Sourdough New York Bagel


The sourdough New York bagel recipe challenge started here...five hours after a red-eye flight, we landed in JFK. Then immediately hopped on a Uber and headed straight to our Airbnb in Mid-town to unload our luggage. Wasting no time, we rushed out onto the busy streets of New York to line up for a bagel. On a sleepy street, Ess-a-bagel's storefront was filled with regulars and visitors like ourselves. The line was long. However, we could see through the windows that the store-staffs were rhythmically pushing bagels with shmears along the counter faster than the moving line. As soon as our turns came we chimed our order in rhythm, grabbed our bagels, and followed the line out of the store.

Then on the sidewalk with all the other excited eaters, we bit into the fluffy, chewy, sweet, and savory bagels. Before we realized, we started reminiscing all the bagel eating we did in New York, we had visited H&H Bagel, Russ & Daughters, Absolute Bagels, Zabar's, and many others. Indeed, bagel eating equated to fond memories of NYC. Now, two years since our latest encounter with New York bagels, I decided that it was time to bring back some fond times and bake New York-style bagels with sourdough at home.

Sourdough Bagels

Like all my other sourdough baking, Sourdough New York bagel recipe took many trials, tinkering & tweaking the ingredients to get it somewhat close to the bagels in our memories. Now, this sourdough bagel recipe is one of our favorite bakes at home. Make sure to prepare three days to complete the bagels! I promise it is well worth it!

Milky patiently waiting for me to finish the bagels

Sourdough Bagel and Cream Cheese
Sourdough New York Bagel and whipped Cream Cheese


Day One - Sourdough starter

  • 100 grams matured sourdough starter (starter that is active and ready for feeding)
  • 220 grams flour (50% all-purpose flour & 50% whole wheat flour)
  • 220 ml of water

Day Two - Sourdough bagel dough

  • 650 grams all-purpose flour (or bread flour)
  • 250 ml water (270 ml when using bread flour)
  • 5 grams diastatic malt*
  • 8 grams barley malt syrup** or honey
  • 15 grams salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon yeast (optional)

*Diastatic malt improves the rise of the dough and the texture/color of the crust. However, if diastatic malt is difficult to find, brown sugar can be a substitute however, the result is no quite the same.

**Barley malt syrup gives the sweetness in a bagel and additional chewiness to the bagel. Alternatively, honey can be a substitute for the syrup. But without diastatic malt or barley malt syrup, it is difficult to achieve the typical bagel flavor and texture.

Day Three - Items for bagel making

  • Cornmeal to sprinkle underneath the bagels
  • Hot water bath
    • Wide shallow pot (that will fit 2-3 bagels side-by-side)
    • Water enough to fill 1/2 of the pot
    • 1/2 tablespoon salt (optional*)
    • 1/2 tablespoon of barley malt syrup, honey or brown sugar (optional*)
    • 1 teaspoon of baking soda (optional*)
    • 1/3 tablespoon of cornmeal (optional*)
  • Ice bath
    • Prepare a container that would hold three bagels at once like the pot used above. Fill it halfway with water and ice.
  • Toppings
    • sesame seeds, poppy seeds, spices - any toppings you like
  • Water spray: It will be used to spray water into the hot oven to create steam while baking the bagels.

*The purpose of these ingredients added to hot water is to create a starchy surface on bagels so that the crusts would turn golden-brown when baked. However, I did not see a great difference between these ingredients, maybe a slightly better result with cornmeal.

Steps for the sourdough bagels:

Day 1 - Preparing the sourdough starter, overnight

  1. First, add the mature sourdough, flour (50% all-purpose flour & 50% whole wheat flour), and water into a mid-size bowl and combine.
  2. Next, cover the mixture and proof overnight at room temperature.
  3. In the morning (Day 2) the sourdough starter should be very bubbly and active.

Day 2 - Preparing the bagel dough, next morning

Mixing and kneading the bagel dough - (40-50 minutes)

  1. In a large bowl (* read notes on using the food processor or mixer for mixing and kneading), first add in the water, diastatic malt, barley malt syrup, and mix well. Leave the salt to the very end.
  2. Continue to combine the active sourdough starter to the mixture.
  3. Finally, mix in the flour. When the dough starts to come together add in the salt. The bagel dough will stiff because of lower hydration. Be prepared for some elbow grease to combine and knead the dough for about 5-8 minutes until it is smooth and shiny.

