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. Following this is a Bittman recipe adaptation for six whole wheat sourdough bagels. Either recipe is a multitasker’s dream, going through them while doing other things or relaxing with streaming TV.

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, optional (see Notes)
  • 1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup, optional (see Notes)
  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

Bagels, after Bittman Bread

This recipe is an adaptation of the methodology of Bittman Bread — No-Knead Whole Grain Baking for Every Day: A Bread Recipe Cookbook by Mark Bittman and Kerri Conan, specifically its rolls/buns section. Each bagel is about 3.5-4 ounces.

  • 100 g sourdough starter, does not need to be refreshed first
  • 350 g whole wheat flour, divided use
  • 20 g vital wheat gluten, optional (for stronger rise)
  • 260 g water, divided use
  • 1 Tablespoon barley malt syrup (or any kind of sweet syrup like agave, maple or even molasses)
  • 7 g salt
  • 1.5-2 quarts water
  • Vegetable oil, any kind
  • “Everything but the bagel” seasoning blend, dried onion flakes, or poppy or sesame seeds, optional
  1. Combine thoroughly starter with 100 g whole wheat flour and 100 grams water in a large bowl. A soft spatula works well. Cover bowl and rest at room temperature 8-12 hours.
  2. Refresh starter by stirring in 50 g whole wheat flour and 50 g water, cover and refrigerate.
  3. Mix together in a small bowl the remaining 200 g flour with optional wheat gluten with a fork. Mix in a measuring cup the remaining 110 g water with the syrup.
  4. Add to the large bowl, already containing the starter, the flour-wheat gluten mix and the water-syrup mix, using a dough whisk, big spoon or your hand, 2-4 minutes. Expect the dough to form a loose ball, not too sticky. Cover bowl and let rest about 1 hour.
  5. Mash the salt into the dough with wet hands, about 2 minutes. Cover and let rest about 30 minutes.
  6. Fold the dough two rounds (video demo) using wet hands about 30 seconds total, cover and let rest about 30 minutes. Do this four times.
  7. During step 6, prepare a baking half sheet or two baking quarter sheets by lining with parchment paper. Smooth a thin layer of oil over the parchment.
  8. After the fourth fold, cut dough into six pieces. Oil hands and form each into a tight ball. Then shape the balls into bagels; don’t fret that they’re not machine-like rounds! Make sure the bagel hole is big as it will close up some. Place the 6 on the oiled, parchment-lined half sheet or 3 on each oiled, lined quarter sheet, as far apart as possible. Let rest 30 minutes, no need to cover, allowing them to get a bit puffy.
  9. During Step 8’s 30-minute rest, set 1.5-2 quarts water to boil in a large saucepan or medium Dutch oven. The water should only be about 2 inches deep.
  10. Have at hand a stiff spatula or a large slotted spoon. The water should be faster than a simmer, a steady but not too vigorous boil. Using the spatula in one hand and fingers of the other confidently but gently scoop up a bagel and drop in the roiling water. Quickly scoop up a second bagel and drop in the pot. Gently pry bagels from the bottom if they sink and start to stick. After 20-30 seconds gently turn over both bagels so their second sides get their 20-30 seconds in the bubbles. Return these two bagels to their spots on the parchment. Repeat twice, to boil all six bagels.
  11. Optionally sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon seasoning blend on each bagel. Or poppy seeds, sesame seeds or dried onion flakes, or no seasoning at all.
  12. Place the baking sheet or sheets in a COLD oven, then set the heat to 375 degrees and bake 25 minutes. Do not preheat. Remove pan or pans, place bagels with tongs or spatula on a tray or board and return to the oven, sitting them directly on a rack or baking stone, and bake another 5 minutes.
  13. As these are rolls, they can be enjoyed when cool enough, not wait to be thoroughly room temperature. Refrigerating, covered, will keep bagels fresh a week. Slice before freezing, then they can be popped in the toaster without thawing.
Bagels Ben made Labor Day weekend 2023, using whole wheat sourdough methodology from "Bittman Bread" by Mark BIttman and Kerri Conan.
Bagels Ben made Labor Day weekend 2023, using whole wheat sourdough methodology from “Bittman Bread” by Mark BIttman and Kerri Conan.
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