How to Make Bagels at Home

Bagels from Scratch

Last week I handed SE overlord Ed Levine a bag of bagels. "Ed, you're Bagel Maven Numero Uno up in this joint. Try these [left], I need your honest opinion."

Munch, munch, munch.

"Damn! These are pretty good. Where are they from?"

"Casa de Kubs, dude. Casa de Kubs."

"Where's that?"

"Um, that would be my house."

"Really!? Impressive, Mr. Kuban!"

If you would like a quick visual overview on making SE-Overlord-worthy bagels, follow along to the next slide.

Adam Kuban

I don't use the word magical lightly, but there really is something wondrous about making bagels at home. Maybe it's the shape. I think most everyone understands a loaf of bread, but the round shape with a hole ... well, it seems like a whole lot more work than simply plopping some dough in a loaf pan.

But it's not. Really. Try making just one batch of these, and I'm sure you'll have the process down pat. And if you have a food processor, making the dough is the least of it and takes about five minutes. From there, it's just a matter of waiting for the dough to rise, shaping it into rings (the funnest part!), boiling the rings, and baking them. You can get a quick overview of the whole process in the slideshow above before you head on over to the recipe here »

A Recipe from the City of Lights

Wikimedia Commons

I use a recipe I've adapted from Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads. It's supposed to produce bagels in line with those once served at Jo Goldenberg's (above), the famous restaurant and delicatessen, now-defunct, in Paris's Jewish quarter, Le Marais.

Despite its Parisian origin, this recipe makes bagels that I think would please most New Yorkers. (In the slideshow here you'll see how I tricked SE overlord Ed Levine with them.) I don't like to toot my own horn, so I'll let someone else do it: When I shared them with the folks at SE HQ, they drew raves along the lines of, "These are better than 90 percent of the bagels in the city."

Adam Kuban

They're a little sweet, the exterior is properly shiny and crisp-chewy, and the interior has a medium crumb pocked with some larger holes that end up being perfect for trapping an extra bit of cream cheese or little pools of butter.

Shaping the Bagels

There are two schools of thought on shaping bagels:

  • Rope-and-loop: You form a snake shape, loop it around your hand, and roll it on the counter to seal it together
  • Stretch-and-poke: You shape the dough portion into a rough bagel shape, sort of stretch it out, and poke a hole in it with your finger

I use the rope-and-loop method, though you should use whichever one you're more comfortable with. The rope-and-loop method produces a rounder bagel, since it's essentially a tube looped in on itself. The stretch-and-poke makes for a flatter bagel, since it's essentially a flattened bit of dough poked through and left to rise a little bit.

Topping the Bagels

Adam Kuban

What's a bagel without toppings? Well, besides a plain bagel? While perfectly fine at times, it can be a bit boring. My favorite topping is a scattering of sesame seeds. Coincidentally, along with poppy seeds and salt, they're also the easiest to apply. I have a trick I gleaned from Martha Stewart, which I share with you over on the recipe page.

So far, I've only done sesame and poppy, but I'm itching to try onion, garlic, salt, and, what the heck, that staple of New York City bagelries, the everything bagel. (See also: "The Hilarious Everything Bagel" on

And while a plain homemade bagel is still plain magical, adding toppings is Gandalf-fighting-the-balrog magic. It's real level-up stuff, folks. Get your shape just right and lay down a variety of toppings, and people will not believe you made them.

Lye Bagels

The Fresh Loaf

When I posted about making bagels on my Facebook wall, SE'r JerzeeTomato asked if I had used lye.

What?!? Isn't lye downright dangerous?

As it turns out, of course, lye has many uses when it comes to food. The deep brown color of a good German-style soft pretzel is due to lye. There's a variety of bagels that employ lye to achieve a similar effect. I haven't experimented with this yet, but I'm just mentioning it here so you know it's an option. I'm hooked on bagel-making, so at some point I'll probably be comin' atcha with lye bagels.

Hit up The Fresh Loaf for more lye bagel info.

Montreal Bagels

Bagels from Montreal's St. Viateur.. Erin Zimmer

Some of you out there are gonna be all, "Oh, what about Montreal bagels?"

I'll admit it, I've never had a Montreal bagel, so I can't speak on any shared traits with the product this recipe makes. According to everything I've read, though, Montreal bagels are supposed to be sweeter (there's no salt in the recipe) and smaller than New York bagels (though with a larger hole) — and are crunchy rather than chewy.

Our own Erin Zimmer has a great inside look at the making of Montreal bagels here. Good stuff. Go read it when you're finished here.

I will say that this recipe makes a bagel that seems to be about the size of a Montreal bagel, which is good. New York bagels over the years have become oversized MONSTERS. Longtime New Yorkers who I've shared these bagels with have all remarked something along the lines of, "This is the size a bagel is ... [supposed to be/used to be]!"

Yet another reason to make these.

One Other Bagel Recipe

Homemade bagels on a piece of parchment
Deb Perelman/Smitten Kitchen

OK. I'm going to level with y'all. I haven't really baked any other bagel recipes — simply because when I found this one, years ago,* I really liked it, and it really seemed to work. Why fix what ain't broke, right?

But you know how there's sort of an internet repertoire of proven recipes, a sort of food-blog canon? Well, the Bernard Clayton/Jo Goldenberg bagel recipe seems to one of two very popular bagel recipes I've seen out there. The other is Peter Reinhart's Bagels. Smitten Kitchen has a great rendition of it here.

Again, I haven't experimented with that one. It takes 3 days! I'm just putting it out here to pre-empt anyone asking, "Have you made Peter Reinhart's bagels?"

No. No I haven't. But I'm sure I will. One of these days. ...

Oh wait. This just in: Reinhart updated his bagel recipe. Here's the one from Artisan Breads Every Day, by way of Leite's Culinaria.

OK. So that's all I've got to blab about bagels. Bringing it back full circle — magic. Put on your your sorcerer's robe and follow me here to the recipe! »

*In, like 1996. The web existed, but there was no food space to speak of. I spent a long night at Borders Books, reading through the various bread cookbooks until I settled on Clayton's recipe. If I remember correctly, there's also a really good herb-Parmesan bread recipe in there—you bake it in a pot!