An active sourdough starter and sourdough bagels (Photos: Getty Images/Jane Lyons)
An active sourdough starter and sourdough bagels (Photos: Getty Images/Jane Lyons)

KaiJanuary 11, 2020

Make a fresh start(er) in 2020 – then whip up some sourdough bagels

An active sourdough starter and sourdough bagels (Photos: Getty Images/Jane Lyons)
An active sourdough starter and sourdough bagels (Photos: Getty Images/Jane Lyons)

Been wanting to join the sourdough club for ages but haven’t managed to find some decades-old starter with a suitably charming backstory? Fuggeddaboutit and make your own bubbly batch, after which you can give these bagels a whirl.

Forget chasing that friend who keeps saying “yeah definitely!” (me), forget staring longingly at Instagram posts of glorious crusty, crackly loaves fresh from the oven and thinking shit, I really do need to get some sourdough starter. Forget your long-standing plans to nervously try and scab some off a local bakery. Forget it all! The time is now. Seize the day. Make your own.

Having a starter is having the ability to print your one-way ticket to naturally leavened heaven. 

Making bread from flour, water, salt and the air around you is pretty magical. It’s delicious, cost-effective, rewarding, at times very therapeutic. It’s just generally pretty fucking great. I recommend watching the Air episode of Michael Pollan’s Cooked series on Netflix for more reasons to love it.

To start, a few tips:

– Electronic scales are extremely helpful for anything sourdough related. Being precise with numbers will pay off in the end. 

– Organic flour is great but definitely not essential. If you can buy organic flour, try to get New Zealand grown stuff. In fact, generally try and get New Zealand grown stuff if you can!

– Although you’ll no doubt come to love your starter like nothing you’ve ever loved before, it’s not a giant scary commitment. If you’re not using your starter, just chuck it in the fridge and give it a good few feeds before you next use it. 

What you’ll need:

  • 1 jar or container (make sure it’s super clean and dry)
  • tea towel
  • scales 
  • white flour
  • wholemeal flour
  • room temperature water

What to do:

Mix together 50g white flour and 50g wholemeal flour in your jar. Pour in 100g water and stir to combine. Cover with a tea towel and place somewhere warm (avoid direct sun) for two days. After two days, it should be starting to bubble and puff. If it isn’t yet, leave it for another day. 

When it’s at bubble-and-puff stage, it’s time to start feeding it. To do this, scoop out 80% of the starter (don’t throw it out – it can be used for a few things, including crackers and sourdough crumpets). Once you’ve cleared it out, add a 50/50 mix of water and flours again – this time, the amount you add can be smaller, eg 25g white, 25g wholemeal, 50g water. Mix and leave for 24 hours. Repeat this process for a few days until a rhythm is going – the starter should start to rise and fall predictably and have a sour smell and taste. This should take five to seven days. 

From here you can either store the starter in the fridge until you’re ready to use it (just bring it out and feed it a few hours before you plan to use it) or crack into using it straight away – in the bagels below or some big beautiful loaves. I find the “country loaf” sourdough recipe from the famous San Francisco-based Tartine Bakery a great guide – there are few online versions of it floating around, but if you can buy or borrow the book Tartine Bread it’s well worth it. Otherwise there’s heaps of baking info online.

Beauties (Photo: Jane Lyons)


  • 50g wholemeal flour
  • 100g white flour (first measure)
  • 150g water
  • 1 tablespoon active sourdough starter
  • 600g white flour (second measure)
  • 300g water 
  • 25g water
  • 15g salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • sesame or poppy seeds, or topping of choice (optional)

Mix together the 50g wholemeal flour, 100g white flour, 150g water and 1 tablespoon sourdough starter. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside for 2 hours.

Add 600g white flour and 300g water and mix well. Cover again and leave for 30 minutes. Mix 25g water and 15 grams salt in a small bowl – the salt might not completely dissolve but that doesn’t matter. Pour the salty water over dough and use your hands to mix it into the dough.

Tip the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. The dough might be quite sticky so feel free to keep adding flour to the surface and your hands as necessary. 

Clean the dough bowl you were using earlier and drizzle it with the olive oil, then put the kneaded dough back in it, flipping it to coat it in the oil, and cover with the damp tea towel. Leave for 1-2 hours.

While the dough is resting, line a baking tray with baking paper and sprinkle it with polenta, semolina or flour. Then clear space in your fridge for the baking tray (you can use smaller trays/plates if it’s easier). 

After the rest period, give the dough a fold by lifting one side of the dough and folding it into the middle. Repeat with the remaining three sides of the dough. I recommend watching something like this to see what I mean. Your dough won’t be as wet as the one in the video, but you’ll get the gist. 

Tip the dough onto a floured surface and divide it into 10-12 even-sized pieces. Roll those pieces into smooth balls, then use your fingers to make a hole in each centre. Once shaped, put the bagels on the lined tray. The holes might start to spring back again, so give them a quick second stretch before covering with a damp tea towel and leaving out for 30 minutes before placing in the fridge for a few hours or over night. Don’t worry if they don’t look perfect – that’s part of the charm. As someone once said, bagels are best ugly. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the baking soda. Preheat oven to 225°C fan bake. Working in batches of 3-4 at a time, gently drop bagels into the water and cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon or sieve and place on a wire rack then transfer to lined baking trays. If you’re wanting to top your bagels wth sesame or poppy seeds, now is the time to do it.

Bake the bagels for 20 minutes or until golden and shiny. Cool on wire racks then store the bagels in an airtight container – they should last 3-4 days. If you’re not eating them straight away, best to half and toast them. They freeze really well in an airtight bag or container.

Keep going!