How To Make Sourdough Bagels

Sourdough Bagels

After many attempts at making bagels, I finally found a great whole wheat-yeast recipe from my friend Gina. But then my sourdough started taking off and I found I was making most of our bread with my sourdough starter.

What to do about the great bagels? I ended up combining the sourdough amounts from one recipe and the method from Gina’s and we’ve been really pleased with the results. In fact, my family loves it when I make these!

It’s always best to start with a really active sourdough starter. I’ve written previously about how I grew my sourdough starter (glad to see I’ve come a long way since then- no more of those “breads”) and the tips I use to keep it active without a lot of work. I’m happy that I’ve managed to keep it alive for almost two years now.

The picture above was taken in the morning after I had gotten the starter out of the fridge the night before, fed it and left it on the counter so it was ready to go in the morning.

When all the ingredients are mixed, you will notice that this dough is much stiffer than other doughs, pulling cleanly away from the bowl. It really gives the mixer a work-out!

Sourdough does take longer to rise, though, so I usually plan to mix it in the morning and finish it in the evening right before dinner. When it’s ready to shape, transfer it to a floured surface (I use a towel whenever I’m dealing with bread- it’s easy clean-up and less flour needed).

Separate the dough into 12-18 pieces. In order to get somewhat equal pieces, I like to flatten the dough with a rolling pin- approximately a 10×13-inch rectangle is good – and use a sharp knife to cut into equal (or as equal as you can) pieces. Then it’s easy to cut a little from the bigger pieces and add to the corners.

I used to make a dozen, but found that the bagels just were too big (I think store-bought ones are too big, too), so now I cut the dough into 18 pieces.

There are two ways to form bagels. One way is to roll each piece of dough into a rope and pinch the ends together creating the bagel. I find it quickest just to pinch each piece together creating a ball, like we do for our Soft 100% Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls.

And then simply use my thumb to punch through the center of the dough ball, stretching a bit as I do in order to create the classic bagel shape.

It’s not perfect (but that’s hardly ever my goal, remember?), but it will puff more during the boiling and baking stages.

After all the bagels have been shaped, set them aside to rest for about an hour under a dampened towel.

The classic ingredient to add to the water for bagels is malt syrup. Right. Obviously most of us never have that around. That’s one of the reasons I loved Gina’s yeast recipe- she used baking soda and it turned out wonderful bagels that weren’t all misshapen like the others I had tried that used honey as a replacement. For some reason using just soda alone creates the most uniform bagels for me.

Boil the bagels for one minute, turning them at the halfway mark.

The bagels on the right have been boiled, those on the left not. You can see that they puff up a bit during this stage. It’s OK to put them close together on the baking sheet, as they won’t puff up much more during baking.

Bake as-is or coat with a bit of milk or an egg glaze (water+beaten egg) and the topping of your choice- sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion flakes and even a bit of kosher salt is yummy.


Sourdough Bagels

  • 2 c. sourdough starter
  • 1-1/4 c. water (if your starter is thick, use 1/4 c. more)
  • 1 Tb. oil
  • 5-1/2 -6 c. bread flour (I use 1/2 whole wheat & 1/2 all purpose and they’re good)
  • 1 Tb. salt
  • optional ingredients for bagel dough: onion powder & dried flakes for onion bagels; cheese for cheese bagels, herbs, raisins & cinnamon, etc. – this is where you can get creative!
  • 1 Tb. baking soda
  • milk or a glaze made of an egg + water (the egg glaze creates a shiny bagel) – optional
  • toppings of choice: sesame or poppy seeds, dried onion flakes, cheese – optional if flavoring the dough – optional
  1.  Mix starter, water, oil, flour, and salt together and then let rest for 10 minutes.
  2. Knead the dough with a dough hook on low speed for about 4 minutes – the dough will be very stiff.
  3. Transfer to a greased large bowl and let rise for 4 hours. Fold the dough over on itself 2 times (or try to- sometimes I don’t always remember both folds)
  4. Pour out the dough onto a floured surface (a lightly floured tea-towel works great), knead a couple of times, flatten and cut into 12-18 equal pieces (about 5 oz. each).
  5. Shape the bagels by making each piece into a ball and using your thumb to punch a hole through the middle of the ball, stretching to make the center hole. Set the shaped bagels on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet (12 will fit on one large sheet, if making 18, use two smaller sheets) – they are known for sticking, so this will make removing them much easier.
  6. Drape the shaped bagels with a damp towel (the one used for cutting works great) and let sit for about an hour.
  7. Fill a large 12-inch skillet 1/2 to 3/4 full with water and add the tablespoon of soda. Bring it to a boil. Start the oven preheating to 450 degrees at this time.
  8. When the water is boiling, drop as many bagels as will fit, one at a time, into the boiling water. Boil for 1 minute, turning at the halfway mark. Use a slotted spoon to place the bagels back on the baking sheet. Continue until all the bagels have been boiled.
  9. Brush the bagels with milk or an egg glaze at this point, if you wish, and top with your desired toppings.
  10. Bake for 14 to 15 minutes, alternating pans at the halfway point if needed. Cool on a rack.

