Bagels for babies

Bagels for babies? Think toddlers sitting in the shopping cart, happily gnawing their way through a chewy bagel half as mom shops. Or those of us eating “baby-sized” portions in order to take off those 5 pounds that magically appeared during the holidays; this recipe makes cute little 3 1/2”, 2 1/2-ounce bagels, over a third smaller than normal bagels.

Or maybe these bagels are for you bagel-baker wannabes who’ve never made this signature treat before. Because this particular recipe, while exacting in both ingredients and timing, produces a pretty darned good bagel if you simply follow the directions.

Are you a bagel babe in the woods? This one’s for you.

The usual method for making classic bagels involves a boiling water bath. But I’ve always found it a bit tricky to fish those roiling, boiling bagels out of the water. What do you use? Grab ’em with a set of tongs, they deflate. Poke ’em with a fork—ditto. A spatula works OK, but many’s the time I’ve dropped an unbalanced bagel back into the pot, knocking it into another bagel and splashing boiling water onto the counter (and me). A chopstick works well, if you can manage to get it through the hole and lift without dropping…

So I thought, why not steam? Steam is just as hot as water—hotter, actually. What you’re trying to do, by boiling or steaming bagels before baking, is to kill the yeast, so the bagels won’t rise in the oven and become puffy, rather than staying rather dense and chewy. You’re also adding a very thin coating of sugar—malt, in this case—which gives bagels their distinctive shiny crust.

Eureka! As it turned out, steaming was easy (so long as I steamed the bagels for exactly 2 minutes; you’ll see what happens with shorter or longer steams at the bottom of this post). The bagels, sitting securely on a rack set over the boiling water, were easy to move around with a spatula. And, unlike boiling, they didn’t need to be flipped over midway.

So that’s my steamy story, and I’m sticking with it. Want to try making bagels? Start here. Not quite as solidly dense as store-bought, I find these—both because of their smaller size, and their slightly easier “chew”—perfect for kids.

Bagels for babies.

Want to read the recipe as you follow along with the pictures? Here it is: Baby Bagels.


Let’s start with the chewy bagel’s best friend: high-gluten flour, or “strong” (high-protein) flour. Lancelot is King Arthur’s version. Named after Sir Lancelot, one of Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, Lancelot checks in at 14.2% protein—12% stronger than our bread flour. This extra strength translates into chewiness, a hallmark of traditional bagels.


Most bagels don’t begin with an overnight starter. But, let’s face it, bagels are pretty bland-tasting; they’re mostly about what you sprinkle on top, and what you spread inside. An overnight starter lends a bit of flavor to the bagel itself. So, mix Lancelot, cool water, and a pinch of instant yeast in a container, and cover. I’m using a 32-ounce yogurt container here.


Next morning, the starter should be nice and bubbly, and should have expanded.


I’m going to make this dough in the bread machine, as it does such a good job developing Lancelot’s abundance of stretchy gluten. A stand mixer is also fine. It’s really difficult to fully develop dough made of high-gluten flour by hand-kneading, so if you’re not an expert kneader with lots of energy, resort to a machine, please, for best results.

I’ve put all of the ingredients into the pan of the bread machine, and set if for “dough,” which means the machine will mix, knead the dough, then provide it with a cozy-warm, draft-free rising place for an hour—all with the simple push of a button. This is why the bread machines in our King Arthur test kitchen are such workhorses; they’re great for us multi-tasking test bakers, who can’t afford to spend too long on any one project. Push a button and walk away? Works for us.


Here’s the kneaded dough. It’ll be a bit craggy; that’s OK. Bagel dough is one of the few doughs that’s supposed to be stiff, rather than soft.


Here’s the dough after its hour-long rise…


…and here it is after an additional 30 minutes, for a total of 90 minutes rising time.


See that stretch? That’s gluten that’s well developed. This dough will make chewy bagels.


You can actually see the gluten strands, if you look towards the right side and bottom of the ball of dough.


Divide the dough into 12 pieces; a scale makes this easy. Each piece will weigh between 2 1/2 and 2 3/4 ounces, or 76g.


Here are your pre-bagels.


You’re going to work with six at a time, so cover half with plastic wrap. Round the other six into smooth balls, rolling them under your gently cupped fingers.


