Everything you need to know about Japanese Style Bagels in this in-depth guide.

assorted japanese bagels on a wire rack

Bagels in Japan have become more and more popular in recent years. They have been adapted from New York bagels and transformed into bagels suited for the Japanese palette and filled with seasonal ingredients.

Simpler bagels can be found in many bakeries across Japan, but there have been a rise of speciality bagels shops. From sweet dessert filled bagels to savory stuffed bagels, simpler sandwich bagels to visually appealing voluptuous bagel sandos, theres something for everyone to enjoy! Read on to learn more about a new world of bagels.

What are Japanese bagels?

Japanese style bagels are similar to New York and Montreal style bagels, but generally are softer, fluffier and chewier texture. Of course, this varies depending on the shop and recipe. It’s suited for the Japanese palette thats tends to err on the softer and chewier (mochi-mochi) side (ie. shokupan, mochi, rice being staple foods). The main difference that makes them Japanese-style is that ingredients are rolled inside the the dough. Similar to the concept of onigiri (rice balls) and rolled sushi.

What makes Japanese Bagels different from New York and Montreal bagels?

  • Filled: Japanese bagels are stuffed and rolled with a variety of ingredients. From dried fruits and nuts, traditional Japanese ingredients like anko (red bean paste) and mochi, to whole pieces of cake and even various Japanese side dishes. They can become a full meal which is what makes it so appealing for people in Japan that are constantly on the go.
  • Sandwich: Just like how there are dessert sandwiches such as fruit sando’s, dessert bagels are filled with sweets! From sweet red bean paste to fruits and whip cream, there are also more unique variations that sandwich whole pieces of cakes, mochi and custard.
  • Texture: Japanese bagels are generally softer, fluffier and chewier than New York or Montreal style bagels. They can have a crispy exterior like New York bagels but offer soft exteriors that can be enjoyed without toasting.
  • Taste: While the plain bagel is the most common, shops offer many Japanese flavours such as matcha, kinako, black sesame, hojicha, kabocha pumpkin and more.
  • Appearance: Depending on the style and type, it’s shaped so that the one end is tucked into the other and the holes are smaller (or sometimes closed). They may be more voluminous (taller). They’re also topped with various ingredients such as cheese, furikake, herbs, sesame seeds and more.
  • Ingredients: Japan has a wide selection of flours with protein content ranging from 7-14%. This changes the texture and flavour of the bagels from shop to shop. Many shops use natural yeast (koji based, hoshino yeast, fruit fermented yeast) with a long proof which adds umami and depth of the flavour.

Types of Japanese bagels based on texture

Japanese bagels are generally divided into three categories based on their texture:

  1. Soft type: Soft outside with a fluffy and chewy interior. Minimal or no crust and baked at a low temperature for longer. Can be eaten at room temperature, chilled or without toasting.
  2. Semi hard type: A crispy exterior with soft and chewy interior. Best enjoyed fresh or toasted.
  3. Hard type: Crispy exterior with a chewy and dense interior. Best fresh or enjoyed toast.

I further break down my bagels by three categories. These were the three textures I had tried while in Japan and each are made with different yeast and techniques to achieve such textures.

  1. Fuwa (ふわ): soft texture with chewiness, while still being easy to bite through.
  2. Mochi (もち): a unique chewy texture close to mochi with the addition of rice.
  3. Mugyu (ムギュ): a tighter crumb, and because you have to chew through it longer the flavour is better, reminiscent of New York style bagels.

Process of Making Japanese Bagels

Japanese Bagel Ingredients

Bagels are made with 5 simple ingredients: flour, water, yeast, sugar and salt.

Flour

The type of flour will drastically affect the texture of bagels.

Glutenin and Gliadin are the two types of protein in flour that when liquid is added, forms gluten.

The higher the protein content, the stronger the flour and it is what gives bread that extensibility and elasticity. As you knead the dough, it further develops the gluten. Which means a stronger flour can trap more gas inside the dough, helping it rise more (ie. a more open and chewy crumb). It can also absorb more water which allows us to bake with a higher hydration.

The lower the protein content, the weaker the gluten which means it can trap less gas and yield a tighter crumb.

Generally, anything more than 12% would be called strong flour or bread flour. From 10-12% will be all purpose flour. And anything between 7-9% protein will be called soft flour, cake flour or pastry flour. Note that all flour is not created equal due to environmental, climate and harvesting differences.

