Bagels “Old School” – Hand Shaped, Boiled, and Hearth Baked

With its shiny burnished deep brown crust the bagels shiny exterior is the tell-tale sign that they were boiled not steamed before baking. The crumb has just a hint of sweetness from Barley Malt Syrup and the perfect amount of salt to produce a savory finish when eaten. Crisp, dense, chewy, and full of flavor these Bagels “Old School” will make you shout out “Oy Vey! Now that’s a bagel!”

We have to thank the Eastern European Jewish bakers for maintaining this tradition of bagel making and bring it to the North American. Making New York City and it boroughs and Montreal’s “Mile End” the mecca for real bagels made from basic ingredients, that are boiled, and hearth baked to this very day.

Eating a freshly baked bagel that is ever so slightly warm is a real pleasure. My favorite way to eat a fresh bagel is to split it in half, schmear on some fresh cream cheese, top with really good smoked salmon, and finish it with thinly sliced red onions and capers. I’m in sheer heaven when I take that first bite and everything is alright with the world.

What makes a good bagel?

There are 5 key components the baker needs to accomplish to produce a outstanding traditional bagel.

  1. Recipe and Ingredients; The percentage of ingredient to each other know as “Bakers Percentage” is key in this recipe. The ingredients are few but each one plays an important role in the final flavor and texture of the bagel. Bread Flour is used for its higher protein content making for a chewy dense baked good. The Barley Malt Syrup provides food for the yeast but is used for its subtle sweetness and the ability to caramelize and brown the crust as the bagel bakes. The small amount of Instant Yeast in the dough, works to convert the sugars to carbon dioxide to lighten the bagel crumb. The Sea Salt balances out the flavor making for a savory eating experience.
  2. Hydration of the dough; The percentage of Water to Flour is the basis of every bread recipe. Low hydrated dough produce a dense crumb and highly hydrated dough produce an open crumb. Bagels are a low hydrated dough. This recipe is 56% hydration. This means the dough will feel very dry and stiff until the dough is well kneaded. Kneading takes much more physical effort on the part of the baker. Using your body weight and leverage to knead is recommended and required. Do not attempt to use a mixer to knead the dough. The mixer will either break or burnout if used.
  3. Hand Shaped; The bagel are shaped into round balls after the first bulk fermentation. Left to rest for 10 minutes covered with plastic wrap and then shaped into ropes about 9 to 10-inches long before having the ends sealed together to form the traditional ring shape. Traditional bagels have large holes in them. Allowing for the entire surface of the bagel to caramelize and develop a crispy crusty finish.
  4. Boiling the Bagels; After the shaped bagels go through their final proof and before baking. The bagel gets a hot water bath for 15 to 20 seconds or until the bagels float to the top of the lightly boiling water. This causes the starch on the bagel surface to gelatinized, producing the beautiful mirror like shine as the bagel bakes. It also makes for a very sticky surface which the seeds and other topping to adhere also.
  5. Hearth Baking the Bagels; Finally the shaped and boiled bagels go on the water soaked Bagel Boards with or without topping before heading to be baked in a 475°F (246°C) preheated oven fitted with a baking stone. The bagels bake for 3 to 4 minutes on the Bagel Board, which dries and sets the crust, before being flipped over and onto the baking stone for its final baking period.

What about the toppings? I’ve gone with the basic traditional toppings for the bagels. Salt, Sesame, and Poppy coat the exterior of the bagels. No sprinkling here! The key is to completely coat each bagel with the topping of choice after it comes out of the hot water bath. Though for me I only dip one side of the bagel in the Coarse Sea Salt. The other topping I go all out and pack on as many seeds that will stick, you want the poppy bagel tasting like poppy. I purchase my toppings at the local Indian Market. The seeds are always fresh and very economical. Choose the Natural Sesame Seeds for their amazing flavor.

Note: Traditional Bagels are a daily bread meant to be enjoyed the same day they are made. Tradition bagels don’t have a long shelf life and should be placed into an airtight plastic freezer bag and frozen after they have cooled to room temperature after baking. Thaw the bagels in the plastic bag before splitting and toasting to revive the crust and crumb for you to enjoy.

