Bagels from scratch

Not by Bread Alone

I grew up on bagels; in Ithaca, New York, bagels were like the default food. People had them for breakfast, lunch, and snack, and then had pizza bagels for dinner. No respectable bagelry would sell a bagel more than two hours old – after that, they gave them away free out the back door. Crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and only a quarter apiece – bagels were the perfect food.

But here in Portland – augh! Bagels are often just bread shaped round, soggy and bland. Or, they’re expensive specialty items you have to drive across town for, and then they’re always out of the poppy ones and you have to get something West Coast like pineapple or ginger. So here’s how to make your own.

How to make Bagels:

(takes about two hours; makes two dozen or so)

In your largest mixing bowl, mix 6 cups of regular white flour with 6 cups of whole wheat flour, 2 heaping tablespoons of instant yeast, 1 heaping teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/8 cup of sugar (to help the yeast), and 5 cups of warm water.

Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, then turn out on to a floured surface and knead. If not all of the flour will incorporate, turn it out anyway and try to incorporate more flour as you knead.

Knead the dough for about ten minutes, until it feels stretchy. Divide the dough into balls the size of tangerines: you should get about 24 balls. Cover with a dishtowel and let them rise for 20 minutes. Go get the laundry started or something.


Come back after 20 minutes and shape each ball into a bagel: roll it between your hands to make a snake about seven inches long, and twist it around into a bagel; pinch to seal the ends together. Cover the bagels with the dish towel and let them rise another 20 minutes. Put a large pot of water on to boil, and preheat the oven to 425 F.

When the water is boiling, gently drop in eight of the bagels. You may need to use a spatula to get them off the counter cleanly. Use a slotted spoon to move the bagels around a little in the water. Fold the dish-towel in two thicknesses to one side to drain the bagels on. When they float, after a minute or less, lift the bagels out with the spoon and drain them on the dish-towel. Boil the rest of the bagels in two more batches.

Meanwhile, get out two baking sheets and pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on each one. Use the first bagel to spread the olive oil all over the baking sheet, and then arrange the bagels on the sheets as they get dry enough. Sprinkle the bagels with toppings as desired; I pretty much always use poppy seeds, which everyone likes around here, but sesame or salt are just as easy.

Bake the bagels for about twenty minutes, until they are crusty and brown. Let the bagels cool for ten minutes before slicing and eating.

Vegetarian or vegan?

Naturally vegan, and delicious with peanut butter or hummus.

But will these bagels keep?

Bagels are best fresh, of course, but these are good in the cupboard for a couple of days, in the refrigerator for a week, and in the freezer for a month. Be sure to slice them first before freezing, and then you can defrost them quickly in the toaster.

Published by Karen Carr

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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