James' Tried-and-True Sponge Bagels

January 25, 2016
3 Ratings
Photo by James
  • Makes 12 reasonable-sized bagels
Author Notes

I have been baking bagels for close to 30 years, and have tried numerous recipes from bakers all over the world. This is now my go-to version when I am in the mood for a New York-style bagel, based on aspects of recipes from Bruce Ezzell and Michael Ruhlman, plus some tweaks of my own. —jlg84

What You'll Need
  • For the sponge:
  • 500 grams bread flour
  • 500 grams water
  • 3 grams active dry yeast
  • For the bagel dough:
  • 18 grams coarse salt
  • 18 grams mild honey
  • 18 grams malt syrup
  • 450 grams bread flour
  • 3 liters water (approximately), for boiling the bagels
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (per liter of water used to boil the bagels)
  • 2 tablespoons honey, approximately, for boiling the bagels
  • 1 egg, beaten with a bit of water
  • Bagel toppings of preference (see my favorite below)
  1. Make the sponge: The night before you plan to make the bagels, combine the sponge ingredients in a bowl (I just use the bowl of my mixer). Cover and let stand for at least six hours, but preferably more like 10 hours.
  2. Prepare the dough: Add salt, honey, malt syrup, and flour to the sponge, in that order. Using the dough hook of the mixer, mix the dough for around 10 minutes. It should be smooth and not sticky.
  3. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on your work surface, covered with a towel, for around 10 minutes. While the dough rests, place a wok on the stove and fill with water. My wok holds 3 litres, but yours may vary—measure the water so you know how much baking soda and honey to add. Heat the oven to 220° C (450° F).
  4. When the dough has rested, cut into approximately 12 pieces of 115 grams (4 ounces) each. Using your cupped hands, roll the dough into smooth balls, then cover with a towel again to rest for another 10 minutes or so. Now is a good time to start to bring the water in the wok to the simmering point.
  5. Flatten each ball of dough with the palm of your hand and then poke a hole in the center with your thumb. Twirl the dough around your finger to widen the hole and smooth the dough a bit. Place the bagel-shaped dough on the work surface to rest again, flipping after about 10 minutes.
  6. Boil the bagels: When the bagels begin to look a bit plump and puffy, they are ready to boil. This may take only 5 minutes, but depending on the temperature of your kitchen, it could take longer. Add the baking soda (1 teaspoon per liter) and honey (about 2 teaspoons per liter) to the water, and then simmer a few bagels at a time for one minute before flipping them to simmer the other side. If they do not float soon after hitting the water, they need more time to rise—if you're not sure of your dough, start this process with just one bagel.
  7. Remove the bagels from the water and place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. When they are all boiled, brush them with the egg wash followed by the bagel topping. (The bagel topping is completely optional, and can be tailored to your preferences.) Flip the bagels over and brush with egg and sprinkle the other side. (Again, this is optional, but why would you put your toppings on only one side??)
  8. Bake the Bagels: Place the tray in the oven and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, until golden brown, flipping them about halfway through. Resist the urge to eat one immediately, since they benefit from a bit of cooling. Once cool, they can be sliced and frozen if you cannot finish them all in one go.
  9. My favorite bagel topping consists of: • 4 teaspoons sesame seeds • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds • 4 teaspoons black sesame seeds • 2 tablespoons onion flakes • 1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder Mix them together and sprinkle on the bagels before baking. Any leftover mix can be saved and used on the next batch.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Charles Putzer
    Charles Putzer
  • Jenn Erickson
    Jenn Erickson
  • Jessica

6 Reviews

Charles P. December 31, 2018
I will tell you a trick while baking get you a spay bottle fill with water spray in oven to make mist do this a few times during baking
Jessica December 22, 2017
No, you shouldn't make the sponge that far ahead of time. When the sponge 'falls' it is no longer useable. I wouldn't use it any longer than 8 hours after mixing.
Jenn E. August 27, 2017
The recipe sounds perfect! I'm trying to adapt for my high school culinary class. It's always a challenge because we only have so much time each day, which makes yeast breads tricky. I'm wondering if it's possible to make the sponge two days before moving on to Step 2? My class meets for a small time on Monday, then re-convenes on Wednesday morning for longer class period. Thanks for your advice!
Charles P. January 13, 2018
I hop sponge doesn't fall I did 24 hours ago and put in fridge. See what happens I'm going to divide dough try sesame then garlic and some onion 3 different styles I'm not fond on all toppings on one bagel but I'm from new york so I will see how close to home they are
Charles P. December 31, 2018
I made spong then let it sit for 4 hours then made dough rested them baked all in an 8 hour time frame they look good hope they taste as good
Charles P. December 31, 2018
2nd attempt first time was good with 24 hour sponge. This time I'm doing a 8 hour complete from beginning to end