The equipment needed to make bagels are very simple though there might be a few item you don’t have. Such as a Bagel Boards, Baking Stone, and Baking Peel. The baking stone I recommend is the “Old Stone Oven Rectangular Pizza Stone”, 14 1/2″ x 16 1/2″ and can be order on Amazon along with a baking peel. The Bagel Boards are something you can make with a very small investment and a little Arts and Craft project on your part. The instructions to make the Bagel Boards are below:

As with all baking I recommend you weigh your ingredients. This will give you consistent results each and every time. Investing in a good electronic scale will take your baking to the next level. You’ll find there will not be variations that can occur as with measuring by volume.

Making Bagel Boards:

  • Untreated Wood 2″ x 4″;  3 pieces, 16-inches in length (Check the scraps box at the lumber yard. Most Large Home improvement centers will cut the pieces to length for you for free or a nominal fee.)
  • Tape Measure

    Bagel Boards

    Bagel Boards: 2″ x 4″ covered with Jute

  • Wood Hand Saw
  • 2 Yards of Jute (Found at Fabric Store)
  • Scissors
  • Staple Gun with Staples
  1. Measure the longest length of the Baking Stone (example 16-inches for the Old Stone Oven Rectangular Pizza Stone)
  2. Saw and cut the 2″ x 4″ into 16-inch boards if not already cut for you.
  3. Place the jute on one end of the board and staple into place to secure the jute.
  4. Lightly stretch the jute over the top board to the opposite end and staple the jute to secure it.
  5. Cut the excess jute with the scissors.
  6. Repeat the process to attach the jute to the remaining boards.

Note: The Jute on the Bagel Boards is always soaked with cold water before using in the oven. Dry the Bagel Board completely before storing.

Equipment: (Shop my Amazon Page for Ingredients & Equipment)

  • Measuring Cups/Spoons or Electronic Bakers Scale
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Rubber Spatula
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Plastic Bowl Scraper
  • Metal Bench Scraper
  • Large Wooden Cutting Board or 1/2 Sheet Trays
  • Plastic Wrap or Food Grade Plastic Bag

Bagel Dough            (Yields 12)

  • Measured                 Grams                     Ingredients
  • 2 1/4 cup                      511 g.                   Water (room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup                           80 g.                   Barley Malt Syrup
  • 1 tsp.                                3 g.                   Instant Yeast
  • 6 1/2 cups                    907 g.                   Bread Flour (King Arthur, Unbleached, Unbromated)
  • 1 Tbsp.                           22 g.                   Sea Salt (Fine)

Mixing the Bagel Dough:

  1. In the large bowl combine the water, barley malt syrup, instant yeast, and half of the bread flour.
  2. Stir together and beat using a rubber spatula until the mixture is well incorporated and resembles a batter.
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let ferment for 1 hour.
  4. After 1 hour the batter will have doubled in size and be very bubbly.
  5. To the batter add the remaining bread flour and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon in incorporate or until the dough becomes shaggy. Note: The dough has a low hydration and will seem dry at this point.
  6. Scrape down the bowl and scrape the dough onto the work surface.
  7. Knead for 2 to 3 minutes to incorporate the dry ingredients into the dough.
  8. Once the dough become a cohesive mass. Knead the bagel dough for 8 to 10 minutes or until the Bagel Dough is smooth and elastic. Note: Because the dough has a low hydration it will require you use your body weight to knead. Also known as the Bagel Workout.
  9. Place the Bagel Dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and ferment for 1 hour.

Shaping the Bagels:

  1. After 1 hour of fermentation. Uncover the bowl and turn the bagel dough onto the work surface.
  2. Cut the bagel dough into 12 pieces each weighting approximately 4.4 oz. (124 g.).
  3. Pre-shape the bagel dough pieces into cylinders.
  4. Leave the pre-shaped dough pieces on the work surface and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest covered for 5 minutes before final shaping.
  5. Lightly flour a wooden cutting board and set aside to receive the shaped bagels.
  6. After 5 minutes of resting the bagels will be ready to final shape.
  7. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time; Leaving the remaining bagel dough covered with plastic wrap.
  8. Place the rested bagel dough on the work surface with no flour. Shape the bagel into a 9-inch log by rolling the dough underneath the palms of your hands. Making long motions back and forth and applying pressure to degas and lengthen the dough. Knocking out large air bubbles with your palm if necessary.
  9. Wrap the log of dough around your palm with the ends of the dough over lapping by 1-inch in your palm.
  10. Place your palm on the work surface and roll to connect the ends of the dough. The hole in the center of the bagel will be large at this point.
  11. Remove the shaped bagel from your hand and place on the floured wooden cutting board.
  12. Shape the remaining bagel pieces.
  13. Cover the shaped bagel pieces with plastic wrap and let proof for 1 hour at room temperature.