A note on whole wheat flour: protein content is about 13%, however it contains the bran and germ, which affects gluten formation. It also adds flavour to dough.

  • Fluffy bagels: Use the strongest flour (13-16%) because it has more elasticity, allowing more gas to be trapped. It will yield a more open and voluminous crumb.
  • Chewy bagels: Use high protein flour (13-16%) with a little bit of whole wheat flour for a crumb that is fluffy yet tight.
  • Dense bagels: Use lower protein flour (10-12%) for a tight and chewy crumb.

Note: protein % will vary depending on where you are in the world. Here in Canada, all-purpose flour has a protein content of 13% which is considered strong.

Water

Wetter dough yields crispier and a more open-crumb bagel. Bagel hydration ranges anywhere from 50-65%. The lower the hydration, the denser the bagel. This will also be dependent on the type of flour you use.

Water temperature is also important to keep in mind (more on this below).

Yeast

Hoshino Yeast: I, and many bakery and bagel shops in Japan use Hoshino yeast which is a type of wild yeast. It is produced by fermenting yeast and lactic acid bacteria adhering to grains, using locally sourced wheat, rice, koji, and water, with no additives. The slower fermentation process, while taking more time compared to single yeast strains with strong fermentation capabilities, involves multiple bacteria that generate flavor compounds, yielding a chewy and moist end product. This results in a distinctive, rich-flavored bread with a unique texture and taste unattainable with yeast alone.

Natural Yeast: Another popular type of yeast used in Japan is natural yeast, made by fermenting fruits, vegetables and grains.

However, Hoshino yeast is not readily available here in North America so active dry yeast, fresh yeast or sourdough is suitable. We can still achieve a delicious dough with the help of long-fermentation (more on this below).

Sugar

There are many different types of sugars to choose from, however I recommend using either granulated white sugar, light or dark brown sugar and honey. This adds some sweetness to the bagel and slows the staling process.

Salt

Salt not only adds flavour, but it also has a function of strengthening the dough by tightening the gluten strands.

Oil

This ingredient is completely optional. Lower hydration doughs such as bagels can result in dense (in a bad way) drier bagels. Oil helps keep it soft, especially if making a larger batch that will be consumed over a period of time.

Pre-ferments & Yudane (Tangzhong)

I experimented a lot with pre-ferments and yudane in the beginning of my bagel journey. I’ve completely stopped with pre-ferments since switching to the low and slow fermentation method. I will use yudane for when I make bagels the straight method as I find it helps slow the staling process and keeps them moist longer.

Kneading vs. No-knead

You can make delicious bagels either by the kneading method or no-knead method.

Kneaded Bagels

  • Bagel dough is mixed and then kneaded, often using a stand mixer or by hand. Kneading develops gluten in the dough, resulting in the classic chewy bagel texture. Can be taxing on both stand mixer or hand.
  • Demands more effort and time, as the dough needs to be kneaded for several minutes to achieve the desired consistency
  • Bagels made through kneading have the characteristic chewy crust and dense, chewy interior that are associated with traditional bagels.

No-Knead Bagels:

  • A simpler method where the dough is mixed but not extensively kneaded. Instead, it’s rested and risen for a longer period of time.
  • Includes a few stretch and folds for gluten development.
  • This technique is more hands-off and generally requires less physical effort.
  • No-knead bagels may have a slightly different texture, featuring a more open crumb structure and a softer, less chewy interior compared to traditionally kneaded bagels.

Primary proof

The length of primary fermentation will have a large affect on texture and flavour. Many bagel recipes call for a short primary proofing time, if any. This results in a denser bagel. For Japanese style bagels, they are typically fully proofed as we would when making bread.

Straight vs. Overnight method

You can make bagels all in the same day or let it proof at a low temperature for an extended period of time. I prefer to proof them low and slow as it makes for a more flavourful bagel with beautiful crispy golden blisters on the crust. This step can also be done during the second proofing, but I prefer to do it during this stage due to fridge space constraints. The length of time for proofing will depend on the temperature of your dough and room (proof until double in size).

Note: adding flavours to the dough will affect proofing time. Adding spices or instant coffee slows down the fermentation, so it will need a longer proof time versus a plain dough.

