Bit of a Bust Bagels

Athena ScalziIn another bout of culinary adventuring, I decided to make homemade bagels! One of my favorite food bloggers, Half Baked Harvest, posted a recipe for cinnamon crunch bagels, and I decided to try my hand at it. This post’s purpose is to take you, my dear reader, on the journey that was bagel making. Let’s get started.

To kick things off, I thought the ingredients list was super easy. As seen here, there’s really not that many ingredients:

Very standard things, like flour, salt, butter, sugar. I didn’t have to go to the store for anything! Except packets of instant yeast. As you can see from the picture, the yeast I actually bought was not instant, because I am a fool.

So, I had to mix the yeast with warm water, specifically water that was a hundred degrees, but I don’t have a thermometer so I just microwaved some water and hoped I didn’t burn my yeast alive. I’ve also never used real yeast before, only instant one time before, so I hoped I was doing it right as I mixed the water, sugar, and yeast together until it just looked like brown water. Then it got kind of foamy.

After pouring everything in the stand mixer, foamy yeast included, I attached the dough hook and let it work its magic. After a couple minutes, I ended up with this!

The recipe said to let it rise for an hour or two, so I opted for two, because I was busy playing Super Smash Bros.

As you can see, this sucker puffed up!

I punched the bejeezus out of it and rolled it out onto a lightly floured work surface (aka I just threw flour on my counter).

The recipe said it makes ten to twelve bagels, so I chose to split the dough into ten pieces, and after doing my damnedest to shape them, this is what I got:

Hey, those things vaguely look like bagels! Nice!

The recipe said to make the holes two inches but I wasn’t sure how to measure that kind of thing so I just said to myself, does this look like a bagel? And if it kind of did, I figured it was close enough.

The next step was boiling. This part is very important, DO NOT leave your pot of boiling bagels unattended. Honestly, I wouldn’t even look away from them if I were you. Never in my life have I had a pot of water try so hard to boil over (and succeed).

Once they were boiled, the bagels grew in size a considerable amount. They were almost like sponges, and soaked up a bunch of the water, so I ended up having to add more water to the pot, and boil it all over again.

I didn’t know they’d get so big. Be sure not to overcrowd your pot, I certainly almost did.

Next was the pièce de résistance, the cinnamon crunch layer. Comprised of nothing but sugar, butter, and cinnamon, this delectable addition was sure to be the star of my creation. Behold their glory before I baked them:

As you can see from the picture, the mixture got all over the baking sheet and all up in the holes of the bagels. The recipe for the cinnamon crunch layer is supposed to cover all ten to twelve of the bagels, but I used all of it on these six. So I had to make a half-batch for the remaining four, and then I used all of that on the last four! Maybe I’m too heavy handed with it, or maybe it was because so much of it spilled all over the parchment paper. Either way, you might want to make sure you have enough of your ingredients to make another batch or half-batch if necessary.

Alas, the thing I had counted on being the star of the show was the demise of my bagels. Once they baked, all that sugar that escaped turned into severely burnt caramel.

All that black goo is basically molten sugar, and it coated the bottoms of the bagels. Once it hardened, it made the bagels practically impossible to bite through because the burnt sugar layer was so hard. It also tasted bad, because, well, it was burnt.

So, I learned my lesson, and with the remaining four bagels, I put the topping on them before setting them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. This ensured there was no sugar laying around on the baking sheet all willy nilly. And behold:

Much cleaner! These actually looked like they came out correctly. However, upon eating them, they were just too tough in my opinion. My dad said they were good, and they were the right amount of chewy, like a bagel is supposed to be. But I still think they’re too hard. My dad and I decided to microwave them for like fifteen seconds to soften them, which worked okay I guess.

I’m curious if they were tough because I overworked the dough? Or maybe they would have turned out better if I had used instant yeast like I was supposed to?

Honestly, for the effort and time put into making these, I would say it’s probably better to just go with store bought bagels, or picking up some Panera cinnamon crunch ones.

So, while these were not a total bust, and they are edible enough, I wouldn’t say this endeavor was a huge success, either.

