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Tomato Basil Bagels (Guest Post)

January 9, 2014

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I’ve been making bagels for a while now—definitely long enough to feel that I’ve gotten the hang of making them.

I don’t make them very often, though, and unfortunately, I have a bad habit of not following baking directions completely. Call it overconfidence or neglect: I’ve been having a hard time remembering a critical step while making bagels.

It usually happens when Allison is out of town and I start in on a horror movie marathon while multitasking. I will be surfing the internet, knitting, doing laundry, and/or baking while Evil Dead or An American Werewolf In London is playing on TV.

Tomato Basil BagelsPin it!

Usually I do pretty well at all that multitasking, unless I’m trying to make bagels. I like to think that since bagels are so easy, that they don’t require constant attention. And they don’t really; but there are so many separate steps involved on the first day that I need to pay attention and practice each step deliberately.

Weighing out the dough for Tomato Basil Bagels

The only step I have a hard time remembering is letting the bagels rest for 20 minutes after shaping them in order to make sure they pass the “float test.” Usually if I’m multitasking, I will cut the dough for each bagel, weighing out 4.5 ounces for each ball of dough, shape them, spray them with oil, and cover them with plastic, quickly placing them in the fridge for overnight proofing, before congratulating myself on the idea of having a dozen bagels ready for when Allison comes home.

Making Tomato Basil Bagels (misted with canola oil to go into the fridge)

When I wake up in the morning, I get the water boiling, preheat the oven, and take the baking sheets full of bagels out of the fridge. Once the water comes to a boil (which takes forever in my opinion), I drop in a bagel or two and my heart sinks when I see them sink to the bottom of the pot.

Tomato Basil BagelsPin it!

If you forget to make sure your bagels pass the float test before putting them in the fridge (retarding them) the night before, they will be dense and too heavy to float in the boiling water.

How to shape bagels

The first time this happened to me, I ended up throwing out the entire batch of maple cinnamon bagels. The second time I did this, a few months after the first failure, I chastised myself, but—after turning off the oven and stove—it occurred to me to try letting them warm up for a few hours to see if they would continue to rise.

Tomato Basil Bagels (toasted and smeared with labne)Pin it!

It was a chilly day in Santa Barbara and it took about 4 hours before they passed the float test and I felt comfortable enough to boil and bake them. Unfortunately, the damage was done: while they did float in the boiling water and bake well, the texture of the finished product when toasted was still doughy and it lacked the perfect hard shell and airy crumb of my earlier bagels.

Tomato Basil Bagels (toasted and smeared with labne)

Now every time I make bagels I repeat the mantra: “MAKE SURE THEY ARE READY TO RETARD!” (and “FLOAT TEST!“) to myself several times throughout the different steps. I mentally visualize those particular steps in bolded all caps.

Making Tomato Basil Bagels

Once I felt comfortable enough to re-try making bagels, I wanted to think up a new flavor. One of my favorite combinations is tomato and basil. We try to make bruschetta every time we make baguettes, my favorite pizza is margherita, and I have never been able to turn down a good caprese salad. These bagels have the subtle tang of tomato and the warm flavor of basil. They are simply divine when you add cream cheese. We’ve made them twice now.

Making Tomato Basil Bagels

Our love of basil and tomato made this recipe kind of a no-brainer. But not really a no-brainer; make sure you remember the “FLOAT TEST!

Tomato Basil Bagels (toasted and smeared with labne)Pin it.

Print this recipe. (PDF)


Tomato Basil Bagels

(Makes 12-14 bagels)

Active time: 50 min. (Day 1), 30 min. (Day 2); Total time: 3.5 hours (Day 1), 30 min. (Day 2).

Sponge (Starter) Ingredients:
~ 1 tsp. instant yeast
~ 4 cups bread flour
~ 2½ cups water, at room temperature

Dough Ingredients:
~ ½ tsp. instant yeast
~ 3¼ cups bread flour
~ 2 tsp. salt
~ ¼ cup malted barley syrup
~ 3 Tbsp. minced basil (we used pre-minced Gourmet Garden basil)
~ 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
~ 1 tsp. baking soda (for Day Two)

Special Equipment Needed:
~ a kitchen scale

How to make it:


1. For the sponge: In a 4 quart mixing bowl, stir the yeast into the flour. Add the water and stir until it forms a nice sticky batter, like a thick pancake batter. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 2 hours or until the sponge becomes bubbly.

The sponge for Tomato Basil BagelsAdding malted barley syrup to the dough for Tomato Basil Bagels

2. For the dough: Stir the remaining instant yeast into the sponge. It should be very light, and as you stir, you will be able to see (some large) bubbles form and quickly pop. Stir in 3 cups of the bread flour (setting aside the remaining ¼ cup), and stir in the salt, barley syrup, basil, and tomato paste. The dough will still feel light and airy as you mix it and there will be about half a cup of flour mixture at the bottom of the bowl. Transfer the dough onto a flat surface for kneading. Pour over the extra flour from the bottom of the bowl; incorporate this—along with the remaining ¼ cup bread flour—into the dough while kneading. After 10 minutes of kneading, you should have a smooth ball of dough; it shouldn’t be wet and sticky, but just a little tacky.

Kneading the dough for Tomato Basil BagelsWeighing out the dough for Tomato Basil Bagels

3. Immediately divide the dough into pieces weighing about 4.5 oz. each. Cover the pieces of dough with a clean, slightly damp cloth and let rest for about 10 minutes.

4. Shape the bagels: Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpats, and spray the parchment with canola oil. Roll each ball of dough into an 8-inch rope. Wrap the rope around your palm to the back of your hand and pinch the ends of the rope together. Massage the ends into each other so that they seal.

