That time I tried to make rainbow bagels. . .


Rainbow bagels

If you’ve been on Instagram, Pinterest, or Buzzfeed in the last few years, you know that rainbow food is pretty big right now. From rainbow grilled cheese to rainbow waffles and cake, rainbows are everywhere. Rainbows have even made their way into one of my favorite foods: bagels.

Yes, as a native New Yorker, the humble bagel is one of my favorite foods. Unfortunately, because I’ve spent the last 5 years living in New Orleans it’s difficult to find a good bagel. While I was in law school I was lucky enough to find a really good bagel shop here in the city called Humble Bagel. If you ever get a chance to come to NOLA, I suggest you go there. The bagels are so good that my dad, who is a bit of a bagel aficionado went back for more. Clearly, I got my love of bagels from somewhere.

And while Humble Bagel is great and satisfies my bagel cravings, they’re not quite the same as New York bagels. Which is why, after watching the GBBO episode where the bakers made bagels, I just had to make my own. Not only did I have to make my own, I decided that I needed to attempt the infamous rainbow bagel, in addition to everything bagels and cinnamon raisin bagels.


Yep, Crazy Kristine decided to make three different kinds of bagels. At once.

What. Was. I. Thinking?

Bagels are, at their heart, a type of bread. Chewy, delicious, round bread with a big hole in the middle. And in the past, I’ve had serious issues with my bread baking. No joke, I’ve had a bunch of duds, including (Paul Hollywood voice) under risen, under worked, and over proved loaves. I’m convinced that if I was British and got on GBBO, I’d get kicked out on bread week. Yet I still decided to take on a double batch of bagel dough on a Friday after working all day. Because that makes sense in my mind somehow.

I’ve made bagels before, so unlike with my croissants, this was not my first rodeo. The last time I baked bagels, though, they had some problems. As I recall, they were way too closed-textured, likely as a result of being under proved or because I put too much flour in them. Probably both. But, as I’ve said before, GBBO has helped me improve my baking and I knew what to do this time. Weigh the ingredients out, do the windowpane test, and don’t add too much flour during kneading.

Simple enough, but bagels do take time, especially when you’re baking a huge batch of them. The recipe I used is the same one I’ve used before, originally from Peter Reinhart and adapted by Deb from Smitten Kitchen. They’re great bagels and they taste like home. No, seriously, the cinnamon raisin bagels especially taste just like the ones I got from the deli when I was a kid: the perfect balance of cinnamon spice and raisin sweetness.

cut raisin bagels

Looking at the pictures, though, you’re probably thinking, “Wait, I thought you made rainbow bagels, Kristine. . .” Not exactly. I said I tried to make rainbow bagels. That’s not exactly the way things turned out. By the time the dough was done and I was about ready to shape the bagels it was pretty late and I was tired. And as I got ready to knead the food coloring into the bagel dough, I realized that it was not going to be easy at all. No kidding, I kneaded the food coloring into the little pieces of dough for a while without very much change in the color. Eventually, I got tired and decided to just stop with some white, purple/blue, and pink dough. And that’s how “unicorn bagels” were born. They’re pretty, aren’t they? We’ll call it a happy accident brought on by exhaustion.

Emily Unicorn Bagels
Emily loved the unicorn bagels!

The food coloring wasn’t the only misstep that Friday night. Bagels need to float in cool water before they can be cold proved in the fridge overnight. Well, at 11:00pm the cinnamon raisin bagels still wouldn’t float. Can you imagine? Now it’s kind of funny, but at the time it was incredibly frustrating.

The next morning, though, as I cut into a nice, warm, bagel all was forgotten. They were well worth all the agita and I hope you’ll agree once you try them, particularly if you’ve been craving a chewy New York bagel, but don’t have a deli or bagel shop near you. These freeze well, so if you think you might want bagels in the future or don’t think you’ll be able to finish all of these before they go stale, I suggest you wrap them in plastic wrap and put them in a few zip lock bags in the freezer. Then you can just defrost them the night before you want to eat them. Easy peasy!

Everything bagels

No matter what kind spread you like on your bagels (personally, I am partial to cream cheese or Laughing Cow Light, but butter, peanut butter, or jelly would also be delightful), these bagels will taste heavenly. Far chewier and more flavorful than any of the refrigerated bagels you can get at the grocery store, which I find far too soft on the outside and seriously lacking in depth. Because these prove overnight in the fridge, they develop more complexity, the same way a slow prove adds more flavor to sourdough bread.

Baking these bagels was an adventure and, if you’re up to it and you’ve got some time, I really suggest you make them. I’ve suggested that you use Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Seasoning, but you can make your own version using the included recipe OR just use your own favorite toppings. But the everything seasoning is delicious (seriously, try it on popcorn)! Look at those tasty sesame seeds! Those chunks of garlic and onion! Mmmm…my mouth is watering just thinking about it. Is yours? I certainly hope so.

Everything bagels

As much time as these bagels took and as much sleep as I lost waiting for them to float, I wouldn’t change having made them for anything. I managed to make enough to give a few away to my friends and have a bagel for breakfast every day for a week. Yes, a week. I was not kidding when I said I love bagels. I hope you’ll enjoy these as much as I do.

Bagel Trio

Bagels Three Ways

Tasty New York Style Bagels Three ways. Adapted from these bagels, originally from Smitten Kitchen.  Everything But the Bagel Seasoning is available at Trader Joe's or you can use this dupe from Perry's Plate. 

