What exactly gives bagels their "bagel-ness"? What is the ideal bagel size? What about its height? Should it have a crunchy crust, or one that’s easy to bite into? And the size of the hole? Should it be nonexistent or wide enough to lose your cream cheese?

These are just some of the questions the Recipe Team at King Arthur has been mulling over the last few months. While all of you were baking up batches of Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls (our 2021 Recipe of the Year), we were busy crafting a brand new bagel recipe.

A dozen everything-topped bagels, some made into egg sandwiches, on a table. Kristin Teig
Our test kitchen baked over 100 versions of bagels before landing on the final recipe.

Admittedly, it didn’t come easily. We spent a good chunk of 2021 testing bagels, tweaking formulas, comparing water baths, and analyzing crumb structure, all in order to come up with a phenomenal bagel. Complicating matters is that we weren’t just creating the ultimate bagel — we were creating Ultimate Sandwich Bagels.

While all of you were baking up batches of Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls, we were busy crafting the Ultimate Sandwich Bagels.

An Ultimate Sandwich Bagel filled with eggs, cheese, and greens Kristin Teig
What's the difference between a breakfast sandwich and a lunch sandwich? Perhaps it's spicy greens.

Yes, I said “sandwich bagels,” not bagel sandwiches. The glory of this bagel recipe is that it’s designed specifically to work beautifully in a sandwich. Thus it isn't like most other bagels; it's not exactly New York-style, nor will you confuse it for one that came from Montreal. Instead, this recipe has a unique combination of ingredients, techniques, and tips that result in a truly distinct bagel — and one that’s perfect with egg and cheese.

A person's hands holding half a bagel sandwich with tomato, as if about to bite into it Kristin Teig
What's on your Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich? This version has scallion cream cheese, sliced tomatoes, eggs, and melty cheddar cheese.

What makes this recipe worthy of being crowned our Recipe of the Year? Here are 7 elements that make it the ideal bagel for building your ultimate sandwich and an overall winning recipe.

1) Bread flour creates the perfect amount of chewiness 

Bread flour has a slightly higher protein content than all-purpose flour, which lends the dough more strength. Some bakers reach for high-gluten flour when making bagels to achieve a supremely chewy texture — but not in this recipe.

Ultimate Bagel Sandwich filled with bacon, tomato, avocado, and red onion next to a bag of King Arthur Bread Flour Kristin Teig
Bread flour is the secret to the tight crumb and toothsome texture of these bagels.

Why? We intentionally designed these bagels not to be challengingly chewy. When you bite into a loaded breakfast sandwich made on one of these bagels, you’ll crunch through the crispy crust and then sink into the slightly chewy inside. The fillings will stay safely inside the sandwich rather than squishing out the sides, which can be a bummer.

2) The pâte fermentée adds flavor 

To enhance the bagels' flavor, this recipe uses a starter ... and not just any old starter. It’s pâte fermentée, a relatively stiff starter. During mixing, you may ask yourself, am I doing this right? Don’t fret — it's supposed to be stiff; you might need to knead the shaggy mixture on the surface to bring it all together.

A baker kneading a pate fermentee starter by hand Kristin Teig
The stiff texture of this starter is intentional; it adds unique flavor.

The acids that form in a stiff, low-liquid starter taste yeasty, nutty, and well-rounded as opposed to the overly sour or tangy flavor notes you'd get from a more liquid starter. They give the bagel dough that definitive “yum” factor.

3) Barley malt syrup in the dough AND water bath 

After countless attempts to find what gives bagels their “bagel-ness,” we determined that barley malt is definitely an important element. This natural sweetener is made from malted barley grains that have been sprouted. While it might sound unfamiliar, your taste buds would certainly recognize it as that slightly sweet flavor that's characteristic of bagels. 

Early iterations of the dough were made without any sweetener and boiled in a water bath with honey. They just didn’t cut it — the bagels were missing something.

As soon as Molly Marzalek-Kelly, our senior recipe tester, put barley malt syrup in the dough, our taste testers started saying things like, “Aha! This is what a bagel should taste like.” Mystery solved.

A baker adding barley malt syrup to bagel dough Kristin Teig
Barley malt syrup adds a rich earthy flavor and a touch of sweetness.

And since the barley malt syrup was close at hand, we figured it might as well go in the water bath too. The resulting bagels have a nice shine, deep color, and a distinct bagel-y flavor.

