Beranbaum’s bagels from “The Bread Bible”

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summary: recipe for bagels based on Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Bread Bible” bagels; continuation of review of “Bread Bible”; submission for YeastSpotting; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

bagel Don’t these bagels look fabulous?

Here’s a big surprise: they are. :-)

And the reason I suddenly had to make bagels? We were at St. Lawrence Market a couple of weekends ago and as we headed towards the cheese stall, we passed by a bagel stall. There was a guy holding a long long narrow peel, constantly pulling beautiful looking bagels out of the oven and dumping them into a giant wooden trough.

Lured by the intoxicating aroma of freshly baked bagels, we bought a couple and sat outside by the fountain to savour them with butter and coffee. Well. Rats. They were okay. In fact they were pretty good. But they were more like buns shaped like rings than bagels.

I kept saying to myself, “My bagels are better… I should make bagels”.

And so, almost as soon as the heat broke (that was some rain storm last Friday!!!) that’s exactly what I did.

I was going to make the bagels I usually make. I really was.

bread books The recipe is scrawled on a piece of paper and might be in any one of four places: 1. the recipe stand on the counter (I avoid looking there until last because all the recipes jammmed and precariously balanced there have a tendency to fall to the floor and might require sorting :lalala:) 2. on my desk beside the computer (I avoid looking there until second-last because not only do I have to go upstairs but all the recipes jammed and precariously balanced, etc. etc.) 3. in the blue or red looose leaf folder OR the brown binder on the cookbook shelf (I avoid looking there at all because those aren’t very well indexed – some industrious someone really should do that…). 4. in a cookbook, being used as a bookmark (ha) in one of the bread books on the shelf.

I chose to start with #4. And as I started to pull “The Italian Baker” off the shelf, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Bread Bible” came along with it. And I remembered noticing that she had made bagels. Aha. There’s an index there! I aborted on #4 and added a new number to the list: 5. Try a new recipe.

I read the introduction to Beranbaum’s bagel recipe:

[I]t was my father who brought us freshly baked bagels on a string every Friday afternoon after he made his weekly delivery of bagel peels. […] So when I started working on this recipe, I made sure my father was there to set the standard. He did more than that. He drew from his memory of sixty years ago a technique he had observed of shaping the bagels by rolling them first into a rope, which strengthens the dough and makes the baked bagels extra chewy. When I asked him whether they approached the bagels of his memory, to my delight, he said, “They’re better!”

– Rose Levy Beranbaum, “Levy’s Bagels”, The Bread Bible, pp 152-161

They’re better?! That clinched it. I got out the scale and started mixing. (If you just got here, I already started to drone on about that on Sunday.) Being the verbose person I am, I’ll go on and add some more…

bagel recipe There are three markedly different things about Beranbaum’s bagels. She mixes the starter and puts the rest of the dry ingredients on top to rest there as the starter melds. She adds black pepper to the dough! And instead of parboiling in a sugar or malt bath, she parboils in water laced with molasses and baking soda. She writes:

During this time the flour will bubble through the flour mixture in places; this is fine.
The baking soda helps to create a golden color in the crust. Molasses contributes extra shine.

– Rose Levy Beranbaum, “Levy’s Bagels”, The Bread Bible, pp 152-161

(There’s no explanation about the pepper. Is it her idea? Is it commonly added to bagels? Not having grown up in a bagel household, I don’t know. Do you?)

bagel dough As I looked at the bowl when I put it INTO the fridge, I thought of Beranbaum’s statement “During this time the flour will bubble through the flour mixture in places”. No kidding. It was already starting to move after only an hour. (I should have taken a photo!)

And then in the morning. Oh my! Does it ever bubble through!! It went nuts. I almost expected it to climb right out of the bowl and start taking over the house.

The only snag I ran into with this somewhat radical method of bagel making was with the yeast. Beranbaum calls for instant yeast in both the starter and the flour mixture. We have active dry yeast that should be rehydrated before being added. So I made an executive decision. Because there is not water added in the second step, I added all the yeast to the starter. But as I was measuring it, I decided to add less. Having seen the activity, it was a wise decision.