Makes 12- 18 bagels

I’m sharing this at Countdown to 2013:Best Soup & Bread.


  1. says

    Anyone who makes bagels is my hero. I keep thinking I’ll work up the courage, find an open time in my calendar and make some. I don’t buy many breads so my kids really miss the bagels. Maybe later next week…

  2. Stoney Acres says

    Wow thanks for the recipe, we have tried bagels a few times with varying success. I appreciate the pointers we will have to try them again!

  3. says

    this recipe is great! i made these for my family a few days ago, we’ve had them multiple times and we all love them! i did 5 1/2 c. ww flour, and 1 c. white, then white for the end shaping. we try to stay away from white as much as possible. next time i’m going to try 100% whole wheat! thanks for an awesome recipe!

    • JustMe says

      If you are making 100% whole wheat, you might want to consider using some additional wheat gluten and/or adding an egg to replace some of the water. Whole wheat just doesn’t hold air the same as refined flour does, even if it is a high protein bread flour. Bagels are already a heavier crumb, and whole wheat takes a little more TLC.

  4. says

    Made these the other night! My whole family loved them! Thanks for the awesome recipe! They were very moist and light for being mostly whole wheat {I used 5 1/2 c. ww, 1 c. white). Thanks again!

  5. says

    Great recipe, we are going to make these this afternoon so finger’s crossed. I hope we can get Sorge, our sourdough starter to 2 years, she’s only 2 months at the moment!

      • Genevieve says

        I just tried making these today. They have a wonderful flavour, and we enjoyed them with smoked salmon and cream cheese. I don’t own a dough hook, so it was all by hand for me!
        Thank you for the recipe, we’re going to make these more often– for sure!

  6. JustMe says

    My family favorite bagel:

    Add 1 head of roasted garlic, 1 medium roasted onion and 1 teaspoon of dried dill to the recipe, and later top your bagels with cream cheese and fresh tomato slices. Season and toast gently (tomato skins will loosen and can be removed). Serve warm.

    Tips: Make sure you use an active and recently fed sourdough starter. Add or remove flour as needed: the dough should be stiff and not sticky. Before boiling, air-dry for a few minutes until the surface forms a thin skin to make handling easier.

    Moister bagels can be made by simmering for longer periods. More browning will occur on baking as you add more baking soda and/or honey. Soft pretzel recipes tend to use more of both, and I find using more on bagels is not a bad thing, and this recipe could make a decent pretzel, too.

  7. Beth says

    Can’t wait to make these!

    Question about the flour: You say to use 5 1/2 – 6 cups bread flour. I don’t have whole wheat flour that is specifically called bread flour. Can I use 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 bread flour (flour specifically called that)? I hope this makes sense!

    • says

      You can adjust the flour however you’d like, Beth! The outcome may be a bit different, but using and experimenting with different flours is how I test recipes all the time. :)

      • Beth says

        Thanks for the info! Is it okay to let the rising occur over night? I was hoping to mix up the dough this evening and actually make the bagels in the morning. Or will that be too long a rising period?

    • says

      It’s probably too late for this be helpful, but maybe someone else reading this will want to know… Bread flour is made from hard, high gluten varieties of wheat, while pastry flour is made from soft, low gluten varieties of wheat.

      So, the whole wheat equivalent of bread flour is flour made from hard red wheat (hard white wheat also works, but doesn’t have quite as much gluten). The whole wheat equivalent of pastry is made from soft white wheat.

      As Jami said, you can experiment and get it work different ways, but it helps to know a little bit about your ingredients going in.

    • MichaelH says

      It works just as well rising overnight.

      I bake around a work schedule, so I’ll prepare dough, let it cool-rise in an oiled bowl in the fridge (covered with damp towel and plastic wrap), and pull it out in the morning. It softens and continues to rise throughout the day and I use it that evening. I did that with this recipe and they turned out great!

      It was my first time making bagels and they turned out fantastically; it was a lot of fun to play with varieties too!

      Unrelated tip: Waxed paper did nothing to prevent sticking since the paper gets damp, after the first batch I switched to non-stick aluminum foil for zero sticking. Depending on the type of bagel, I might try some rice flour or white corn meal (the latter should work well and you can dust off most of the excess after they cool).


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