Pre-heat the oven and Baking Stone to 475°F (246°C) for 1 hour before baking the bagels.

Equipment:

  • Baking Stone
  • Bagel Boards (See above)
  • Large Pot filled with water
  • 1/2 Sheet Tray
  • Large Spider Strainer with Handle
  • Small Bowls (For poppy, sesame, and coarse sea salt)
  • Baker’s Peel
  • Cooling Rack
Bagels in Water

Bagels boiling in simmering water for about 30 seconds

Bagel on Bagel Board

Bagels on Bagel Board in the oven and baked for 3 minutes before being flipped off

Bagels Baking

Bagels flipped off the Bagel Boards to finish baking

Boiling and Baking the Bagels:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a light boil.
  2. Soak the Bagel Boards with cold water and place the Bagel Boards on the work surface next to the 1/2 sheet tray while boiling the bagels.
  3. Uncover the bagels and place 3 bagels into the lightly boiling water.
  4. The bagels will sink bottom and then float to the top. This will take about 15 to 20 seconds. Remove the bagel immediately using the Spider Strainer and place onto the 1/2 sheet tray.
  5.  Dip and cover the Boiled Bagel in your favorite toppings and place the plain or coated bagels onto Bagel Board (3 Bagels per Board).
  6. Place the Bagel Board with Bagels onto the BakingStone in the 475°F (246°C) pre-heated oven.
  7. Bake the bagels for 3  minutes on the Bagel Boards to dry the surface of the bagel.
  8. After 3 minutes flip the bagels off and over onto the Baking Stone and bake for another 16 to 18 minutes or until the bagel are a deep golden brown.
  9. Rinse the Bagel Boards under cold water to remove any seeds or toppings and prepare them for the next go round.
  10. Remove the baked bagels from the oven using the Baker’s Peel and place onto the cooling rack to cool to room temperature.
  11. Repeat boiling, coating, baking, and cooling the remaining bagels.
  12. Eat the fresh bagel on its own or split the bagels with a serrated bread knife and slather with butter or cream cheese. Toasting the split bagel is also an option too.
  13. Enjoy!

Storing your Bagel; Bagels are meant to be eating the same day they are made or frozen in a air-tight plastic bag after they cool to room temperature. Thaw frozen bagels completely in the plastic bag. Then split and toast the bagel to revive the crust and crumb of your handmade boiled bagels.

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30 thoughts on “Bagels “Old School” – Hand Shaped, Boiled, and Hearth Baked

  1. Barb Mackenzie

    Dear Alexandro
    Greetings from Bali, Indonesia.
    I was about to use an old Bagel recipe from my Mom (wonderful Russian lady) and thought I would check the ingredients before I started as her personal cookbook is 25 years old and I haven’t made bagels in AGES! So glad I found your YouTube and recipe. Problem here in Bali is, it is extremely difficult to get a baking stone as imports are really hard to get by Customs. Baking boards no problem as can make locally with the jute etc. No barley malt syrup either but found rice syrup available. YES grrrr frustrating at times.
    Just wondering about options/alternatives to the stone and malt barley syrup.
    Any help gratefully received. Thank you again.
    Barb

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Barb,
      It is nice to meet you! I appreciate you for waiting for my response. I was traveling in Italy researching traditional cooking and baking recipes and techniques and just returned home.
      A get around to a commercially made baking stone is using Unglazed Quarry Tile. They are typically available from home building stores. They come in different sizes and can be cut to fit into a baking pan or tray for easy removal if necessary. I would recommend purchasing the thickest tiles available as this will help to store the heat more efficiently.
      I would suggest finding a home beer brewer who would be able to share or sell you some of the barley malt syrup for your baking. Otherwise, using the rice malt syrup in its place.
      I hope this helps you with your Bagel making quest in Bali! Please let me know if you have any other questions. Thank you for writing and have a wonderful day.
      Alejandro Ramon, Just One Bite, Please?

  2. Gary Liu

    Alejandro, I used to work in a bagel shop in New York City when I was in school. That was a family owned shop and it was normally packed in the weekends and people had to queue outside waiting for fresh baked bagels. Since then, I have never found a place having such a good bagel until I tried your recipe now. It is awesome! I failed the first time by not using bagel board and baking stone. Then I bought baking stone and made bagel board myself. Now I made it! It is just like what I had in the bagel shop I worked for. Thank you so much for your detailed description of recipe and how-to steps as well as the video.