Here is what I did to Beranbaum’s recipe to make some pretty terrific bagels:

Beranbaum bagels
based on the recipe for “Levy’s bagels” in The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum


  • 531 gm room temperature water (25C in kitchen)
  • 1½ tsp active dry yeast
  • 468 gm unbleached bread flour

rest of dough

  • 300 gm unbleached bread flour
  • 64 gm all-purpose whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp malt powder
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 21 gm seasalt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

after shaping

  • good shot of boiling water
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • sesame and/or poppy seeds


  1. starter: In the evening of the day before you plan to make bagels: in a bowl large enough for the final dough to double, whisk the yeast into the water (in winter, make sure that it’s lukewarm: do the baby bottle test on your wrist to ensure the water is not too hot). Add the starter flour and stir with a wooden spoon to mix well.
  2. Cover the bowl with a plate and set aside on the counter.
  3. rest of dough: In another bowl, whisk all the flour mixture ingredients together. Remove the cover from the starter dough and carefully pour the flour mixture on top of the starter. Do NOT stir it in. Cover the bowl with a plate and plastic hat and leave it on the counter in a draft-free area for an hour. Then put it in the refrigerator overnight (in winter, I’ll just leave it on the counter overnight because our kitchen is about 15C at night)
  4. kneading: In the morning of the day you plan to make bagels: it’s not unlikely that the starter will have bubbled up into the flour mixture. Put the bowl on the counter for about an hour to bring it up to room temperature.
  5. Use a wooden spoon to stir the flour mixture into the starter to mix as well as you can.
  6. Turn the rough dough out onto an unfloured board. There will probably be extra flour.
  7. Wash and dry the mixing bowl.
  8. Knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes until it is smooth and springy. Note that this dough may seem quite stiff. As you knead, resist the temptation to add more flour. (Only do so if the dough is hopelessly sticky.)
  9. Put the kneaded dough into the clean bowl, cover, and let rise til double on the counter in a non-drafty area.
  10. shaping: Turn the risen dough out onto a very lightly floured board (just the smallest dusting will be enough). Divide the dough evenly into 12 pieces.
  11. Shape each piece into a rope. Overlap the ends to form a ring and roll that section of the ring to remove the line of the join. Place, well spaced, on two parchment lined baking sheets. Cover with a damp (clean) tea towel.
  12. Leave to rise til the rings are almost doubled. (about an hour or so)
  13. Half an hour before baking, turn the oven to 400F.
  14. parboiling: Just before baking, pour a good shot of water into a large pot and bring to a smiling boil. Stir in molasses and baking soda.
  15. Put a layer of sesame seeds (or poppy seeds) onto a large plate.
  16. Carefully lift a risen ring from the sheet and drop it gently into the boiling water. After 30 seconds or so, use a slotted spoon to turn the bagel over and allow it to boil for about another half minute. Remove from the water and place on the seeds. Use an egg lifter to lift and flip the bagel onto the parchment paper. Repeat with the other rings. (Please see photo essay of parboiling bagels.)
  17. baking: Put the bagels onto the top shelf of the 400F oven. (We use the top shelf to prevent the bagels from burning on the bottom) Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, turning the pan once to allow for uneven oven heat.
  18. Allow to cool on a rack before eating. (They’re still baking when they are first removed from the oven.)

If you like warm bagels, reheat them after they have cooled. Serve them with butter. Or cream cheese. Or goat cheese. And apricot jam. Or red currant jelly. Or smoked salmon and capers. Or….

:: I weighed the ingredients but every recipe in Beranbaum’s book has measurements by weight (grams & ounces) and volume. She also states the final percentages at the end of the recipe. Because our scale does not register fractions of grams, I used volume measures for the small amounts. Beranbaum calls for 6.4gm (2 tsp) instant yeast in all, 12.5gm sugar and 9.3gm malt powder. She does not give a weight for the black pepper or baking soda. She calls for 1 Tbsp salt (21gm). I used our tablespoon to take the seasalt out of the container and put it on the scale. Very interesting! A tablespoon of the fine seasalt we buy weighs only 13gm.