Congrats! You’ve reached the end of the post, which means I shall bestow upon the recipe for these bagels.

What’s your favorite kind of bagel? Are you a buttered bagel kind of person or do you like cream cheese on it? Do you toast them? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


59 Comments on “Bit of a Bust Bagels”

  1. As a slight counterpoint, I’ll note I tried the bagels with the burnt sugar on them and I thought they tasted perfectly good. Also, the bagels were not too tough; they were the right amount of chewy. I very much enjoyed these bagels and would be happy to have Athena make more of them whenever she felt like it. I would consider them a success.

  2. I love a chewy bagel so this sounds to me like you did it right, Athena.

    I’m a bit of a bagel snob and prefer the “traditional” flavors of onion, poppyseed, or salt, with an occasional egg bagel for variety.

    Cream cheese all the way.

    Not a fan of sweet bagel varieties but I have to say these look way better than the kind of cinnamon bagels where they swirl the cinnamon mix right into the dough.

  3. Panera bagels are more like bagel shaped bread, no proper chew to them. I think if that’s your usual bagel experience properly boiled ones might feel too chewy. (Disclaimer I used to work at a bakery that made its own bagels. I have strong feelings on this. )

  4. I suspect Ms Athena has never had a REAL bagel. The RBOs (Round Bread Objects) most places sell are (a) way too big and (b) way too fluffy to be real bagels.

    If the pandemic ever ends, take her on a tour of Manhattan and Montreal for real bagels. And yes, Montreal bagels are quite different in some ways from New York, so the comparison is worth the trip.

    Now I’m hungry.

    P.S. When I’ve made bagels, I’ve done the Montreal version, which includes some malt syrup in the water when you boil them. If she thought HER pot wanted to boil over, try it with malt syrup! It’ll boil over right in front of you after you’ve pulled it off the heat.

  5. Athena, I would eat those bagels! Does it matter how they taste, or their texture? A little. However, the delightful post of your bagel-making experience was so enjoyable, you should be paid by having those bagels enjoyed right back! Wonderful!

  6. Montreal bagels are legendary. I, because I am sometimes a bad Canadian, love New York bagels.

    (I have also never played hockey, while I’m confessing things, and never much liked beer.)

  7. I’m also on Team Savory Bagel, and also Team Bagels Are Supposed To Be Chewy. There’s nothing like a good plain bagel with cream cheese, lox and capers, maybe throw on a bit of onion for the bite. But I also like any combo of [plain, onion, everything, salt] bagel with [butter, cream cheese]. Or peanut butter on plain for a change once in a while.

  8. My honey learned how to make bagels during the past year. The initial couple of batches were fine, but as he kept making them, he found the right balance of ingredients (including ratio of flour types, which may shift the softness/chewiness dial) and now they’re perfect. He’s made a batch every week for the past 8 or 9 months…our go to is parmesan cheese sprinkled on top and a custom blend of ingredients with the cream cheese (I like sun-dried tomatoes, capers, smoked paprika, and a little garlic powder and onion powder. Comes out a bit orange, but flavorful). I also like everything bagels but we found that seasonings sprinkled on top of the bagel tended to burn while baking, so we use the “everything but the bagel” blends you can find in the grocery store.

  9. I am extremely side-eyeing that recipe. No wonder you had meh results! Bagels need bread flour, not all-purpose flour. And agree that adding malt syrup (or other liquid sweetener) to the water is key. I’ve had decent luck with King Arthur Baking recipes. Most grocery stores have King Arthur brand flours, or if you want to get fancy, check out Central Milling or Janie’s Mill, which will also have some of the ingredients like malt powder.

  10. It’s not the yeast. The main advantage instant has over active is you don’t have to worry so much that it’ll expire and not work. Since you did the make it foamy step anyway, it shouldn’t matter all that much. (Note: if it doesn’t foam, then your active dry is not so active. The idea there is rather than spend a couple hours to find out your bread won’t rise, you find out at the beginning and save yourself the trouble.)

    If you want to experiment with the texture of your bagels, you might want to play closer attention to the length of time they rise. You risk over proofing your dough by just letting it rise twice as long as called for. Good luck!

