Bagel Showdown!: homemade v. store-bought

I’m all for baking homemade goodies, but sometimes a deli- or store-bought item is simply better. When Katie and I were trying to decide on another Showdown, I brought up bagels. We both wondered, though, is this a case when the store-bought version is just going to be the hands-down favorite? We then realized that there are several tiers to store-bought bagels:

  • specialty bagel stores (Panera, Einstein Brothers Bagel, local bagel shops, etc.)
  • deli or grocery fresh baked packaged bagels
  • dairy department packaged bagels in refrigerated cases

We had several assumptions, judge them as you will. Specialty bagel stores are there to do one thing every day, and do it well: make a great bagel. We didn’t really think that we could reliably bake something that would be better than that, but we thought that we could easily make something good that would cost a fraction of the price. A packaged bagel from a refrigerator case, on the other hand, we were more than sure would lose to anything handmade since they resemble toasted cardboard. We chose the middle ground then for our counterpart: packaged bagels, but those that are fresh baked. We were more uncertain of the outcome there. We could make something less expensive, but what would the taste comparison show us? Which brings a tender, chewy bagel that is still full of flavor?

We were pleasantly surprised! Our voters overwhelmingly chose the homemade bagels over the store-bought for taste. The votes were more split on the texture, a fact that I am blaming on my own day in the kitchen combined with a toaster oven that I don’t usually use. Let me explain: I baked the bagels, but we had the Showdown at Katie’s house and used her toaster oven. The bagels turned out very hard once toasted compared to the store-bought. The next day when I toasted one of the same bagels in our regular toaster at home, they were wonderfully chewy and toasted, not hard. I would argue that I probably tweak my baking for the way that my family toasts and eats them. C’est la vie!

Either way, our voters were asked their preference for taste, texture, and then overall. The homemade easily won out on taste and overall, with a split result for texture. A win for home bakers! And really, a win for everyone in our families. Lots of yummy bagels? No one was complaining. 🙂

~ Theresa

What you need:

bagel showdown


  • 2 c. warm water
  • 1 t. active dry yeast
  • 6 1/4-6 1/2 c. bread flour (No really, use bread flour and not all purpose! Chewiness!)
  • 1 T. barley malt syrup
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 12 c. water
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • cooking spray

Barley malt syrup is the one specialty ingredient in this recipe. I buy it at a local health food store that carries more specialty items. It is not terribly expensive, and I think it adds so much to the flavor that I find lacking in bagel recipes without it.


  • electric mixer fitted with a dough hook
  • flour sifter, optional
  • large mixing bowl
  • clean kitchen towel
  • bench scraper, optional
  • stock pot
  • 2 cooling racks
  • 2 large baking sheets
  • parchment paper

Time: 90-120 minutes, plus cooling time

Freezeable: Yes! I typically keep about 6-12 bagels out at a time and freeze the rest.

Serves: This makes 12 large bagels, or 24 small/medium bagels. I like to make 24 because it’s a good size for my children.

Multiplying the recipe: If you want multiple batches, mix them up separately.

Homemade Bagels:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 c. warm water and yeast. Let sit 5 minutes until bubbles form. Add 6 1/4 c. bread flour, barley malt syrup, and salt. Mix dough with the stand mixer dough hook on low for 6 minutes. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead by hand for about 2 minutes, adding additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time only as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Spray a large bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl and cover it with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise for 30 minutes.

Mix 12 c. water with 3/4 c. sugar in the stock pot and start the water to boil.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Divide dough evenly into the number of bagels you want to make, 12 to 24. Spray baking sheets with oil. Shape each piece of dough into a ball, and then push your thumb through the middle and expand the center with your fingers to make a 1 1/2 to 2 inch hole. Set the formed bagels on the prepared baking sheets. Lightly spray bagels with the cooking spray and cover again with kitchen towel. Let rise 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450F. Spray cooling racks with oil. Once water is boiling, gently place 3 to 4 bagels at a time in the water. Let boil for 1 minute, then flip and boil for 1 more minute. Place on the prepared cooling racks to dry. Once all of the bagels have been boiled, line baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide bagels between the two baking sheets. Bake for 7 minutes. Rotate sheets, and bake for another 7 minutes. Remove to cool on cooling racks.


About Cooking for the Fam

Katie and Theresa are sisters-in-law who are passionate about food, passionate about family, and passionate about making and sharing food with their families. The Fam needs to eat. Make it good!
This entry was posted in Baking, DIY, Showdown and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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