:: Next time, I will hold back about 60 gm of water and 1 tsp of yeast and add them (rehydrating the yeast first) just before stirring the flour mixture into the starter.

:: Please note that strong bread flour is best for bagels. While all-purpose flour CAN be used, the resulting bagels are more like buns with holes in the center. In fact, next time, even though I like adding a little whole wheat flour to all bread, I will look for strong whole wheat flour. (We used to be able to get “best for bread” whole wheat flour at around 13.5% protein but since Robin Hood was taken over by Smuckers, this particular style of flour has disappeared from the supermarket shelves and only all-purpose whole wheat flour at around 11.5% protein is readily available. (If I continue to add whole wheat flour to bagels, I may try following Beranbaum’s recommendation to add a small amount of vital wheat gluten.)

:: Under no circumstances should you use water from the hot water tap. Water from the hot water tap sits festering in your hot water tank, leaching copper, lead, zinc, solder, etc. etc from the tank walls… the higher temperature causes faster corrosion. Of course, saying that it is unsafe to use water from the hot water tap might be an urban myth, but why tempt fate? Heat the water in a kettle or microwave.

:: Bagels can also be shaped by forming the dough pieces into balls. Pick up each ball and poke a hole in the center with your thumb. Stretch the hole by turning the ring around first a couple of fingers than your hands. The hole should be quite large.

:: If you wish to serve warm bagels, reheat them after they have cooled completely. To reheat uncut bagels, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bagels in the hot oven for ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust perfectly.

bagel As you may be able to see from the half of the poppy seed bagel, some of the rings came apart in the water bath. Luckily, it makes no difference to the flavour.

The crumb of these bagels was a little softer than other bagels I’ve made. I don’t know if it is because of adding a little all-purpose whole wheat flour or if it is the recipe itself. Soft though they are, they are still delicious! And they are bagel-like. Not like soft buns with holes in them at all. Yay.

I really like the addition of the black pepper! It smelled wonderful when I was kneading the dough. I’m not sure that we could detect its presence but it’s very possible that we would miss it if it weren’t there.

I’m not so sure about the baking soda in the par-boiling water. The bagels are quite salty. (Of course, this might be because of how much salt Beranbaum calls for in the bagel dough itself.) Next time I make bagels, I think I’ll revert to parboiling in a malt or sugar bath sans baking soda.

However, rest assured that these bagels are MUCH better than the commercial bagels we had recently.

Hmmmm, I’m thinking it might be time for a bagel now. With cream cheese. And apricot jam. Homemade apricot jam. (Remind me to rave about our new method for making apricot jam!!)

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4 responses to “Beranbaum’s bagels from “The Bread Bible”

  1. Susan/Wild Yeast

    These look yummy! That’s interesting about putting the dry ingredients on top of the fermenting starter; I’ve never seen that before. I always add baking soda to my boiling water and can’t imagine it any other way, but I’ll try your malt method and see how it compares.

    edit 13 September 2009: They WERE yummy! I must make them again soon… I’d never seen that method of putting all the dry ingredients on top of the fermenting starter either, Susan. I wonder if it is simply a way to ensure that all the ingredients have gone in? Whatever the reason, the results were pretty good. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the difference between malt and baking soda in the parboiling water. -Elizabeth

  2. Mimi

    This recipe is very interesting. I like that the starter sits in the fridge overnight. I bet it gave the dough a great flavor boost.

    edit 13 September 2009: It is really good, Mimi. (I do wonder how many traditional bagels are made with overnight starters though.) -Elizabeth

  3. Baking Soda

    “precariously balanced” and “might require sorting” I love that! It more or less completely describes the state of my laundry-needs-ironing… Maybe I should bake bagels first.

    I like the starter idea, the dry ingredients on top of a starter or a pre-ferment is dubbed “volcano method” by a friend of mine and besides that it looks fun it really works too. I really should attempt bagels again and use this recipe. Really. They look great!

    edit 13 September 2009: The “volcano method” is pretty cool, Karen. As soon as I can knead with two hands (I really shouldn’t be allowed into the kitchen alone with a dull paring knife!), I will be trying it out again. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll iron all those things that have been waiting and waiting and waiting…. :lalala: -Elizabeth


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