  11. I appreciate your effort. If I ever decide to try making my own bagels, I’ll just go to the store. My favorite bagels are cinnamon raisin bagels from Winco grocery store, toasted with Adam’s peanut butter on them. I’m picky about which peanut butter. It’s delicious and I have yet to find a better combo.

    I enjoy your adventures in home baking, this is my favorite topic you post about. So thanks!

  12. Definitely team savory. You can’t put chive cream cheese or smoked fish on a cinnamon bagel (and don’t get me started on blueberry). I will make exceptions for chocolate chip, because chocolate makes everything good.

    The best bagels have a nice layer of near-caramelized onions or garlic on the top. A paper-thin slice of red onion, and cream cheese with chives makes the trifecta of alliums. Smoked whitefish, sable, or lox, and if they’re really good a thin slice of tomato makes it a perfect sandwich. I like cucumber in there, but your tastes may vary.

  13. +1 on the previous comments on yeast type and using Barley Malt syrup in the water. I make NY bagels all of the time and it helps a ton to use it. It changes the ph of the water which causes the bagel to have a better crust when baked (professional bagel shops actually use lye believe it or not). Baking and getting the right feel of “just right” amount of proofing and kneading takes practice. It depends on your kitchen temp and humidity and flour types. I learned from watching Claire from Bon Appetit (before she and others left for good reason!). Keep at it! BTW if you want a related and non-boiled but delicious NY treat sold in all respectable great bagel shops – look up Bialys. Mmmmmmm.

  14. Your bagels didn’t look all that much different than the ones on the original recipe. I am sure they tasted really good!

    A couple things- yeast don’t matter. People will say it does, but I have been baking and bread making for many years (I am an old lady!) and I have used instant, active dry, rapid rise interchangeably with no real issues. I don’t always proof my active dry yeast first, especially if there is plenty of liquid in the dough. May take a little longer to rise, but yeast bread baking is patience. I would also use bread flour if you try to make bagels again. The higher protein will give you a better result. And add a bit of sweetener to the boil- sugar, malt extract, even molasses will do it. But be extra careful- the sweetened water will boil over even faster than unsweetened. Use the biggest, tallest pot you have and don’t over fill with water.
    Baking is fun. You learn something every time, even if what you end up with isn’t what you thought it would be.

  15. My wife is a pastry chef and she mentioned that the topping would have likely turned out a lot better if there was flour mixed in with the butter/cinnamon/sugar as well, so it didn’t melt and carmelize onto the bagels.

    The recipe we use at home has a number of differences:
    – Splitting the rise time into a sponge, which is basically just water/yeast/half of the flour, and then making the rest of the dough after that’s risen, and then letting the bagels themselves rise after being shaped
    – Using an unflavored dough base, and adding flavors via toppings (this lets us make a mix of plain, everything, cinnamon sugar, and cheese bagels without needing to do a full separate batch for each)
    – Adding baking soda to the boiling water in order to texture the outside (gives the outside a tiny bit of a shell and good coloring, and keeps the inside a bit softer)

    I will definitely say that when it comes to making new friends or convincing people to help you, bringing in a tray of hand made bagels is bar none the best bet I’ve had so far, so definitely recommend giving it another shot!

  16. I am really enjoying your cooking posts!

    I tend to be a bagel traditionalist, and stick to savory. So, sesame, onion, poppyseed, etc. I also prefer bagels to be chewy, as God intended.

    I haven’t tried to make bagels, but I have done pretzels which also require boiling then baking. It was a lot of work. But tasty. The first few were very misshapen, but then I got the hang of how to get them into and out of the water without messing them up too much.

    Do you think you’ll try bagels again?

  17. I agree with the others, there was no problem with the yeast because you got it to foam, and then it rose the bread. If you end up with that kind of yeast again you should be able to hold your little finger in the water for ten seconds without it hurting, the correct temperature is weird because you can’t really feel that your finger is in the water. I also agree that bread flour is a better bet, you’ll end up with smoother dough if you use it.

