Of all the baking-style bread products you can make at home, bagels are perhaps the most intimidating. You really shouldn’t be. The dough is easy to handle and very difficult to screw up; With the right recipe, your first try will taste ten times better than anything you can get outside of a real bagel store.

The hard part is finding this recipe. I am here to help. I used to make bagels professionally from a recipe I developed and almost a decade later, it’s still what I use at home. (I haven’t published it yet.) But you don’t have to be a former pro to toss great bagels in your own kitchen – you just have to know what works and what doesn’t. Here are my top tips for determining if a recipe is worth your time.

Start with the ingredients list

In addition to the obvious (bread flour, water, salt, yeast), you’ll want a recipe that calls for a thick liquid sweetener. Traditionally, New York-style bagels use malted barley syrup and Montreal-style bagels use honey. I’ve used both and prefer molasses because it’s cheap, common, and works great.

Next, Calculate the percentage of hydration. It should be around 50% which is much lower than other types of bread. This results in a dense, sturdy dough that can withstand boiling water and becomes super tough in the oven. A bit more hydration is fine, but once you hit 60% it becomes pizza dough.

Next, take a look at the instructions

This is where things tend to get hairy. Bagels aren’t technically difficult to make, but it takes time to get right. Many recipes try to avoid the time expenditure by using shortcuts that always violate the finished product. Treat them like the red flags they are – if you see one, move on:

  • No cooling: If, according to a recipe, you don’t refrigerate the formed bagels overnight, it’s rubbish. A long, slow rise at a low temperature will fully develop the gluten, set the shape, add some funky and create those iconic fermentation bubbles on the crust. I cannot exaggerate the importance of this step.
  • Baking powder in a water bath: Baking soda is a weak substitute for lye, which is for pretzels. As is well known, bagels are not pretzels; They get their shiny, snappy crust from slow fermentation, boiling water, and a screamingly hot oven – no lye, let alone baking soda.
  • Too much cooking: The longer you cook a bagel, the thicker and crispy the crust will be. I’ve seen recipes take 2 minutes per page, which puts a strain on me physically and emotionally. Do you want sad, flat, rock-hard pucks? I didn’t think so. A quick immersion – a total of 20 to 30 seconds – is sufficient.

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With all of these criteria in mind, the vast majority of bagel recipes are eliminated, but I can enthusiastically vouch for them The recipe from Becky Krystal and Alex Baldinger in the Washington Post. (If you cut the cooking time in half, Peter Reinhart’s recipe is good too.) You take the time to get things right, and it shows: these recipes are easy to follow and always produce great results.