* I have used both the food processor and the KitchenAid stand mixer to mix and to knead the dough. However, in both cases, I felt like the appliances were starting to get overheated. So to avoid damaging the appliances, after a few minutes of mixing, I transfer the dough onto a floured working surface to finish the kneading by hand.

  1. Perform the windowpane test to make sure the dough is well kneaded. You should be able to pull the dough into a thin layer without tearing.
Sourdough Bagel dough
Windowpane test

Bulk Fermentation - (2 hours + 2 hours or overnight)

  1. Once the kneading is done, transfer the bagel dough into a container with a cover.
  2. Allow the dough to rest for one hour and then stretch and fold the dough in the container, cover again, and let it rest for another hour.
  3. The dough will have increased by 30-40% in the remaining hour.
  4. Next, place the container with the dough into the refrigerator to proof overnight*.

*If you want to bake the bagels on Day 2, then you can proof the dough at room temperature for another 2 hours and proceed to Day 3 steps. However, I find the slow proofing in the refrigerator overnight yields bagels that are more flavorful.

Day 3 - Shaping and baking the bagels

Shaping the Bagel Dough - ( Warming the dough 2 hours, shaping 1.5 hours)

Part 1: Shaping the bagel dough into balls

  1. Now to the best part! Take the bagel dough out of the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature for 1.5 - 2 hours.
  2. After two hours the bagel dough should be soft and fluffy, and very easy to handle. Gently transfer the bagel dough onto a floured working surface. Divide the bagel dough into 12 even pieces. I like to use a scale to measure each piece to make sure the bagels come out to be similar sizes.
  3. Next, roll the dough pieces into balls, place them on a cornmeal-dusted surface, and cover with a towel and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Part 2: Shaping the bagels (the not-so-traditional way)

  1. While waiting, preheat the oven to 475 F. If using the baking stone, place it on the middle rack and heat it up with the oven.
  2. Next, prepare two pieces of parchment paper that are cut to the size of the baking stone or the baking sheet and set aside. Each parchment paper should be cut to fit six bagels.
  3. To shape the dough balls into bagels, poke a hole into the middle of the dough with your finger and then stretch the hole by rotating it between two fingers.
  4. Place the bagels back onto the cornmeal-dusted surface and let it rest for another 30 minutes.

In fact, the traditional way to shape bagels is to roll the dough out into a long, thin log, and then wrap one end of the log around your hand into a bagel and then twist it off the rest of the dough by pressing it into the working surface. However, I find this poking-a-hole method a lot easier!

Preparing for boiling and baking the Bagels- (1-2 hours)

Preparation: Hot water bath and ice bath

  1. Fill a wide-mouth pot with water and bring it to boil and then turn it down to medium boil. And add any of the ingredients below to the boiling water.
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon of barley malt syrup, honey or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/3 tablespoon of cornmeal
  • Or nothing
  1. For the ice bath, fill a container that will hold three bagels halfway with water and ice.

Boiling the Bagels

  1. Once the hot bath and ice bath are prepared, gently place three bagels into the hot water bath for 30 seconds. Use a spider or a sturdy ladle and flip the bagels and boil for another 30 seconds.
  2. Take the bagels out of the hot water and place them into the ice bath for 50 seconds. Then remove bagels and place them onto the parchment paper.
  1. Toppings Options - Dip or sprinkle toppings on the bagel before placing on the parchment paper.
  2. Repeat the same process to the next three bagels.

Baking the bagels

  1. When all six bagels are done boiling, cooling, and topping, slide the six bagels and the parchment paper onto the baking stone. Or, place the baking tray on the middle rack of the oven. Then generously spray water into the hot oven to create steam while baking the bagels. And bake for 10 minutes.
  2. Open the oven door for about 10 seconds to let the moisture escape, then close the oven door to bake for another 5 minutes.
  3. Check if the bagels are golden-brown from the top all the way down to its side, if not bake for a couple of minutes to achieve nice color.
  1. Take the sourdough bagels out of the oven and let it cool on a rack for 15-30 minutes before slicing or eating. Repeat the whole process to the next six bagels.
  2. To store the sourdough bagels, once they have cooled, slice the bagels in half and place them in a zip-lock bag to freeze. When you want bagels, take the frozen bagels out of the freezer and directly pop them into the toaster. They will taste just as good as freshly baked bagels.