    A tip for if you get burnt bits, especially on the bottom – grate them off. If they are on top you’ll just have to cover them with icing ;-)

  18. As someone who grew up in NYC way back before bagels became popularized and frozen bagels and chains took over, I can say definitively that bagels are SUPPOSED to be really chewy. You have to work for their savory goodness. And definitely savory, to go with the lox and cream cheese.

  19. Rather than lye, which can be really dangerous (and is hard to get in food grade), try baking soda (not baking powder). It really is the pH, but one of the other advantages of baking soda over both lye and sugars is that it does a better job of controlling the water’s surface tension, and one therefore gets more-even boiling and bubbling. Plus, if you’re using the right quantity of baking soda and a sufficiently deep pot — when I was making bagels regularly I used a 12-quart stock pot filled slightly less than half way with water — there’s little risk of boil-over. Plus, the base (lye/baking soda) is what gives you the shiny.

    But what’s the right amount of baking soda? Depends on the water’s hardness and oxygenation, and actually varies (relatively) quite a bit. Start with 5gm per 2 liters of water (that’s roughly a teaspoon per half gallon)… and use the same water source the next time. It’s kitchen science, which means lots and lots of experiments, and the brain of Abby Normal, and it’s aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive (well, I hope the yeast is alive, anyway)…

  20. Abomination! Sugared bagels? Must be an Ohio thing.

    Otherwise, as someone who’s made bagels only a couple of times, I have to agree with the malt recommendations.

    And really, to hell with what I think. If you like it, wtf, make more!

  21. I very much enjoyed these bagels and would be happy to have Athena make more of them whenever she felt like it.

    Says the man who engages in unnatural experiments on poor unsuspecting burritos….

    Seriously? Those looks amazing good for a first try. If Athena’s up for it, I’d love to see her second try, which I bet would be even better.

  22. Sounds pretty good for a first try to me. I’ve been spending the last few months attempting to perfect homemade NYC style bagels for my native New Yorker husband. Getting enough chew for him is tough! I’ve done nine batches so far, and am getting close to what he wants.

    Cinnamon crunch would definitely not fly for him. It sounds good to me, but I’m not nearly so much of a bagel snob. Onion, garlic, sesame seed, poppy seed, salt, everything, and plain only.

  23. I’m a bagel addict and have one literally every morning. I like them with cream cheese, and I like herby flavors on my bagels, so my go-to is an onion bagel with garden vegetable cream cheese.

    Personally I get annoyed when my bagels aren’t dense and tough enough, so even though I can’t try your bagels myself, my guess is I’d land more on John’s opinion of your latest culinary experiment.

    But I must admit, I’m not a fan of the idea of sweet bagels. There’s already a sweet bagel-shaped thing called a donut. :-) I eat too much sugar already, so I don’t think I’d want it on my bagels. Savory all the way!

  24. I definitely like butter on my bagels, so I prefer savory ones like garlic, everything, onion, etc. But cinnamon bagels go very well with Kerrygold so I would be set with these. :D
    They look tasty. Not bad for a first try!

  25. I’ve been thinking about making bagels, so I’m glad you posted your experience! Bagels are one of those things that look really intimidating to make. I admire your fearlessness in the kitchen! I’m going to use the King Arthur recipe someone else mentioned as that is the second time that I’ve heard that recommendation.

  26. Making bagels is definitely not the lowest difficulty setting of baking. Yours were a great first effort, and future trials will improve.

  27. Usually when I make bagels (I prefer the chewy versions, not the bready versions) after the first rise, I will form them into Boules (Balls), rest for 20 minutes and then use my thumb to make a hole in the middle of the boule. Then Roll and stretch the dough ring.

    Then they rest and rise in the fridge overnight. You know they are ready to boil when they float in the alkaline water. after boiling they go in the oven

    keep practicing, nothing better than fresh homemade bagels

  28. #TeamMontrealBagels here.

    A visit to Montreal for historical research for John’s next novel is clearly indicated, even if such a trip runs the risk of being entirely tax-deductible.