    I just have two questions.
    1) I followed your recipe precisely by measuring all the ingredients. But my bagel is a bit tough. Should I add a little more water?
    2) I remember that bagel shop baker would make bagels at night and leaves them in a big refrigeration room over night. You did not mention it. What is that for?

    Again, thank you so much.

    Gary

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hello Gary, I’m so glad to hear about your baking success with making the bagels the traditional way. I think it is great you had the experience of making them first without the bagel boards or baking stone and then with using them. Using the right tools and equipment can make a world of difference in the final baked good.

      Here are my answers for your questions:
      1) For a more tender bagel texture I’d recommend using All Purpose Flour in place of the Bread Flour in the recipe. The lower protein in the All Purpose Flour will take up less water into it and you’ll find the dough will be a bit softer when you knead it. The hydration will stay the same at 56%.
      2) Retarding yeasted dough such as the bagels is often done for baking scheduling (fresh baked for customers and bakery staffing needs) The other reason is for flavor development. Bagels are traditionally a straight dough (my recipe is a modified straight dough) where the flavor is coming from the ingredients themselves rather than from a long fermentation of a poolish or preferment. Retarding the shaped bagels over night will produce a bagel that is covered with small bubble blisters from the slowing of the yeast activity and the bacteria building the formation of acidic and lactic acid in the dough. When I travel I look for the tell-tale signs in bake goods and the method the bakery is using to make their bagels or baked goods.
      My recommendation for retarding the bagels are to leave the formed and shaped bagels out at room temperature (covered with plastic wrap) for 45 minutes before placing them into the refrigerator. Making sure they are well covered so they do not dry out overnight. You can boil and bake the bagels directly from the refrigerator.

      I would love to hear about results using these changes to ingredient and technique. If you like you can email me directly at: justonebiteplease@hotmail.com
      Please let me know if you have any other question I may help you with. Thank you for taking the time to ask your questions.
      Happy Baking!
      Alejandro Ramon, Just One Bite, Please?

      1. Gary Liu

        Thank you so much for your reply. I’ll definitely try it by your recommendations. And by the way, have your ever made pumpernickel bagels? That is my favorite one and want to make my own.

        1. Alejandro Ramon

          It is my pleasure, Gary. I love a good Pumpernickel Bagel. Know most all pumpernickel bagels you find in the U.S. are mostly white flour with a little whole rye (pumpernickel flour) with caramel coloring added. Your response has me thinking I want to work on creating a recipe that is more authentic and traditional. I’ll keep you posted on my efforts.

  3. John

    Hi Alejandro, can any 2×4 untreated wood be used? I’ve read that cedar is recommended and that pine is not recommended. I have also noticed aluminum channel being used as well.

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hi John, Using untreated pine 2×4 should not present any problems. The key is to cover the board with jute and soak it well before the boiled bagels go on. The soaked boards only stay in the oven for a short time before the bagels get turned off. I used bagel boards that I made in 2006 for Zingerman BAKE! bagel classes with very little wear or tear on them. There are aluminum bagel boards available, but they tend to be too long for the home oven. Feel free to use what you think would work best for you. Here is a link to pre-made boards you can purchase on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2stog55
      Please let me know if you have any other questions. Thank you.

  4. filip yared

    Hello alejandro, hope ur doing fine, I already made the recipe bagels several times and it was a success, im considering now to lower the barley malt syrop to 34 g, do u think it is a good idea?

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Yes, You can definitely lower the amount of barley malt syrup if you like. I’d love to hear back from you after you have made the bagels and how they compare to the original recipe.

  5. William

    Alejandro, this recipe looks good. I noticed that after the dough is made and prior to shaping that you suggest allowing to ferment for 1 hour. Is it possible prior to shaping, but after making the final dough, to ferment in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours? I prefer to use the slower, colder fermentation, and was wondering if the slower, colder fermentation could be used on the final dough and not just the pre-ferment as you suggest in your response to Filip.

    1. Alejandro Ramon

      Hi William,
      Yes, you can bulk retard the dough prior to shaping. Give the dough at least 30 minutes at room temperature after kneading to start the fermentation process. Then the dough can go into the refrigerator for the 24-48 hours. Shape the dough directly from the refrigerator and proof the final shape before boiling and baking.

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