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. You can visit that post to see the basics of forming and boiling the bagels. In this post I’m going to focus on the process for making a bagel with sourdough starter rather than commercial yeast.
Tips for making deliciously chewy Sourdough Bagels:
- 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.
- Because bagels need to have a great chewy texture, use unbleached bread flour for maximum gluten development.
- 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 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.
- The time for the final proof can also vary. The bagels should be at least 50% larger than they started before they’re ready for boiling.
- 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:
- If your starter needs feeding, do that the night before or early in the morning of the day you want to make the dough.
- To test if your sourdough starter is active and ready to use, drop a dollop into a bowl of water. If it floats, it’s ready to go.
- 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, give them 30 minutes at room temperature, then put them in the refrigerator for the night.
- Take the bagels out first thing in the morning. Leave them at room temperature while the oven preheats and the water heats up. If the bagels don’t look like they’re 50% bigger than they started, give them some extra time at room temperature.
- Once the oven is preheated, start boiling the bagels.
Scroll through the step by step photos to see how to make great Sourdough Bagels.
Since you’ve got your starter fed, check out the entire list of My Best Sourdough Recipes. Have fun!
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
- 1 1/2 cups (12 oz, 360 ml) warm water (about 100°F)
- 4.5 cups (22.5 oz, 630g) 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 2 1/4 cups of the remaining flour and mix to combine. The dough should eventually cling to the hook and start to clear the sides of the bowl. If the dough is still a little sticky add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour a tablespoon at a time.
- 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 (total fermentation time is about 3 hours, see note).
- Line a baking pan with parchment paper then sprinkle the paper with 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 and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes then place the pan in the refrigerator overnight.
- In the morning, take the pan out of the refrigerator and unwrap it. The bagels should have risen by at least 50%. If they haven't, leave them at room temperature until they've finished rising.
- 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.
- Once the oven is preheated, you're ready to boil. Lift a bagel off the sheet pan, holding it by the center hole so it stretches a bit. 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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