    The combination of 18 as the legal drinking age, great bagels, and great smoked meat is worth it.

    (Plus do a side trip by train to Quebec City).

  29. My favored thing to do with the water is a tablespoon of baking soda. The alkaline water changes the proteins to make them chewy.

    I would add some cornstarch to the cinnamon streusel. It will keep the sugar from crystallizing. The easiest way to get it on a bagel, or other such things, is to put the streusel on a plate and push the bagel into it.

    Have fun with your adventures in baking.

  30. They look pretty darned good to me.

    Personally, I’m team biscuit for guaranteed home baking success. You went for a much higher difficulty.

  31. …I’ve never made bagels, but I feel like this post + the comments thereupon would be of great help if I chose to do so. Sort of a crash-course in “Details Which May Matter when Making Your Bagels”.

  32. John, with cinnamon sugar bagels, I thought the only question would be whether you’d eat them plain or wrap them in a tortilla.

    I also prefer savory – sesame bagels, either toasted or not, with cream cheese or butter, all good.

    Back when I lived in New Jersey, we’d go to the small 2-screen movie theater in Aberdeen, and next to it was Eli’s Hot Bagels, which would have still-hot just-baked bagels in the evenings getting ready for tomorrow’s delivery. Totally better than popcorn. Theater closed recently, but Eli’s is still going strong.

  33. Perhaps Athena’s greatest public service this day has been monopolizing the kitchen, thereby preventing any burritos. The Burrito Police thank her and want her to have this commemorative plastic gold-colored star…

    I’m not shy about food; I’ve eaten pacha. Those burritos scare me.

  34. Cinnamon crunch bagels are an abomination in the eyes of the lord. It is known.

    Can we just call them doughnuts and put this behind us?

    Taxonomical issues aside, they look fine.

    But I know bagels, I’ve eaten bagels, I had a bagel today – and you sir are no bagel.

  35. Chewy is good. Chewy is authentic. And while I, as an admitted and ethnically predisposed bagel purist, think that cinnamon crunch bagels stray far from the Platonic ideal…

    …I’d respectfully suggest that next time, after boiling and cooling, you just put the cinnamon-sugar mixture on a plate and gently press the bagels onto it, then flip and bake.

    Good luck…and keep experimenting!

  36. Bagels are difficult to make. Don’t give up after only one try; the first batch of bagels I ever made was barely edible.

  37. Team Montreal here too! Definitely needs a trip for research; I’m more a Fairmont person, but many favour St Viateur (those are the city’s 2 24-hour bagel bakeries). Best eaten fresh and warm while stumbling… uh, walking, home from Dieu du ciel brewpub :)

    NY is more bready, less chewy, so if your bagels end up a bit chewier than you think is right… it’s probably just that you’ve gone for a different style!

  38. I’ve never made bagels, I probably should! (Also toasted and cream cheese, although regular bread always untoasted!)

    I don’t think the yeast was an issue. I made a bunch of recipes calling for instant yeast with active dry, because instant isn’t readily available to me. You might have killed it with too hot water, although I don’t think so. 100ish is perfectly fine, and I never measure it either. Stick a Finger into the water, if it’s warm but not hot it’s perfect!
    Actual fresh yeast even better (though a lot less convenient)

    My guess would be overpoofing (let it rest for too long)

  39. re. pjcamp “Anything that is all technique is going to be hard.”

    Well said! Cooking is tools, technique, and ingredients all rolled into one. But the best tools and ingredients still require experience/mastery of technique. (As anyone who has ever eaten burnt eggs can attest.)

  40. Your experience of the boiling sounds strange. When I’ve done it, I drop the dough rings into the boiling water, they float to the surface about 10 seconds later, I fish ’em out and do the next three. Didn’t soak up much water, no chance to boil over. Was the water boiling when you dropped in your bagels? If it wasn’t, I could see that messing with the texture.

    I am team savory, onion bagels are my favorite.

  41. Why are you beating yourself up? You did a great job! They look like real, homemade bagels. And they are supposed to be a little hard and definitely supposed to be chewy, so kudos, especially for a first time.