Next comes the hole. Stick your thumb and finger right through the center of each.


Twirl each bagel on your finger to widen the hole to about 1 1/2” diameter.


the holes will shrink a bit as the bagels sit, but they’re not going to be sitting too long. For best results, the process needs to go quickly from here on in, so be prepared.


Heat about 1” of water in a large, flat skillet; this one is about 12 3/4” diameter. Add a tablespoon of non-diastatic malt powder; this will give the bagels their distinctive shine. Substitute brown sugar if you like; it won’t be quite the same, but it’ll work.


Bring the mixture to a boil. You should actually get this steam bath heating at the same time you’re putting the holes in the bagels.


Add a rack; grease the rack with non-stick vegetable oil spray.


Place the six bagels on the rack over the gently boiling water, and cover.


Exactly 2 minutes later, remove the cover…


…and transfer the puffy bagels to a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Put the bagels in the oven to bake for 20 minutes.


While the bagels are baking, get your seeds ready. Here I have (l to r) poppy, toasted sesame, caraway mixed with coarse sea salt, “everything bagel,” and flax.


For best results, get your Quick Shine ready, too. This stuff absolutely glues seeds to the bagels. If you’ve ever sprayed bagels with water, then sprinkled on seeds, then seen all the seeds fall of as soon as you pick up the finished bagels, you’ll understand why I like Quick Shine. How about using a beaten egg white, instead? Sure, you can do that; I just like Quick Shine because it’s convenient, and works so well.


Here are your beautifully shiny bagels after their 20-minute bake.


Spray with Quick Shine (or water, or brush with beaten egg white), and add seeds. Or not.


Here they are, ready to go back into the oven.


Put the bagels back into the oven on a middle rack, then set another pan on a rack above; this will keep the seeds from browning too much. Just 5 more minutes is all they need.


Ah, lovely! Place them on a rack to cool.


Here’s something interesting: the first time I tried this recipe, I steamed the bagels for just 1 minute. The result? The yeast wasn’t completely killed by that short a steam, and the bagels rose some more as they baked, resulting in very tall, puffy, un-bagel-like bagels (pictured on the left, compared to a bagel that steamed for 2 minutes on the right).


I also tried steaming for 3 minutes. The bagel on the right is an example of that experiment: they rose too much, then collapsed in folds as soon as I took them out of the steam. Again, the bagel on the left was steamed for 2 minutes. So a 2-minute steam it is.


And what’s a bagel without cream cheese, right?

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Baby Bagels.


PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. Susan

    I have made these twice and they are delicious. Trouble is the dough is very sticky to work. I weighed the flour but I know that in high humidity, like here in Central Texas, I tend to need less liquid or more flour in my baking. Anyone else have this issue? Which fix is preferable?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Susan, we always recommend holding back 2-3 tablespoons of the water and adding it in just at the end if it is needed. This method is preferable over adding additional flour because too much extra flour can make for dry, dense, and heavy baked goods. Only add that extra water if the dough looks very shaggy, powdery, and won’t come together. Happy bagel making! Kye@KAF

  2. Tanya

    Best bagel recipe I’ve tried. My New Year’s resolution was to prepare more of our everyday foods from scratch and to buy locally produced products (and organic, if the budget allows) so a few changes were made. I used an organic, stone ground all purpose flour from a local mill, minimum milling protein of 13.5% so I figured it would work. It did, beautifully. We cannot get non-diastatic malt in Canada so I used brown sugar. After tearing through my cupboards I couldn’t find a rack to fit my pan so I boiled the bagels. They turned out so good that I doubt I’ll go buy a rack just for this purpose. Thanks for the blog instructions with all the pictures, it’s what draws me in to try these recipes.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Glad this recipe was a winner for you, Tanya! And thanks for sharing your modifications. Barb@KAF

  3. Gambles

    I don’t have any way to steam (though I may have to change that in the future) so I would like to try this recipe boiled using the instruction you gave Matt up on his 1/28/09 post and boil 2 min on the 1st side and 1 min on the 2nd.

    I doubt that makes a difference to my ?, but just in case …..

    question #1: Can I make half of the baby bagels on one day and put the unrisen dough in the fridge until the next day? Then I would take it out and let it rise as if it was just made on that day. I have done that successfully several times with rolls when I want a smaller quantity of rolls 2 days in a row. Would that work for a hi gluten product like bagels? I don’t want to waste my Sir Lancelot in case the idea has no hope….

