Bagels and baguettes have to be eaten fast

There is a great article in the New York Times about bagels, the quintissential New York bread. It made me feel quite nostalgic.

When I lived in New York, I bought a bagel from my favorite place, Ess-a-Bagel, at least once a week. Ess-a-Bagel bagels are huge and filling, so just one would sustain me for breakfast and lunch. It would have been healthier perhaps (going on the theory that frequent smaller meals are better for you) to have half for breakfast, and save the other half for lunchtime. But I knew this was no good. A bagel has to be eaten as soon as it's bought.

Here is how the Times article defines what a bagel is:

A bagel is a round bread made of simple, elegant ingredients: high-gluten flour, salt, water, yeast and malt. Its dough is boiled, then baked, and the result should be a rich caramel color; it should not be pale and blond. A bagel should weigh four ounces or less and should make a slight cracking sound when you bite into it instead of a whoosh. A bagel should be eaten warm and, ideally, should be no more than four or five hours old when consumed.

A bagel, like a baguette, has no trace of added fat. White flour is for all practical purposes fat free. Any bread that is made with just white flour, yeast, water and flavorings (or yeast food, which is what that bit of sugar or malt you put in is) is extremely perishable. In addition, while breads made with natural leavening agents like sourdough do have good keeping qualities, bread made with yeast doesn't. That's why day-old baguette is really only good to eat toasted with stuff on it if at all, and why even hours-old bagels are past their peak. You simply cannot reheat a bagel successfully, in my experience. You can't even reheat it that well from frozen.

So I put the following bagel recipe with a word of caution: if you have leftovers, they aren't going to be that good. One way to deal with them is to turn them into bagel chips - slice them thinly, brush with something flavorful (butter, or olive oil, and a sprinkle of some dried herbs or garlic salt etc.) and bake them until they are golden brown and crispy. You can try freezing them, but they will be a bit tough no matter how you try to defrost them. (And microwaving bread is the worst thing you can do.) I only make bagels because it's impossible to get good bagels here in Zürich. (It is, however, possible to get excellent Bretzeln, big soft pretzels, here, which makes up for the lack of good bagel. Please don't even mention the abomination they call bagel sold at a certain place that will remain nameless in the Hauptbahnhof Shop-Ville.) If I was still within walking distance of Ess-a-Bagel, I wouldn't even bother.

This recipe is adapted (as I always tend to do with recipes I use frequently) from a terrific cookbook called the New York Cookbook. It's from one of the bagel temples mentioned in the Times article, Bagel Oasis in Fresh Meadows, Queens, and is very reliable. The only problem is that it makes a lot of bagels. Bagel party maybe?

Ess-A-Bagel is on East 51st Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan. Go with an appetite, and before noon.

Bagel Oasis Bagels

For the homesick New Yorker; makes 12 bagels

  • 4 cups of high gluten flour, such as bread flour or Zopfmehl
  • 1 package of dry yeast
  • 1 Tbs of brown sugar or malt (see notes)
  • 1 Tbs salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water (warm but not hot to the touch when you put your finger in)
  • Cornmeal for dusting the pans
  • Toppings to sprinkle on, such as sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried garlic, dried onion flakes, even herbs like thyme or the "Herbs de Provence" mixture (optional and don't go too wild)

Proof the yeast. This means putting the yeast into a bowl or cup with half the sugar or malt and the water, mixing and leaving to bubble and foam in a warm place, for about 5-10 minutes. If it doesn't budge, that means the yeast is dead, so start over.

Add the salt and rest of the sugar. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing well. Add more flour if necessary to make a dough ball that you can handle. Don't add too much!

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead well for about 5-10 minutes until it's nice and stretchy and smooth. The feel of good stretchy dough is hard to explain in words - you have to feel it with your hands. Bagel dough is pretty easy to get right - when you stretch it out you should see long strands. The surface should be just a bit shiny, not floury.

Put the dough ball in a large bowl, cover and let rise in a warm spot for about 40 minutes until more than doubled in bulk. (I don't grease the bowl, though you may choose to. You just have to scrape the dough off the bowl a bit when the rising is done. If I need the bowl for something else, I put the dough in a plastic bag, blow some air in, seal up the bag and leave it in a warm place to rise.)