5. Arrange the bagels about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets (6 bagels should fit on each sheet). Keep a plate handy with parchment paper sprayed with oil for any extra bagels beyond the dozen. Lightly mist the bagels with canola oil, cover with plastic wrap and let proof at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Making Tomato Basil BagelsMake sure your bagels can pass the Float Test

6. Use the “float test” to see if the bagels are ready for the final ferment in the fridge. Once they pass the float test, re-cover the bagels with plastic wrap, and place the baking sheets in the fridge overnight.


7. Boil the bagels: The next morning add the baking soda to a large pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, arrange two oven racks near the center of the oven, and preheat to 500 degrees F. Remove the bagels from the fridge and drop the bagels into the water, two at a time, or as many as will comfortably fit in the pot. Boil for one minute then flip over for another minute. You can place the boiled bagels back on the same parchment paper or silpats.

Making Tomato Basil BagelsJust boiled Tomato Basil Bagels, ready to be baked

8. Bake the bagels: Once all of the bagels have boiled, place the cookie sheets into the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then switch the baking sheets and rotate them 180 degrees. Lower the oven to 450 degrees and bake for another 5 minutes at least—or if you like your bagels more golden, you can leave them in for 3 additional minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and transfer bagels to a cooling rack for 15 minutes.

Print this recipe! (PDF)

Tomato Basil BagelsPin it!

Related recipe posts:

Maple Cinnamon Bagels Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad Peppered Turkey Scones Slow-Roasted Tomato Bruschetta
Maple Cinnamon Bagels Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad Peppered Turkey Scones Slow-Roasted Tomato Bruschetta
27 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2014 9:42 am

    ohmygod. i wish i could get my shit together enough to make bagels from scratch because holy crap those look good. would be delicious with whipped feta or ricotta….

    • January 9, 2014 10:12 am

      It doesn’t take that long! You just need to start them on a weekend-night, so you can wake up and boil+bake them the next morning after they’ve been in the fridge overnight. …but then I’m one to talk—I’m not the one who actually makes the bagels around here, Paula is; I just take the photos and click “publish” on her guest posts. :)

      Anyway, you’re right they would be delicious with whipped feta or ricotta! They are also great with cream cheese of course, and with labne (thick strained yogurt cheese), which is what’s in the photos.

    • January 11, 2014 3:13 pm

      I rarely think I have my shit together, but after making a batch of bagels, I start to feel like I have my shit together.

  2. January 9, 2014 10:36 am


    i’ve never made bagels before, pretzels, but those don’t count. i envision my small kitchen exploding with flour, and the sound of me cursing.

    though the idea of turning any stale or too doughy bagels into bagel chips has a nice ring to it.

    • January 10, 2014 10:23 am

      Lan, I’m pretty sure you could master bagels on the first try and without your kitchen exploding with flour (I won’t venture to guess anything about you cursing though :).

      And that is such a good idea to turn any less-than-perfect bagels into bagel chips—we hadn’t thought of that!

      (But also bagels freeze + defrost really well, so that also means we basically never have any get stale on us.)

    • January 11, 2014 3:14 pm

      Our kitchen doesn’t explode with flour, but I do cuss quite a bit when I’m making these. Especially when I forget to make sure they are ready to retard, I cuss so much I reckon I could make a sailor blush!

  3. January 9, 2014 1:16 pm

    Fantastic post. I’ve never really considered making homemade bagels before now. And the flavour combos are endless!

  4. January 9, 2014 2:05 pm

    Yum!! I’d like to try this!

    • January 11, 2014 3:15 pm

      Cool! If you do try them out, let me know how they turn out!

  5. January 9, 2014 5:10 pm

    Serious? Serious? Dear me, these are fantastic. Fabulous. Etc. IMPRESSED! :-)

  6. January 9, 2014 9:03 pm

    Making bagels from scratch has been on my to-do list for ages. I think I am going to have to try this recipe. I LOVE bagels. LOVE. Thanks for a great post.

    • January 11, 2014 3:18 pm

      It’s relatively a little work for a big payoff (breakfast for days and days). Let me know how it turns out if you try them!

  7. January 10, 2014 5:11 am

    I’ve always been intimidated when it comes to making bagels but you make it look totally feasible! I love the flavor combination :) And who doesn’t want to watch a horror movie marathon while multitasking and baking up some bagels?! :)

    • January 11, 2014 3:21 pm

      I still get a little intimidated whenever I think I have to make them, because it’s so much work the first day (and I’m afraid I’ll forget to make sure they can pass the float test). I always feel better once I’ve finished the first day though. And the reward really makes it all worth it.

  8. January 10, 2014 6:52 am

    Hi Alison, what a lovely idea and they look so easy to do. X

    • January 11, 2014 3:22 pm

      Surprisingly easy! We don’t even buy bagels anymore (not that there are any decent bagel bakeries in Santa Barbara)…

  9. afracooking permalink
    January 13, 2014 10:09 am

    Wow – I have to admit bagles were always one of these things that were on my “I would never dare to” list (like real puff pastry) But your step for step instruction makes this look really do-able. Thank you so much for sharing!

  10. January 13, 2014 10:09 pm

    Ah, making bagels is one of those things that I know is easy (because people who know what they’re talking about–i.e. you–have told me so) but never attempted. Now I feel extra-equipped with knowledge! These sounds amaaaaazing.

    • January 31, 2014 2:09 pm

      Yeah, it is easy but it is a lot of work. Totally worth it though.

  11. January 14, 2014 11:08 am

    wow i didnt u boil bagels before u cook them

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