    I really love the look of this recipe – especially because of the starter which leads me to a generic ?

    question #2: Can I just pull part of the flour, water, and pinch of yeast from ANY recipe to make a starter and finish it off the next day with the rest of the ingredients to get depth of flavor or does that change the other things as well?? Since starters make sense if I have the time, I’ve been wondering that for quite a while….

    Thanks for your help with those 2 questions,

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It may be best to shape the bagels, then retard or refrigerate until you have time to boil/bake. About that overnight starter – use all the water called for in a recipe, up to half the flour and a pinch of yeast. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  4. susan

    I have a mini zojirushi bread machine. It only takes 1 cup liquid to 3 cups flour total. Can you
    please adjust the recipe for this smaller machine.

    I have that problem with a lot of your recipes. So helpful if they would have a 1 lb bread machine
    recipe also.

    thank you

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for asking, Susan. The mini Zo will hold 2/3 recipe for yeast doughs made with the larger Zo. We do have a few yeast bread recipes written just for the mini Zo . Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  5. Cora

    I read through most of the comments and didn’t see this one yet, so I hope it’s not a repeat: can these be made gluten free?? I have the Ancient Grains and Whole Grain Gluten Free flours! I know that the delicious texture of bagels is obviously due to gluten, but I’d love to hear if anyone has had any success with a gluten free version of some sort! 🙂

  6. paulandlolli

    When you steam the bagels, can I use my electric food steamer rather than the pan and rack on the stove? Is the timing the same?

    Don’t see why not – the timing should be the same, too. Good idea! Let us know how it works, OK? PJH

  7. Emilie

    Can’t wait to make these. Do you have an idea of how long the kneading takes in a stand mixer? Thanks!

    With a stand mixer at speed 2 , the kneading time would be 5 or 6 minutes. Mary @ KAF

  8. Missy

    OMG, these look awesome and sooooo easy! I have ALWAYS wanted to make bagels, I swear i recall telling my mom as i moved into my first apartment (post college) in 1988 that I wanted to make homemade bagels in my new place, never did… i can! :O)

    I love this blog and how perfectly u explain everything PJ! I see it was originally posted in January, i dont know HOW i missed it! I LOVE bagels! and since im still waiting to hear from my Doc if i have to be gluten free from Celiacs disease, i want to hurry and make these for a last enjoyable treat!

    THANKS! love everything u guys do and I tell EVERYONE about KAF!

    Thanks for spreading the good word, Missy – and I hope you get a good report from your doctor that allows you to go on eating all kinds of bread… Best of luck – PJH

  9. elise

    I tried the steaming method on half the bagels in my usual whole wheat flour recipe, using a regular metal steamer basket. They came out great–almost indistinguishable from the boiled ones, and much less messy (other than forgetting to grease the steamer basket, oops). I was wondering though–isn’t steam essentially “distilled” water? In which case, wouldn’t the sugar or malt powder stay in the pan and never touch the bagels? Would it be better to brush the bagels with a little bit of the malted/sugared water before steaming, or do the ingredients in the water make their way onto the bagels anyways?
    Living here in Vermont I know that during sugaring time the air smells very sweet so there will be some sweetness in the steam. The purpose of putting a little malt or sugar in the water is to give your bagels a shine. I do not think the sweet steam will do this so you may want to brush your bagels first. Joan D@bakershotline

  10. Cedarglen

    I’ve made this recipe twice. While it is a LOT of work, my two batches of Baby Bagels were probably the ONLY legitimate bagels in Oregon those weeks. The are Great, genuine and a reasonable, homemade version of the real New York/ (or L.A.) thing. For to make, eat and to gift, I now understant why one cannot buy a genuine bagel in Oregon! They are labor-intensive and then some. To achieve a decent return on such a wonderful product, one would have to charge $3. The $3 bagel won’t fly in in rural Oregon, no matter how good it is. I’ll make them at home and offer them to a few guests. Thank you. -Cedarglen

    Yes, they are a bit time-consuming with the steaming. But there’s really no other good way to get that distinctive texture. Thanks for being devoted enough to keep this tradition going… PJH


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