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Classic Water Bagels

Scott Phillips

Yield: Yields 12 large or 24 mini bagels.

A tight, perfect crumb. Honor it with a smear of cream cheese, a layer of lox, and a thick slice of a juicy, ripe tomato. Be sure to use instant or quick-rise yeast (available in most supermarkets)—not active dry.


For the sponge:

  • 18 oz. (4 cups) unbleached high-gluten flour (or bread flour)
  • 1 tsp. instant or quick-rise yeast
  • 2-1/2 cups lukewarm water (about 70°F)

For the bagel dough:

  • 1/2 tsp. instant or quick-rise yeast
  • About 18 oz. (4 cups) unbleached high-gluten flour (or bread flour); more as needed
  • 3/4 oz. salt (1 to 1-1/2 Tbs., depending on the coarseness)
  • 2 tsp. malt powder or 1 Tbs. malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar

For shaping, boiling, and baking:

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 1 Tbs. baking soda
  • Cornmeal or semolina flour
  • Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, finely chopped onions tossed in a little oil, or rehydrated dried minced garlic for topping the bagels

Nutritional Information

  • Nutritional Sample Size per mini bagel
  • Calories (kcal) : 100
  • Fat Calories (kcal): 10
  • Fat (g): 1
  • Saturated Fat (g): 0
  • Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 0.5
  • Monounsaturated Fat (g): 0
  • Cholesterol (mg): 0
  • Sodium (mg): 390
  • Carbohydrates (g): 18
  • Fiber (g): 1
  • Protein (g): 3


To make the sponge:

  • In a 4-qt. bowl, mix the flour and the 1 tsp. yeast. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky dough (it should be thick but batter-like). Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until the mixture is very foamy and bubbly, 1 to 2 hours. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the counter.

To make the bagel dough:

  • In a stand mixer bowl (or in a mixing bowl, if kneading by hand), stir the sponge with the 1/2 tsp. yeast. In a bowl, mix 3 cups of the flour with the salt. Add it to the sponge, along with the malt, honey, or sugar. Using a dough hook, mix on the lowest speed, or knead by hand, slowly working in the remaining flour until the dough is stiff, dry, and almost satiny; you may need extra flour or have some leftover. Keep kneading on low until the dough is very stiff and firm but still pliable, satiny, and smooth, about 6 minutes by machine or 15 minutes by hand. If the dough rides up the hook, stop the machine, pull it down, add a bit of flour, and continue. When the machine starts to struggle, remove the dough and finish kneading by hand. The dough at this point should be much stiffer than French bread dough and shouldn’t be tacky—a finger poked into the dough should come out clean. There shouldn’t be any visible raw flour, and the dough will feel neither cool nor warm, about 80°F.

  • To check the dough, pinch off a small piece and gently stretch it while turning it. It should form a thin, translucent membrane. If it rips, the dough hasn’t been kneaded enough or else it’s too dry and needs a few drops of water.

  • Divide the dough into 12 pieces, each weighing about 4-3/4 oz. for regular bagels. (For mini bagels, divide it into 24 pieces, each weighing just under 2-1/2 oz.) Wipe the counter with a damp towel to remove any flour dust. Shape each piece into a smooth ball by pulling the dough down and around to one point on the bottom and then pinching the bottom closed. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes so the gluten relaxes.

To shape, boil, and bake the bagels:

  • Line two baking sheets with parchment and spray the parchment with vegetable oil.
  • To shape the bagels, poke a hole in the center of each ball of dough with your thumb and then gently rotate the dough around both thumbs, slightly squeezing and stretching the dough little by little as you turn until the hole has enlarged to 1-1/2 to 2 inches. The dough ring should be an even thickness all around.

  • Set the shaped bagels on the prepared pans so they’re 2 inches apart. Mist the bagels very lightly with vegetable oil and cover the pans with plastic (the wrap keeps the dough from developing a skin, which would restrict the rise). Let the bagels sit at room temperature until they swell slightly, by about 15 to 20 percent.

  • After 15 minutes, start doing the “float test” to see if they’re ready to be retarded in the refrigerator: Drop one bagel in the water. If it floats within 10 seconds, the bagels are ready for the overnight rise, or retarding. Pat dry the tester bagel and return it to the pan. (If it doesn’t float within 10 seconds, shake or pat it dry, return it to the pan, and test it again every 10 minutes until it floats.) Refrigerate the pans, still covered, for at least 8 hours, or up to two days.
  • When you’re ready to bake the bagels, heat the oven to 500°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot, the better) and add the baking soda; have ready a slotted spoon or skimmer. Remove one pan of bagels from the refrigerator. Slide the parchment along with the dough onto the counter. Line the pan with a clean sheet of parchment, mist with vegetable oil, and sprinkle with cornmeal or semolina flour.
  • Gently drop the bagels into the water (it doesn’t matter which side goes in first), boiling only as many as will comfortably fit; they should float within 10 seconds, if not immediately. Boil for 1 minute, flip them over, and boil for another 1 minute. For very chewy bagels, boil for 2 minutes per side.