Make ready a couple of baking sheets by oiling them with vegetable oil and dusting them with cornmeal.

Take a piece, and give it a good twist while forming a ring around one or two fingers, depending on how big you want your bagel hole to be. Pinch together the joining. This does take a bit of practice, but even malformed bagels come out looking fairly decent at the end so don't worry too much. Put each formed bagel on the baking sheets with space between them, and let rise uncovered for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, put a big pot of water to boil, and turn the oven on to 420° F / 220° C (a bit lower if you have a convection oven).

Lower the heat of the water so it's not rolling in the pan. Use a slotted spoon or spatula to carefully put the bagels, one by one, in the water, for about 1-2 minutes each on each side, turning them over carefully with the spoon or spatula. Do not overcrowd the pot or overboil the bagels. Take each out and place on a thick kitchen towl or stack of towels to drain.

Place the bagels on other cornmeal-dusted baking sheets (or, re-dust the ones you were using). Sprinkle each with the topping of your choice. Place in the oven and bake for about 12 minutes. If you do not have a convection oven, turn the sheets at this point and bake for about 5-10 minutes more until golden brown. Take them off the sheets and let cool on a rack, or on a stack of dry kitchen towels.

Serve while still warm with cream cheese (Boursin is great ... and it's actually cheaper than the Philadelphia kind here), smoked salmon, other smoked fish, or buttered and toasted.

Note: malt, or barley malt, is available as a nutrition supplement. I have noticed that it seems to make the surface of the bagel slightly shinier and sort of more golden than sugar. But flavor wise it doesn't make much of a difference.

Filed under:  bread baking

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My regular bagel joints used to be Ess-a-bagel on 21st and 1st and Murray's on 8th and 22nd. Both phenomenal. There are no good bagel joints in Tokyo, despite weak attempts from H&H (they are frozen!) and Bagel&Bagel (yuck.) But NYC has no really good ramen either (I have scoured high and low, trust me) so it just means that international travel is still essential for excellent food.

Have you ever had bagels in Montreal, and if so, tried to replicate those at home? I think they are the best. I believe they have no salt in the dough and are boiled in water that has honey in it (but they don't taste particularly sweet).

Gen, I used to feel the same way about the ramen in New York (I think L.A. actually has great ramen), but what about Menchanko-tei and its west village offshoot Ony, or Rai Rai Ken in the east village? I think those are pretty good based on my (limited) ramen experience.

Josh, the last time I was in Montreal was like 10 years ago...and I don't think I had bagels. I'll have to try it with the honey in the water, that sounds interesting! No salt in the dough may make it a bit lighter too..

I don't really like Menchanko-tei ramen, though it may be the best of a bad lot..i tend to agree with Gen on the quality of NY ramen. The Menchanko-tei ramen's soup is not bad but the noodles leave a lot to be desired.

And all this time I thought Menchanko-tei was the real deal! It seems my ramen palate requires more training.

You have a great Web site, by the way.

Josh, since your site is one of my favorite food sites that's a great compliment. thanks :)

An alternate to your shaping technique is to make a ball of dough, push your thumb through it, and whirl it around on your thumb. I have no idea if this is in any way "normal" technique -- a friend showed me, it worked, and I've used it ever since. Great site! Very appealing in every way.

Now THAT looks like a beautiful recipe. Do you think it's adaptable to letting a bread machine form the dough?

I've got a machine that prefers you keep the yeast separate from the liquid ingredients, but I'm worried that without the yeast proofing in the malt and water mixture, they wouldn't turn out right. The only way I've made bagels at home in the past has been by hand. Well, perhaps I'll experiment.

My problem is getting cornmeal/polenta. The standard version sold here (Southern Spain) is "spiced" and tastes horrible. Possibly this wouldn't matter if it's just sprinkled on the baking sheet, but I'm wondering if others have found a simple alternative that doesn't involve me going to the gourmet shop and buying a box of sub-standard product? :)

By the way, I have a lovely NY pretzel recipe if you are interested in making them at home (I love German ones, these aren't quite the same but still good). :)

As the cornmeal is essentially used to prevent the baking good from sticking to the pan, you could use any kind of meal of that granularity. Cornmeal has the advantage over flour that it can actually stand a bit a higher heat.