Don’t worry: If you can’t find or don’t have barley malt syrup, you can swap in dark brown sugar and still get good results. (See the recipe page for exact measurements.) 

4) The perfect size 

Too often, we've heard people say, “I love bagels but avoid them for breakfast. I always need a nap after eating one.” Or “Bagels? They sit in my stomach like a rock.” Much of this carb-induced coma is due to the massive size of most bakery bagels, so we decided to make our bagels slightly smaller. 

A person's hands holding a bagel sandwich, as if about to bite into it Kristin Teig
These bagels hit the sweet spot between being intimidatingly large and disappointingly puny.

When you shrink down a bagel to a modest 3 1/2" diameter, you’re left with something that welcomes toppings (think all your favorite breakfast ingredients) without feeling skimpy. It’s the Goldilocks of bagels, and just right for building sandwiches. 

5) Egg wash to ensure toppings stick 

Surprised to see an egg wash in a bagel recipe? Us too. While few other bagel recipes call for applying this simple egg-and-water mixture before baking, it’s a step that’s now hard for us to skip. 

The egg wash’s purpose is two-fold: first, it acts as an edible glue and makes additions like Everything Bagel Topping and sesame seeds stick.

A baker dipping an egg washed bagel into a shallow bowl of seeds Kristin Teig
Sprinkle your toppings over the egg-washed bagels, or if you're a seed-lover, dip the bagels into a shallow bowl of topping for full coverage.

Second, the egg wash gives the bagels additional color and shine. The deep brown, almost mahogany color of the crust is the definition of what chefs call “GBD”: golden brown and delicious.  

6) The egg packet. Boom. 

When it came time to nail down our sandwich filling, Molly had another genius idea. Instead of frying up an egg and putting a slice of cheese on top, the recipe includes a special element known affectionately as the egg packet. 

A baker placing an egg packet on an Ultimate Sandwich Bagel topped with a schmear of cream cheese Kristin Teig
The thin layer of cream cheese below the egg packet helps everything stay put and also adds creamy deliciousness.

Start by mixing milk with a bit of bread flour. (Yes! Flour in your eggs! The flour helps bind the ingredients and prevents the eggs from separating or becoming soggy.) The eggs are mixed in, seasoned to taste, and poured into a 9” x 13” baking pan. After a quick bake, a generous layer of cheese is sprinkled down the center and becomes melty, and then thin layer of baked eggs is sliced into quarters lengthwise and all folded up.  

The result is a neat little square of seasoned eggs encasing melted cheese (or whatever you’d like to tuck inside). It’s hard to imagine a better vehicle for classic breakfast ingredients.

A top-down view of a brunch scene with friends building bagel sandwiches Kristin Teig
Bagel sandwiches can be interactive brunch food, a perfect centerpiece that everyone can enjoy.

7) All the fillings we have in store 

While the egg packet alone is exciting, we know some of you are eager to add bacon or tomatoes to the packet, or maybe even some spicy greens or garlicky sauce drizzled over the top.

A cross-section showing an Ultimate Sandwich Bagel filled with avocado, tomato, cheese, and greens Kristin Teig
There are eight unique sandwich fillings coming your way.

We’ve come up with a bundle of filling recipes to help guide you through building your ultimate bagel sandwich — some from our very own Recipe Team and some from outside bakers who know their way around bagels. The filling recipes range from super savory and salty to surprising (Spam! Charred broccoli rabe!) to downright lovable (that’d be the Vermonster). There’s something for everyone — and plenty of freedom to dream up your own ideal bagel experience.

Look for the filling recipes on our Instagram and Facebook pages over the first few weeks of 2022. We’ll also share them soon right here on the blog to inspire your ultimate sandwich creations.  

An Ultimate Sandwich Bagel filled with eggs, cheese, and tomatoes next to a platter of bagels Kristin Teig
Start dreaming about what goes on your Ultimate Sandwich Bagel.

So here’s to 2022 and our newest Recipe of the Year: Ultimate Sandwich Bagels. Let the baking begin! 

Baking gluten-free? Check out our recipe for Gluten-Free Bagels, complete with a tip to make a gluten-free version of the egg packet filling, too.  

Cover photo by Kristin Teig.

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Kye Ameden
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About Kye Ameden

Kye Ameden grew up in Fairlee, Vermont and has always loved food, farms, and family. She spent her teenage years working by her chef/uncle’s side in an industrial kitchen, cracking hundreds of eggs, slicing cheesecakes into 13 perfect slices, and developing her passion for precision and baking.  Af...
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