Please don't be a crazy person like me and attempt all three types of bagels at once. I'll include alternative methods for each in separate sections of the recipe. l

Course bread, Breakfast
Servings 16 bagels



  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 480 g bread/strong flour Approx. 4 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 cups room temperature water


  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 450 g bread/strong flour Approx. 3 3/4 cups
  • 2 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

For Everything Bagel Variation

  • Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Seasoning (to taste) or
  • 2 tsp white sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried minced onion
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp black sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp sea salt flakes

For Cinnamon Raisin Bagel Variation

  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 5 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 cups raisins, rinsed in warm water and dried well

For Unicorn Bagel Variation

  • pink food coloring
  • blue food coloring
  • red food coloring

To Finish on Day 2

  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 large pot boiling water
  • corn meal, for sprinkling


Sponge (Day 1)

  1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the bread flour and yeast. Add in the water until it forms a thick, sticky batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place to rise until bubbly/foamy. This should take about 2 hours, but may take longer if your home is on the cooler side. After 2 hours, my sponge was not even close to ready, so I put it in my warm garage for about an hour, which seemed to do the trick. The sponge is ready when it has doubled in size. 

Dough (Day 1)

  1. Add the additional yeast to the sponge, followed by 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and brown sugar. If making cinnamon raisin bagels, also add in the sugar and cinnamon at this point. 

    Stir until a ball forms, then slowly add in the remaining flour. 

  2. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough passes the windowpane test. At that point the gluten will be well developed and the dough should be smooth, elastic, and not tacky. 

    If you're making plain bagels or everything bagels, continue to shaping. If you're making Unicorn or Cinnamon Raisin bagels, continue to the instructions for those variations before shaping.

Cinnamon Raisin Variation

  1. You should have already added in the sugar and cinnamon earlier in the dough making process (see "Dough").  

    During the last two minutes of kneading, knead in the rinsed and dried raisins. Some raisins may come out as you're kneading. Just add them back in. When you're finished, the raisins should be evenly distributed.

  2. Continue to "Shaping."

Unicorn Bagel Variation

  1. After your last few minutes of kneading (2-3 minutes from the end), divide the dough into three equal portions. 

    Continue kneading one portion for the remaining 2-3 minutes. This will be your plain portion of dough. Set aside. 

    To one of the two remaining pieces of dough, add pink food coloring and knead until the color is equally distributed. Repeat the process with the last piece of dough, this time with the red and blue food coloring mixed to make purple. If it's not quite the color you'd like, add a drop of pink.

    Be careful not to knead directly on your countertop, or you may end up with a pink and purple counter. I would suggest using mat of some sort or a piece of taped down parchment paper. 

  2. Continue to "Shaping"

Shaping and Overnight Rest (Day 1)

  1. Prepare 2-3 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper and spraying with cooking spray. 

  2. Divide your prepared dough into 16 equal pieces. If you have a kitchen scale, they should each weigh about 4 to 4 1/2 ounces. 

    For plain, everything, and cinnamon raisin bagels, form the dough into a ball by pulling the edges to meet in the center of the dough and then rolling the part with the edges on your work surface to smooth, like you're making a dinner roll. Then use your finger to poke a hole in the center of the dough ball. Expand the hole, using your hands, until it's about 2 1/2 inches wide.

    For unicorn bagels, layer one piece of each color dough on top of each other and roll into a rope, about 8-10 inches long. Twist the rope slightly before joining the ends together to form a circle with a 2 1/2 inch hole in the middle.

  3. When finished shaping, place the bagels on the prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Mist with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. 

    Let the bagels rest for 20 minutes or until one of them floats in a bowl of cool water within 10 seconds of being placed in the water. This took significantly longer (closer to an hour and a half) for my cinnamon raisin bagels, probably because of the extra weight of the raisins. 

  4. Once one of the bagels floats, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to prove overnight.

Finishing and Baking (Day 2)

  1. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure your oven racks are in the middle of your oven. 

    As the oven preheats, boil a large pot of water. Add the baking soda and brown sugar and have a slotted spoon ready. 

  2. Remove the bagels from the oven. Boil the bagels in batches, a few at a time.

     How many bagels you boil at one time depends on the size of your pot, but keep in mind that the bagels will expand quite a bit and things can get tight.

    Boil the bagels for 1 to 2 minutes per side. The longer you boil them, the chewier they will be. I opted for about 1 1/2 minutes per side and thought they were perfect. 

  3. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle your baking pans with corn meal. You can use the same pans and parchment paper you rested the bagels on, if you choose, but if you decide to use new parchment paper, remember to spray with new oil before adding the corn meal. Because boiling goes fast, it may help to have a second set of hands around to sprinkle corn meal on the baking pans. 

  4. Once boiled, place the bagels on the baking pans. 

    If you're making everything bagels, sprinkle with the everything seasoning immediately after the bagels come out of the water, so that the seasoning sticks. 

  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, rotating pans halfway through.  The bagels are done when they are light to medium golden brown. I prefer slightly darker bagels, so I baked them for about 11 to 12 minutes each. 

  6. Remove the bagels from the oven and place on cooling racks for at least 10-15 minutes before serving. 

    Enjoy with cream cheese, butter, or any other spread you prefer.

If you’re made it this far, YAY! And thank you. I know that was a long post. Enjoy this fairly blurry picture of what goes on while I’m trying to take pictures of my bakes. Yep, Em has to keep my dog in line so she doesn’t end up in my shot. Her dog, Peaches, couldn’t care less.

Emily and April
Emily, the April O’Neil Wrangler

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