    I used to like peanut butter on a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel (as long as there weren’t too many raisins), but have gone back to more traditional – poppy, sesame, whole wheat, pumpernickel. Generally yes, toasted with cream cheese – my favorite is actually lox spread (sometimes called lox cream cheese). My wife prefers vegetable (or scallion) cream cheese. But it depends what I’m eating. For instance, this morning I had just plain cream cheese as I made lox & scrambled eggs & onions.

  42. My early experiments in bread baking also felt tough. I think a lot of it is overusing the flour. Two solutions: practice makes perfect and get a food scale. People tend to scoop and pack flour in the measure when it ought to be loosely gathered and the top leveled off. Or weight it. Keep practicing and you will definitely get a feel for what works in bread!

  43. My favorite bagel is onion garlic. I think they need to be chewy too.

    Keep up the experimentation. I enjoy reading your adventures.


  44. I wonder if Athena thought her bagels were too tough because she’s used to store-bought, which tend to be bread in a round shape. That is, assuming that’s what she’s used to; the two store-bought she listed fall into that category.

    Was an alkaline in the boiling water? Lye is traditional but baking soda is also used.

  45. Sorry this recipe didn’t work out as planned, Athena.

    Still, you’re a braver woman than I, as I wouldn’t have even attempted this one.

    I can’t even get cookies right. :)

  46. Athena I wanted to let you know that the photo of the bagel dough, risen, in fact looked a bit under-risen to me. I’ve baked yeast breads for around 50 years, and somewhere in there, dough taught me what it looks like when it hasn’t risen enough.

    That under-rising might have been because of the non-instant yeast. If I may suggest something that will allow you to always get your dough risen sufficiently? Let it rise until it falls during the first rise only. Your crumb texture will be a bit finer that way, and it won’t kill your yeast culture. You’ll still need to punch it down, shape it, and allow it to rise a second time, but rise-until-fallen works for all doughs except artisan loaves.

    Keep on yeasting; it’s going to be something you’ll never master completely, because yeast is wild and scornful of human attempts to tame it.

  47. As some others have observed, bagels are in the upper tier of “challenging” on the scale of baked goods; I’m an experienced hand at cookies and biscuits and muffins and such, but I’ve attempted bagels maybe twice – and yours, by the photos and your dad’s account, turned out better than mine did. Those look very credible indeed for a first effort, and you’ve gotten a bunch of good advice on how to improve future batches. (I’d endorse the suggestions regarding bread flour and baking soda in particular.)

    I should note that as a west coast native, I have only rarely come in contact with Seriously Authentic Bagels by purist standards – most of my experience is with the supermarket-bakery variety (the ones they bake in the store, not the ones that come into the store already baked and bagged). I usually eat mine with butter rather than cream cheese or “schmear”, although I recently spent a week and a half putting homemade strawberry jam on a toasted plain bagel every morning after getting a jar of the former as a gift.

  48. I’m a savory, my husband is a sweet, but we both agree that home-made is better than store-bought, hands down! Having never visited Montreal, we have no opinion about which is better. Obviously, further research is called for. Yum!

  49. Athena, I really enjoy your cooking blog entries, even for something I would never make because it sounds too difficult for my very limited cooking/baking skills! The comments were fun to read too. And I vote yes for sweet instead of savory bagels. (Although I do love toasted egg bagels with peanut butter). Cinnamon crunch bagels toasted with butter are awesome. Nothing like donuts!

  50. I’m gluten-free (serious wheat allergy), so my opinions on bagels are minimal at best since I don’t think there’s a way to make a good gluten-free version. Those didn’t look bad though, and your father — and everyone else — is right that bagels are supposed to be very chewy. I hope you continue your experiments!

  51. Chewiness is due to the gluten forming long protein chains in the bread, normally from how much you work it. Try mixing it a little bit less in the mixer, dough hooks are very efficient and i find you can make quite a dense bread after just 4 minutes.
    It looks amazing for a first go, though:-) I’d keep practising. I’ve tried making ciabatta about 30 times and am still trying to get it exactly like they do in shops, but they taste good anyway!

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