  • As the bagels finish cooking, lift them out with the skimmer and set them on the baking sheet with the cornmeal or semolina, top side up. If you’re sprinkling sesame or poppy seeds, kosher salt, chopped onions, or minced garlic on the bagels, do so now. (I like a combination of seeds and salt; be judicious with the salt.)

  • When the bagels on the first pan are boiled and topped, bake for 10 minutes, rotate the pan for even browning, and then continue baking until golden brown on top and bottom and very firm, about another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the bagels to a cooling rack. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the second pan of bagels from the fridge and boil and bake them the same way.

Cinnamon-Raisin Bagels: Increase the yeast in the bagel dough (not the sponge) to 1 tsp., and add 1 Tbs. ground cinnamon and 5 Tbs. sugar in with the flour. At the start of mixing, add 1-1/2 to 2 loosely packed cups raisins, rinsed with warm water and well dried (to wash off surface sugar, acid, and wild yeast). For a cinnamon sugar crust, after baking, brush the bagels with melted butter and dip in cinnamon sugar while they’re still hot.


Look for malt syrup at natural food stores under the name barley malt syrup and for malt powder at beer-­making supply shops or through baking catalogs.


Rate or Review

Reviews (10 reviews)

  • ShoutingMan | 06/28/2020

    Is this recipe correct: Does it really call for 8 cups of flour? Before I use nearly half a bag of precious (!) bread flour, I'm trying to check this is accidentally doubled or even tripled over sponge and dough. Another two bagel recipes I've used (one similar in approach to finecooking's) uses less than 3 cups for eight 4-oz bagels. I know bagels should be chewy, but 2.25 lbs of flour seems high to this novice baker, even for 12 large bagels. I'm hoping someone can confirm the recipe as shown is right. :)

  • mjhn | 05/01/2020

    I've made a lot of bagels recently, because as convenient as store-bought bagels are, they are just not the real thing. Not living in NYC a few feet away from a delicious bagel deli, sometimes you have to get creative. My absolute favorite bagel variety is whole wheat everything, and they are very difficult to find outside of New York.
    I followed this recipe very closely, halving it, which I always do with a new recipe - just in case - with only two substitutions: I substituted whole wheat flour for the bagel mix, but used the high-gluten flour for the sponge. I also used a premixed everything bagel topping.
    I selected the hand-kneading option for the dough (approx. 16 minutes total) and opted to use dark brown sugar in the mix.
    I also agree that if you have a little experience with bagel-making, you can skip the float test and you won't have to time or count your knead. Substituting flours and flavors also becomes a lot easier once you've made a few practice batches.
    The bagels that resulted from this recipe are some of the best bagels I've ever eaten, including the ones I've bought from my favorite bagel deli in New York.
    I could not recommend this recipe more highly. I will definitely be making a big batch again soon!

  • TaosOleg | 01/28/2020

    I am so happy with the way my very first batch of Bagels came out, that I created this account just to express my gratitude and joy! This recipe is fantastic. For those commenting that it didn't work, I have to question how well it was followed. If your dough is sticky after resting, it was probably too moist to begin with, or it simply "over-proofed" (too much rise- either the wrong yeast for your flour/altitude, or sat out at room temp too long).
    Using a high protein bread flour, AND/or adding high quality powdered wheat gluten will also help retain body (and chewiness).
    My advice to all: if you know your baking, skip the float test. You should know by the look of the freshly formed bagels and a familiarity with yeasted doughs what "15-20% increase in size" looks like. If not, you can use the float test, and surely that will work out quite well. I did not float test, but rather eyeballed it with no prior bagel-crafting experience, and it worked out excellently.
    Brown Rice Syrup is perhaps a more malt-like substitute than Honey or sugar. It worked well for me, using 1 full Tablespoon.
    Living at high altitude, I did have to make a few adjustments, but I'm getting the hang of how to do that in all my baking. If (and only if) you're over 5,000 ft above sea level, like me (8,000ft), you'll want to reduce the amounts of yeast, and avoid the "rapid rise" type, just use regular "active dry," and less of it if you live at altitude...otherwise expect over-proofing issues like stickiness, wobbly shape or collapse (i learned the hard way with Pizza dough). I only rested briefly at room temp, up here in the mountains, before retarding in fridge as well. leaving the dough out for than a few min after shaping could easily lead to over-proofing at high altitudes, even with yeast adjustments.

  • Gramma3 | 09/27/2018

    Just returned home to SW Florida after 2 years in NYC. The bagels were the ONLY thing I miss and I have solved that dilemma with this kick-butt recipe. Thank you Peter Reinhart. You are a bagel god to me...These are just as good as the ones I got from The Brooklyn Bagel Boys. I've got just a little personal tweaking to do the next time. (Little too judicious with the salt and I'd like to hand roll them the next time!!) Only thing missing is the slight aura of diesel exhaust that permeates everything in the City. This is the best bagel recipe anywhere and all is now right with my world!!!

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