Sourdough bagels are chewy, crusty and properly dense. They have an extra deep flavor thanks to the sourdough starter in the recipe. This recipe take more than 12 hours to make, but the vast majority of the time is hands-off.
I’ve said it before, I think a good bagel should have a nicely dense and chewy texture with a toothsome crust. Forget the frozen hockey pucks from the grocery store, and the bagels from chain bakeries that are way too fluffy to be a real bagel.
Homemade bagels are not hard to make and they freeze beautifully. If you set aside a little time over a weekend, you can stock up the freezer for weeks to come.
This Sourdough Bagel recipe is a variation of my popular recipe for New York Style Bagels.
Tips for making deliciously chewy Sourdough Bagels:
- My best tip for this recipe is to make sure your starter is very active and lively. I get the best results when I do two feedings in the days before making this dough. I keep several starters and use the Small Starter for this recipe because it requires two feedings before baking with it.
- Create a sponge with your active starter, then allow it rest for 60 minutes before mixing the dough. This rest gives the gluten a head start in forming a strong network. Make the sponge when your starter has reached it’s peak and is just beginning to recede.
- Because bagels need to have a great chewy texture, use unbleached bread flour for maximum gluten development. If you’re sensing a theme, you’re right. It’s all about gluten development. You need a strong dough to make a good bagel.
- The fermentation time for the dough will vary based on the ambient temperature of the room and the temperature of your dough. The dough will start out fairly dense. It should be quite aerated and supple by the end of the 3-4 hour fermentation. If the dough is very cool and sluggish you can set the bowl over a bowl of warm water to warm it up a bit.
- To get a good bagel shape that will rise properly, you must create a very tight ball of dough before making the ring. Use a cupped hand and surface friction to roll the dough into a ball. You can see how it’s done in the recipe video.
- Make sure to place the shaped bagels on sheet pan which has been sprinkled liberally with corn meal or flour. If the bagels stick to the pan you will loose volume when transferring them to the water. I find cornmeal works best, but flour will work too.
- The bagels should expand a bit during the overnight rise in the refrigerator. But they won’t double in size. I look for signs that the bagels are “fuller” than when they started.
- In the warmer months when my starter and dough are very active, I will take the cold bagels out of the fridge when the water and oven are preheated. I put the cold bagels right into the boiling water. They will sink and then rise to the top. Flip them once they rise.
- In cooler months, when my starter and dough are slower to activate, and the ambient temperature is cooler, I will take the bagels out of the fridge and leave them at room temp while I preheat the oven and boil the water.
- Don’t start boiling the bagels until the oven is preheated. They should go into the oven within minutes of coming out of the water.
- Bagels are baked in a very hot oven for a quick oven spring and good crust development.
- Bagels are best the day they are baked. For longer term storage, slice the bagels about 3/4 the way through and pack them into freezer bags.
- Previously frozen bagels are best if toasted before serving.
A timeline for making sourdough bagels:
- For best results I like to make sure my starter is very well fed and active. I give it two feedings, starting the day before mixing the dough. If you bake regularly with your starter you can probably do just one feeding early in the morning before you mix the dough.
- Mix the dough in the afternoon and you should be ready for shaping the bagels by the early evening.
- In the evening, form the bagels. In cooler months when my starter and dough are less active, I give the shaped bagels 30 minutes at room temperature then put them in the refrigerator for the night. In warmer months when my starter and dough more more active, I put the shaped bagels right into the refrigerator for the night without leaving them out for 30 minutes.
- Take the bagels out in the morning. See the tip section above for specifics on how to adapt the timing based on ambient temperature and dough activity.
- Once the oven is preheated and the bagels are at room temperature, start boiling the bagels.
Scroll through the step by step photos to see how to make great Sourdough Bagels.
I know you hate to throw away that sourdough discard. Check out these recipes that use sourdough discard.
Watch the recipe video to see exactly how to make Sourdough Bagels from start to finish.
If you love this recipe as much as I do, please consider giving it a 5-star review.