You might try to use baking paper, or Teflon sheets which do really prevent sticking.

If that fails, you might have to get a bit more creative. One possibility could be (not tested; don't blame me for failure) using the finest Couscous (maybe grinding it), or also try grinding and drying corn, or even beans.

Sylvia, I'd love to see your pretzel recipe!

For the sake of posterity, let me say that Bulgar Wheat is not an acceptable substitute for the cornmeal. :)

However, using lightly oiled french parchment (the reuseable stuff?) worked fine for both stages... In fact, I suspect I didn't even need to oil it, but I was trying to play it safe with the rest of the batch :)

Thanks Sylvia, for the confirmation. By thinking over it again, it was not really a good advice, because bulgur or wheat in general is more sensitive to heat than cornmeal.

Hi Maki,

I came across your site searching for a good onigiri recipe (sadly, I can't find any good rice while I'm down here in Grenada, West Indies), and thought I'd try this bagel came out -far- better than I'd expected! (Not because I imagined your recipe was bad, but because I imagined I might not make it properly) - the recipe is great, but the instructions are better :) Thanks for giving my house quite a few bagels! We ended up making quite a variety, from chocolate chocolate chip (about 4 tbs of cocoa and about 1.5 cups of chocolate chips added) to sundried tomato/basil/garlic, cheese and jalapenos, and blueberry...

I used brown sugar instead of malt, and the only thing that I noticed was that the color of the bagel did not really change from the time of the risen dough to being fully baked. Would malt darken the appearance, or anything like that?

Also, the crust itself was very light (and while I like that, my girlfriend wanted them slightly thicker) - would boiling them for longer thicken the crust, or would baking them longer/at a higher temperature do that? We're using a gas oven that doesn't have temperature deliminations (just a min-to-max range), so it's possible we were a tad too high/low...but the bagels never burned, and they always had the right consistency on the inside.

Anyway, thanks again for the great recipe/site/etc!

What is malt that is in your bagel recipe? Please email me when you get a chance.

Thank you, Karen

What is malt that is in your bagel recipe? Please email me when you get a chance.

Thank you, Karen

I have tried many, many bagel recipes. Home bakers are always at a disadvantage so in reproducing products of great institutions of things like bagels and pizza, the home baker always loses something in the mix BUT... Ms. Maki has struck a very nice balance. What I first noticed about these bagels? The taste and texture is right on. Do well designed web sites signify well designed recipes? Seems so here. I'm a professional chef, It might be worth noting that I always used to hand mix bagels, but with Hi-gluten flour I believe the final solution, in addition to a good recipe, was to use a mixer to really work the dough. I can smell New York as I write this post:) When in an inhospitable country that doesn't offer a great hot bagel, It's great to have the real deal in the freezer. I too, would like to see a pretzel recipe.


Thanks for the great information! I share your homesickness. Since moving from NJ to Lausanne, I've been dying for a good bagel (mmm...Fanwood Bagels). Have you managed to find malt here? I subsituted Eimalzin from Migros. My 1st try was ok, but their not as hard on the outside as NY Bagels - maybe I need to bake a little longer or hotter?

Hi Brian. I usually use Bio-Malt, which is sold at our local Coop for some reason as a food supplement for kids. I think to make a harder crust you may try boiling the bagels a few seconds more and/or baking it at a slightly higher temperature.

Hello there,
having just moved here from NY I was desperate to find decent Bagels here and Maki, I am pleased to tell you that I found them. :-) There is a jewish bakery in Waffenplatzstrasse 5 and they sell besides all other kind of things very nice, well sized bagels. I will try the recipe nevertheless, because it is quite a drive from where we live.

All the best

I'll have to try them - making bagels is a bit of a bother for sure. Thanks for sharing bettina!

You can get bagels in grenada!!

Just like any new york bagel - I'm new yorker at heart and they are almost like home...

check them out at: