Just Enough Bagels

Sourdough, Whole-Wheat, No-Knead Recipe

One goal in my first trip to New York City, organized by My Beloved, this past April, was a breakfast with fresh, real bagels.

In Ess-a-Bagel, we believed we had merely picked a well-ranked shop in Yelp walkable from our hotel, but a couple of weeks later The New York Times compared a new bagel outfit to Ess-a-Bagel, so it must have a sturdy, and large, reputation.

Scheduling didn’t allow a return stop there, so after our return M.B. mail-ordered a dozen for the house. We scarfed a few, gave some away and bagged the rest for our freezer. Meanwhile, I hunted for the right recipe for us, not too many and employing my current preferred baking style.

Adapted from Pig and Rat’s recipe on YouTube. Here are sourdough tips from King Arthur and Mark Bittman’s no-knead revolution that I’ve partially curated.

Makes 4 bagels, about 4.5 oz. each (large but not jumbo)

  • 240 g whole wheat flour
  • 120 g water, room temperature
  • 100 g sourdough starter
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast (optional, see Notes)
  • 5 g sugar (1 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 6 g salt (1 teaspoon)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup
  1. In large bowl, mix flour, water, starter and sugar with dough whisk, spoon or hand. This will create a stiff dough, on the dry side. Cover and rest 15 minutes (the dough gets the breather, you do as you like!) Meanwhile to refresh, stir into the remaining starter 50 g flour and 50 g water.
  2. With wet hands, mash in salt and oil to mix thoroughly. Cover bowl and proof 4 hours. Dough will rise but only moderately. Cut parchment paper into 4 squares, about 4 inches across.
  3. Divide dough into 4, form each into balls. Place each on a parchment square, cover then let them rest 15 minutes.
  4. With wet hands, slightly flatten each, poke hole with thumb and smooth into bagel shape. The hole should be clearly defined but not gaping; this is not a doughnut. Return each to its parchment square, arrange all on a large plate or small baking pan, not touching, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, 8-12 hours. Dough will rise but only moderately.
  5. Remove tray of bagels from fridge and allow to warm to room temperature 1-2 hours. Set 1 1/2 quarts water to boil in a medium saucepan, add syrup. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Have tongs ready. With sweetened water at a sturdy rolling boil and using a large slotted spoon or spatula, carefully place 1 or 2 bagels along with their parchment squares, into the bubbling bath. After a few seconds, gently remove squares with tongs and arrange parchments on a medium to large baking sheet/pan. After 30-60 seconds turn the bagels over for another 30-60 seconds. Drain briefly and place on parchment squares. Repeat with remaining bagels.
  7. Bake bagels 25 minutes. Unlike other breads, can be served warm from the oven. Otherwise, cool thoroughly. Store bagged at room temperature 2 days, refrigerate up to a week or freeze for several months.


  • Optional yeast — in general I choose to use what can be called discard sourdough starter. I bake often enough that it’s pretty fresh. If there’s doubt on its robustness then in Step 1 add that little bit of yeast. The proofing in Step 2 then would be somewhat under 4 hours.
  • The sugar and olive oil boost both flavor and a good color when toasted. Fully sugar-free and fat-free breads don’t brown much in the toaster, especially whole-grain ones. They still get hot and crunchy, which makes these two ingredients optional for WFPB aficionados.
  • As this is a stiff dough, rather than prevent stickiness to hands and board with sprinkles of flour, moisten your hands with water frequently when handling it.
  • Other sugar can be substituted for maple. It creates that bagel-style crust. Barley malt syrup is traditional for bagels, but a jar would last way too long in my pantry. So molasses is a good option, especially as this is whole grain, as would dissolving 1 Tablespoon brown sugar in the water.
  • Recipe can be doubled easily. Twice the amounts of all ingredients; the sourdough starter can optionally stay at 100 g.
  • For rye bagels, make 24 g of rye flour part of the 240 grams flour. Add 1 Tablespoon caraway seeds with the salt. Use molasses in the simmering water for a darker color.
  • Sure, sprinkle the bagels with rolled oats, sesame seeds or a bagel “everything” spice blend — after boiling and before baking.
A double recipe of the rye variation, Christmas 2022
A double recipe of the rye variation (see Notes), Christmas 2022
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