- 1 cup (8oz, 224g) active sourdough starter (100% hydration)
- 1 1/2 cups (12 oz, 360 ml) warm water (about 100°F)
- 4.5 cups (22.5 oz, 635g) unbleached bread flour, divided
- 2 tablespoons (1.5 oz, 42g) barley malt syrup (or honey + molasses)
- 1 tablespoon table salt
- 1/4 cup (2 oz, 56g) granulated sugar (for boiling)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda (for boiling)
- 1 egg white, whisked lightly
- Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds or kosher/coarse sea salt for topping (optional). To make "everything" bagels combine a tablespoon of each of the seeds & a teaspoon salt with a pinch each of garlic powder & onion powder.
- Combine the starter, water and 2 cups of the flour in a mixing bowl. Mix to form a thick batter. Cover the bowl and set aside for 30-60 minutes.
- Add the barley malt syrup and salt. Switch to the dough hook. Add the remaining flour and mix to combine. The dough should eventually cling to the hook and start to clear the sides of the bowl.
- Knead 5 minutes on medium speed. If working by hand, stir in as much of the flour as you can, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead in the remaining flour. Knead 5 minutes. Form the dough into a smooth ball.
- Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat the dough. Cover the bowl and set it aside at room temperature. After 30 minutes uncover the bowl, lift one side of the dough and fold it into the middle of the dough. Repeat with the other three sides of the dough then flip the dough over. You're basically turning the dough inside-out to redistribute the yeast. Cover the bowl and after 30 minutes repeat the procedure. Cover the bowl and after 60 minutes repeat the procedure again. Cover the bowl and after 60 minutes the dough should be ready to shape the bagels. By now the dough should be lively, elastic and airy. If the dough is still sluggish give it another hour or two at room temperature.
- Line a baking pan with parchment paper then generously sprinkle the paper with cornmeal (or flour). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface without kneading out the air. Divide the dough into 12 even pieces. Use a cupped hand to roll each piece into a smooth ball.
- To form a bagel, poke your finger all the way through the center of a ball to make a hole. Use two fingers to gently open up the hole. Continue gently stretching to form the bagel or twirl the dough around your fingers to widen the center hole to 1 - 1.5" wide.
- Place the bagel on the prepared sheet pan and continue to form the remaining bagels. The dough will probably spring back a bit so you can go back and re-stretch the holes once you're done forming all the bagels. Cover the pan with plastic wrap. If the dough and the ambient temperature is on the cooler side, leave the shaped bagels at room temperature for 30 minutes then place the pan in the refrigerator overnight. If the dough and ambient temp is warmer and the dough is quite active, place the bagels into the refrigerator without leaving them out for 30 minutes.
- In the morning: If you are working at a cooler time of year and the room is on the cooler side, take the bagels out of the refrigerator and leave them at room temperature while you preheat the oven and boil the water. The bagels should look full and aerated. They won't puff up and double, but should be noticeably lighter than when they were formed. If you are working at a warmer time of year when the ambient temperature is higher, leave the bagels in the refrigerator until the water is boiling and the oven is preheated. The cold bagels can go right into the boiling water.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a large pot combine 1 gallon of water with the sugar and baking soda and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep the water at a rolling simmer. Set a cooling rack over a sheet pan or kitchen towel and place it next to the stove. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats and generously sprinkle with corn meal (or flour).
- Once the oven is preheated, you're ready to boil. Gently lift a bagel off the sheet pan and lower it into the water. Boil the bagels for 30 seconds, flip and boil for 30 seconds on the other side. Depending on the size of your pot, you can boil 3-4 bagels at a time. As you remove the bagels from the water, set them on the cooling rack to drain.
- Place 6 of the boiled bagels on each sheet pan. You could fit them all on one pan but they may stick together as they bake.
- Brush the bagels with egg white. Add the topping(s) of your choice. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
The fermentation time will vary based on the ambient temperature of the room and the temperature of your dough. The dough will start out fairly dense. It should be quite aerated and elastic by the end of the 3 hour fermentation. If the dough is very cool and sluggish you can set the bowl over a bowl of warm water to warm it up a bit.
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