tons of trickiness involved with yeast and kneading and rising and proofing though, right? No. There’s not. You will do those things, but seriously, a (patient) monkey could follow these directions.

I made these bagels for a girls’ weekend out in Whidbey Island, not really expecting them to turn out. But it was my birthday, and all I wanted was a REAL bagel. It was a desperate attempt that somehow turned into a miraculously epiphany. My only mistake? I just made one batch – 8 medium-sized bagels. Um, they were gone in about 5 minutes. Pulled out of the oven and devoured AFTER we were all full from a huge breakfast.

Please, for the love of REAL bagels, make this recipe. Don’t be scared of the dough. Embrace your inner bread maker and take these bagels by the holes! Day-of hands-on time is literally seconds, so you could do all the hard work (if you can even call it that) the day before a fancy brunch. Pop them in the oven when your guests arrive, then 15 minutes later impress the pants off of them. Enjoy!

(Author’s note: Apologies for the corny, overzealous cry for you to try this recipe. Trust me, they are worth it – I’m drunk from the yeasty goodness. And I know that apparati is not a real word, but apparatuses just can’t possibly be right. – aw)

I’d highly recommend reading the blog post by The Wednesday Chef (where I found this amazing gem of a recipe). She has excellent pictures of the process with very clear and helpful instructions.

REAL Bagels

Click here to print this recipe
Time to prepare: 18 hours, Hands-on Time: 20 minutes
Makes 6 to 8 bagels

3 1/2 cups (1 pound) unbleached flour (bread or all-purpose)
3 teaspoons salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey or barley malt syrup, if you’ve got it
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon baking soda
Poppy or sesame seeds

By hand or in a food processor, mix the flour, 2 teaspoons salt, the yeast, honey and the water until the ingredients form a stiff, coarse ball of dough (about 3 minutes). If necessary, add a little more water. Let the dough rest 5 minutes.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough feels stiff yet supple, with a satiny, slightly tacky feel, 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough seems too soft or too tacky, sprinkle over just enough flour as needed.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to several hours. Keep in mind that the bagels must be shaped before proofing overnight.

When ready to shape the bagels, line a baking sheet with parchment paper lightly sprayed with cooking spray, or a silicone baking mat.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 6 to 8 equal pieces. Form each piece into a loose, round ball by rolling it on a clean, dry work surface with a cupped hand; do not use any flour on the surface. If the dough slides around and won’t ball up, wipe the work surface with a damp paper towel and try again – the slight amount of moisture will provide enough “bite” for the dough to form a ball. When each piece has been formed into a ball, you are ready to shape the bagels.

Using your hands and a fair amount of pressure, roll each dough ball into a “rope” 8 to 10 inches long. (Moisten the work surface with a damp paper towel, if necessary, to get the necessary bite or friction). Slightly taper the rope at the ends so that they are thinner than the middle. Place one end of the dough between your thumb and forefinger and wrap it around your hand until the ends overlap in your palm; they should overlap by about 2 inches. Squeeze the overlapping ends together and then press the joined ends into the work surface, rolling them back and forth a few times until they are completely sealed.

Remove the dough from your hand and squeeze as necessary to even out the thickness so that there is a 2-inch hole in the center. Place the bagel on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the other pieces. Lightly spray the bagels with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Remove the bagels from the refrigerator 90 minutes before you plan to bake them. Fill a large stockpot with 3 quarts of water (be sure the water is at least 4 inches deep), cover with a lid, and slowly bring the water to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on.

Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven to 500 degrees.

Test the bagels by placing one in a bowl of cold water. If it sinks and doesn’t float to the surface, return it to the sheet, wait 15 minutes and then test it again. When one bagel passes the float test, they are ready for the pot.

Gently lift each bagel and drop it into the simmering water. Add as many as will comfortably fit in the pot. After 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to flip each bagel over. Poach for an extra 30 seconds. Using the slotted spoon, remove each bagel and return it to the lined baking sheet. Continue until all the bagels have been poached. Generously sprinkle each bagel with a topping.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and reduce the heat to 450 degrees. Bake for 8 minutes and then rotate the sheet (if using two sheets, also switch their positions). Check the underside of the bagels. If they are getting too dark, place another sheet under the baking sheet. Bake until the bagels are golden brown, an additional 8 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the bagels to a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.


  • I didn’t have any instant yeast on hand, so instead used the same amount of Fast Acting, which worked just as well. Simply follow the instructions on the package – mix water and sugar, dissolve yeast, let stand a few minutes. Then add the yeast mixture as you would in Step 1.

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1 comment

  1. Dave Roeser March 10, 2014 at 2:31 am Reply

    Grew up on frozen Lender’s Onion Bagels in rural Minnesota.

    I am marooned in Everett now and working for Boeing. People say that frozen bagels can’t be any good, but damn I miss those frozen Lender’s Onion Bagels. Just the right time & temp in the toaster takes the “frozen” right out of them — they come out really good.

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