The Fresh Loaf

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Bagels: The Lye Bath Method

sadkitchenkid's picture

Bagels: The Lye Bath Method

So I'm sitting here typing this with a dent on the bridge of my nose from the safety goggles, and slightly tingly fingertips (shoulda worn gloves), and I know what some might be thinking: was using lye worth it? 

Well yeah duh. 

Here is the recipe video I made for them



Anyway, the pictures speak for themselves. I'll include the recipe at the bottom. 


230g bread flour
230g water
1tsp molasses
80g rye starter

Mix this first then let ferment for 8hours

rest of dough:
330g water
19g salt
710g bread flour

Lye bath: 

2.2kg cold water

4g lye

After the levain is ready, mix in these remaining ingredients, knead for 15 minutes,  and let ferment for about 6 hours. Then refrigerate overnight. The next day, take out the dough, and divide it into 16 balls. Let the dough rest on the counter covered for 15 minutes then shape into rings. Place the rings onto two baking sheets dusted with cornmeal and place a pizza stone or a couple of upside down baking sheets in the oven and preheat to 475F (have your oven preheating for around 2 hours). Let the rings proof while you prepare your toppings and the lye bath. It took my bagels 1.5hrs to proof. 

For the lye bath: Wear goggles and gloves and weigh out the water in a pot and then add in the lye. Place the pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Prepare your toppings. I did Flax & Fennel, Everything, Sesame, and Poppy, and spread them out among some plates (one plate per topping) Once the water is boiling/simmering, drop in your bagels (my pot fit 5 at a time) and boil for 1 minute on each side before placing on a sheet of parchment paper. Then take each bagel and dip it into its topping and place it TOPPING SIDE DOWN, back onto the parchment. When all of your bagels have been topped, using a pizza peel or baking sheet, slide the sheets of parchment onto your hot pizza stone/upsidedown baking sheet. Bake for two minutes, then flip over the bagels, placing the topping side up. Bake for another 18 minutes. 

Take out of the oven when golden brown, and enjoy. 

Happy Baking!


trailrunner's picture

I have used lye for a couple years on my bagels. Makes all the difference. Have messed up my teak countertop from drips but oh is worth it !  Yours are lovely. I have always used Susan's formula at Wild Yeast but will have to branch out. I like retarding them after shaping but it sure is easier as far as room to do them in bulk retard and then shape and rise. Beautiful pics c

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

Beautiful photos and exceptionally beautiful bagels with a nice appearing crumb and surface appearance.  Rather labor intensive...and...sort of dangerous working with lye in a home enviornment?  No?  I give you one hell of a lot of credit for making these beauties.  My rye starter is 70% hydrated.  Is that something like yours?  You must have one heck of an active levain to not use any other source of yeast.

shnootre's picture

I made these - following the instructions to the letter, and they were terrific. There are a few discrepancies between the recipe and the video in terms of time and quantities - I stuck w the amounts listed in the recipe.

Trickiest part was peeling the bagels off the baking pan before boiling - more cornmeal, or maybe semolina next time, I guess.

This is the only recipe I’ve seen that saves shaping till the end of the process (I had to really move things around in my fridge to fit my 12 qt container in there - but the end result was seriously worth it. Chewy, crunchy, tangy - among the best bagels I’ve ever had (and I come from Long Island and NYC - I know my bagels!)

gary.turner's picture

I have found that a lye solution of 0.5% to be my optimum. More gives the crust a pretzel like taste. Too, the low concentration is less damaging to my skin; having only a soapy feel, rather than a burning one. My bagels initially sink. When they float, I scoop them out, dip in a cold water rinse and top. I shape before the retarded ferment.

Is that a typo in your recipe, 4g per 2200g (0.18% solution) of water? Or, did you mean 40g/2200g (1.8%), which I consider to be too much. You should probably not even feel the lye as posted. I initially read it as 4% (88g) which I think is way too much for a hot solution bath. OK for a cold bath for pretzels.