What is a Pumpernickel Bagel, Anyway?

Such an odd word, “pumpernickel.” As a kid, I wouldn’t eat it because the word was a bit intimidating and I wasn’t sure what I’d be eating. Turns out, it’s just a weird “fart word” for dark rye bread. And for non-U.S. audiences, bagels are a type of bread roll of unconfirmed origin and strongly held opinions (mostly on the right or “best” way to eat them.)

Despite it’s uncertain beginnings, we will gladly spend the time to make these tasty and fairly healthy rolls. I made a batch yesterday and documented the process for you. They’re great kept in the freezer – just pop them in the toaster for a fast breakfast all week.


  • 1 1/3 cup water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I use my EVOO for everything)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, molasses or honey
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder or instant coffee crystals
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup dark rye flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups bread flour (or regular flour, but really, stop using the bleached stuff. Bleach is for cleaning, not eating.)
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons vital wheat gluten (Rye and whole wheat flours don’t have gluten in them, so you need to add it. I can usually find Bob’s Red Mill brand in grocery stores, along with soy and other flours, and chia seeds. I go to this brand a lot for their excellent quality.)


I have tried every which way, over the years, to speed up this process or make changes I thought would be better, and totally failed. What can I say? You just can’t rush perfection, I guess. I’ll walk through my steps, with photos!, for you.

  1. I start with warm tap water (between 105 – 125 degrees F) and add the yeast. That will get foamy while I put everything else in my KitchenAid stand mixer.  A few notes on ingredients:
    1. I usually let the water run from the tap until I see some steam – that’s going to be about the right temperature. Or use a candy thermometer to make sure it’s correct. You don’t want it too hot or too cold.
    2. I prefer the cocoa over coffee crystals – they’re just used for color but, not being a coffee drinker, I can always get a slight coffee taste that I don’t care for. If you’re a coffee lover, you might love it.
    3. Don’t leave out the salt. Baking is chemistry, and you need the salt if you want your dough to stay puffy through baking.
  2. The mixer does everything – it combines the ingredients and also kneads the dough. Leave it on the lowest setting with a dough hook for about 5 minutes. The dough should end up as a soft ball, kind of elastic-y and smooth. You’ll get the hang of it once you make them a few times. Add small drops of water if it’s too dry/tough, add small bits of flour if it’s too sticky. If you’re super-accurate about measuring, the dough should be perfect.
  3. I then turn the dough out onto a floured board. Knead it a few times and let it rest for a few minutes. While that’s happening, I spray the inside of the mixing bowl with oil. After a few minutes, put the dough back in the bowl and spray the top with oil too. (This is so it won’t stick as it’s rising.)
  4. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and let it rise at least 2 hours. The tea towel *must be a bit wet – the dough uses that moisture to rise. Again, without it, you may think you have good bagels but they’ll be flat when you take them out of the oven. (They’re still not too bad if they’re flat, but also, not a true bagel. They’re better when they’re puffy.)
    1. You’ll know the dough is ready when you can stick two fingers into the dough and the dent stays. Turn the dough out onto your floured board again.
  5. Again, knead the dough a few times. At this point, I tend to also shape it so that it’s easier for me to divide into 8 equal parts.

    Dough after rising and kneading
    Kneaded dough shaped into a kind of log.
Dough divided into 8 parts.
I usually cut the dough with a knife into 8 roughly even parts. Each part is soon to become a bagel.






6. Next, I do a few things:

  • I weigh each piece so that they’re roughly 4 ounces each. This helps ensure the bagels are uniform and will cook evenly.
  • I shape the pieces by kneading them a bit and turning them into balls. Then I push my thumb through the balls to create a hole in the middle. *I found that dipping my fingers into some warm water before handling each piece helps make them a little bit more stretchy and smooth, so they look nicer overall.
Weigh and shape bagels
Weigh and shape the bagels.

7. It’s at this stage when I add my toppings. Most places will say put the toppings on later, but I’ve found that including them during the second rise (now) and through boiling will keep them on when you eat the bagels later. Using the water I had out already, I use a finger to make the tops wet, then turn them over into whatever topping I’m using. I’ve been sticking with my combo of chia seeds, onion flakes and garlic, but you’ll use whatever flavors you love. I find the darker bread holds up to stronger flavors really well.

Shaped bagels with toppings on.
Bagels are shaped and topped: I use chia seeds, onion flakes and garlic powder.

8. Now let them sit for their second rise, about 20 minutes.

9. While you’re waiting, put on a big pot of water to boil, and start your oven at 400 degrees F to pre-heat. Also, drop the top rack in the oven to just below center.

10. Next, boil the bagels. I know, it seems weird, but trust me. Plop them face-down in the water. Some of the toppings will come off, but mostly they’re fine. You can always add more toppings after the boil if there are any “bald spots.” Boil for 30-60 seconds on each side. You’ll see them puff up again in the pot. More helpful notes:

  • Use at least 4 inches of water in the pot so you can get a good rolling boil.
  • Use a pot that’s taller/slimmer vs. wider if you can, and fill it more with water so that the bagels won’t be floating too far down into the pot to flip them or get them out easily.
  • You’ll see the dough texture change as they boil, so wait for that before turning them over with a slotted spatula.
  • You can boil more than one at once, but make sure there’s enough room in the pot for each to float freely – no crowding.
Boiling bagels
Boil those bagels.

11. As you remove the bagels from the water, place them on a tea towel that you’ve sprayed with oil. That will help them not stick while they’re draining.

The boiling process
Boiling process.

12.  Move the bagels from the towel to a baking sheet. I normally put some parchment paper first and then some corn meal to prevent sticking. Bake at 400 degrees F for 18 minutes.

Perfectly finished bagels
Finished bagels. Enjoy!