Sourdough Bagels

Sourdough Bagels

Opinions on what makes a good bagel are as varied as the recipes themselves. However, this bagel recipe, contributed by Sarah Owens, James Beard Award-winning author, will give you a pleasant chew and slight sourdough tang. They are delightful toasted with a smear of cream cheese and your favorite toppings. While lox is a classic choice, Sara suggests sliced vine-ripened tomatoes with a generous sprinkling of za’atar and flaked salt.

What You'll Need


135g refreshed (active) sourdough starter

364g water

22g barley malt syrup

13g fine sea salt

660g Artisan Bread Flour

Cornmeal (for sprinkling)

Water Bath

85g barley malt syrup


1 cup poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or bagel topping mix


Mix the Dough

  1. In a large bowl, mix the starter, water, syrup, and salt until a slurry forms.

  2. Add the flour and mix with your hands until it is fully incorporated. The dough will be stiff but workable. Rest covered for about 10 minutes.

  3. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead on a clean work surface for at least 5 minutes to develop dough strength, taking short breaks if the dough begins tearing or resisting the kneading.

  4. Clean and lightly grease the bowl with oil and return the dough, rolling it to coat. Cover with a lid or plate and bulk ferment until slightly puffy, about 3 hours.

  5. After bulk fermentation for 3 hours, place the bowl in the refrigerator and retard the dough for up to 24 hours, or overnight.


  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly sprinkle it with cornmeal.

  2. Divide the dough into 12 pieces, each about 100 grams.

  3. Pat each piece into a rough 4x2-inch rectangle.

  4. Roll and fold each rectangle tightly from the top down, tucking each fold into the next.

  5. Let the pre-shaped pieces rest while you work on the remaining dough.

Form the Bagels:

  1. Roll each piece into a 10-inch coil. If the dough resists, let it rest before continuing.

  2. For an even bagel thickness, avoid tapering the coil ends. For a pudgy bagel belly, slightly taper the ends.

  3. Shape the coil into a circle with a 2-inch hole in the center, overlapping and pinching the ends to seal.

  4. Insert your index and middle finger through the hole and roll to reinforce the seal.

  5. Place the bagels on the prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between each.

  6. Cover the bagels with a dry towel and place the baking sheet inside a clean plastic garbage bag.

  7. Let the bagels proof at room temperature (75°F/24°C) until puffy and inflated, about 3 hours.


Preheat the oven to 475°F (246°C).

Prepare your workspace:

  1. Place a wire rack inside a baking sheet and set it next to your stovetop.

  2. If using seeds, fill a small bowl with the seeds and place it beside the wire rack.

  3. Line two 13x18-inch baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Prepare the water bath:

  1. In a large pot, mix about 5 quarts of water with barley malt syrup.

  2. Bring the water to a rolling boil.

  3. Boil the bagels:

  4. Carefully drop 3 to 4 proofed bagels into the boiling water, depending on the pot's size. If the water stops boiling, cover the pot and bring it back to a boil.

  5. Boil the bagels for 1 minute. For extra-chewy bagels, boil for an additional minute. The bagels should look puffy when ready.

Drain and cool:

  1. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bagels and place them on the wire rack to drain.

  2. Let them cool for about 1 minute. It's normal if they deflate slightly.

  3. Add seeds (optional): If using seeds, dredge each bagel in the seeds.

  4. Place the bagels on the parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between each one.


  1. Place the bagels on the middle two racks of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway, until they are golden brown—do not overbake.

  2. Cool on a wire rack and serve immediately.

Notes from Sarah:

Bagels are best enjoyed fresh on the same day but can be toasted for up to 2 days. For longer storage, slice and freeze them in a sealed plastic bag for up to two months. Toast directly from the freezer as needed.

For a weekend brunch, refresh your starter the morning before you bake. Mix and refrigerate the dough in the afternoon or early evening. The next morning, shape, proof, boil, and bake the dough.

You can replace barley malt syrup with honey or another liquid sweetener, but the flavor and fermentation will be different. Barley malt syrup enhances fermentation and flavor, especially in the water bath. Find it in the sweetener section of health food stores.

Using the full cup of seeds makes it easier to coat the bagels, even though you will have leftover seeds.

Makes 12 bagels.

Recipe contributed by Sarah Owens.

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