Recipe: White Cheddar Za'atar Sourdough Bagels

Updated: Feb 24

These straightforward sourdough bagels are lovely. Chewy yet fluffy, with a delicate flavor from the cheddar throughout the dough that perfectly complements the bite from the additional white cheddar and za'atar topping. Try them with a drizzle of honey and cream cheese, or use them to make egg sandwiches!

Recipe note: My recipes are intended to be straightforward guides for the home cook or baker to replicate with minimal fuss. However, keep in mind that recipes are just guides. A multitude of factors can affect how a recipe comes out - from the freshness and quality of your base ingredients to the ambient temperature and humidity. In particular, I recommend upgrading your spices if you are able, as there is a marked taste difference when you are using fresh, single-origin spices. For the best results when following a recipe, taste as you go and be sure to pay attention to any visual or tactile cues included in the instructions. For new sourdough bakers, start here.

Makes 8 bagels

You'll need a baking sheet, parchment paper or nonstick baking mat, mixing bowl, and kitchen scale for this recipe


150 grams 100% hydration sourdough starter, fed a few hours before so it is very bubbly and active (for a simple explainer on hydration levels, click here)

235 grams water

20 grams runny honey

500 grams bread flour or high protein flour

9 grams sea salt

3/4 cups sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup za'atar, typically available at Middle Eastern markets or you can make your own

Making the Dough: If you start this process in the evening, you can make the dough and rest it overnight, and form and bake the bagels fresh in the morning for breakfast!

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together 150 g sourdough starter, 235 g water, and 20 g honey.

2. Add 500 g bread flour, 9 g sea salt, and 1/4 cup of the shredded white cheddar cheese to the mixture.

3. Mix the dough until the gluten is well developed. This will take about 5-10 minutes of kneading by hand, or 3-5 minutes in a stand mixer on medium with the dough hook attachment. Knead until it passes the windowpane test: When you stretch a piece of dough with your hands, it should stretch and become thin so you can see light pass through it, without tearing. See the video above for an example of the windowpane test.

4. Form the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rest on the counter at room temperature for 8-10 hours.

Forming & Making the Bagels:

5. After resting, turn out the dough onto a clean counter top.

6. Split the dough into 8 equal pieces (it's easy to cut the dough with a knife if you don't have a dough scraper, or you can just rip with your hands).

7. Roll each piece into a tight ball, using the counter top to create surface tension.

8. Place the dough balls onto a baking sheet lined with lightly oiled parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

9. Cover with a damp towel and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.

10. Form the bagels. I find the poke method is simplest. Using your pointer finger, poke a hole into the center of each ball. Then pick up the dough and curve your fingers around the hole, stretching it evenly. Stretch until the hole is almost two inches wide, then place back down on the baking sheet. The hole will contract as the bagels rest. See the video above for an example of this method.*Pro-tip: If the dough sticks to the parchment paper or baking mat, wet your fingertips to more easily lift it off.

11. Cover formed bagels with a damp towel and let rest for an hour. After 30 minutes, test a bagel to see if it floats in a bowl of cold water. If it does, it's ready. If not, continue to let the bagels rest for 25-minute intervals covered in a damp towel until one passes the float test. For bagels with mix-ins, like these cheddar bagels, it may take a bit longer than normal for bagels to pass the float test, up to 2 hours. Be patient and don't skip this step. Once a bagel floats, you're ready to move on.

12. Preheat the oven to 450 F. While the oven is preheating, bring a medium pot of water to a boil.

13. In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup za'atar and 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Set aside.

14. Once the water is at a rolling boil, use a large slotted spoon to gently add bagels to the pot of boiling water. I usually do this 1-2 bagels at a time to prevent crowding in the pot. Simmer for 30 seconds, flip with the spoon, then simmer the other side for 30 seconds.

15. Once simmered, flip back over and remove the bagel from the water. Place the boiled bagel on the baking sheet.

16. While the boiled bagel is still fresh from the pot, sprinkle the top liberally with the za'atar and cheddar cheese mixture.

17. Let the water come back to boiling in between rounds and repeat the process of boiling and topping until all bagels have been boiled.

18. Place the baking tray in the oven on the middle rack.

19. Bake for 10 minutes, then flip the tray around in the oven to ensure even browning. Bake for another 7-10 minutes. The timing may vary based on your oven. The toppings may make it more difficult to check when they're done as it obscures your view a bit. With these bagels, check the bottoms before pulling from the oven to make sure they're crispy golden brown and look for golden brown crust peeking through from underneath the topping.

20. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. These bagels are best served warm, or can be sliced and frozen in a resealable bag to be toasted up later.

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