Dividing and Bench Time

When dividing the dough, try to divide them within 2-3 cuts. Cutting the dough too many times to make equal pieces ‘damages’ the dough.

Once divided, pre-shape the dough with the clean surface facing up into a log and then let it rest. By loosely shaping prior and letting the gluten relax, it will make it easier to mold.

Molding

There are a few methods and factors that affect the dough.

Factors:

  • Removing gas out with your hands vs. rolling pin: If using a rolling pin, you can easily remove the air bubbles that have developed in the dough. The breads flavour and texture is created by fermentation and the process of making bread. So flavour and texture will change depending on whether you remove the developed gas. If you prefer a less yeasty flavour, remove the gas. This is personal preference so try out both and see which you prefer.
  • Handling the dough: The way you handle the dough also affects the texture. When force is applied to the dough, the gluten weakens and the air bubbles collapse. For example, this is why rustic artisan bread is so delicious. Because it’s baked without a lot of handling and no cutting so the yeast is able to do its job undisturbed. This is why for plain bagels, I will lightly handle the dough with my hands rather than a rolling pin.
  • Twisting the dough before shaping: By twisting the dough, it will tighten it, creating a denser bagel. For soft-fluffy type, I don’t twist it at all. For soft-chewy type, I twist it once. For chewy dense type, I twist it about 2-2.5 times.

Shaping methods:

  • Sealing: Taking one end and sealing it into the other end. This method is best used for filled bagels.
  • Rolled: The New York way of shaping bagels where it’s ripped and rolled to seal the ends.
  • Poke method: Shaping the dough into balls and poking a hole in the middle (rarely used in Japan).

Secondary proof

A solid secondary proof will ensure a great tasting bagel. I’ve heard to err on the side of under-proofing the bagels if unsure, however I do the opposite. Everyday is different depending on the weather, but I will always lean towards over-proofing the bagels. Under proofing the bagels in this step tends to bake up dense (not in a good way), stodgy and dry. I’ve over-proofed bagels a few times by a bit, but they honestly taste pretty close to perfectly proofed bagels. If I had over-proofed it for over an hour, results may have been different (no rise, sunken).

The time it takes for secondary proofing will also vary depending on the ingredients added to the dough or filled in the dough. If it’s room temperature ingredients like dried fruit, nuts or chocolate it won’t change much from plain dough. If its filled with cold fillings, it will take longer because the temperature of the dough will be lower. If it contains fruits or vegetables, the increased amount of yeast means shorter proofing time.

Steam vs. Boiled

Boiling bagels is the traditional method, however many shops steam bagels in the oven due to kitchen restrictions or for easier production.

I have tried both methods and while steaming makes pretty good bagels, I prefer the texture of boiled bagels. Boiled bagels have a beautiful shiny crust. Steamed bagels tend to have a dull finish and the thing I don’t like the most is that only one side gets the spa treatment.

Boiling time makes a HUGE difference in the final texture. Many bagel recipes have boiling times anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes per side. Personally, I recommend a boiling time of 10-15 seconds per side. It will still develop a ‘skin’. The longer the boiling time, the thicker the skin. When exposing bagels to heat, you activate some of the yeast, and it’s crucial to ensure this activation occurs in a highly heated environment like the oven. This is essential for achieving the best oven spring (expansion when hitting the oven) as a lengthier boiling process can diminish this effect. Moreover, the formation of a starchy skin, which occurs during boiling, plays a role in setting the bagel’s exterior, restricting its rise. In essence, the thicker the skin, the less expansion you can expect.

Baking temperature

Depending on the type of bagels you want to produce, they can be baked anywhere from 300 F – 500 F. To make soft white bagels, I bake them at 300 F. For crisp golden bagels, I bake them at 385-425 F. This will be dependent on the bagel recipe as the hydration and type of bagel (ie. closed hole vs. large hole) will affect baking temperature. For closed or smaller hole bagels, baking it at 500 F will likely burn the exterior before the interior gets cooked. Additionally, every oven is different, so experiment with your own oven.

Note: The size of your oven, how many you bake at once and the space between your bagels will also have an effect on the length of baking.

Japanese Bagel Sandwiches (Bagel Sando)

Japanese bagel sandwiches can be as simple as cream cheese and tomatoes, but many stores tend to create unique voluptuous with many layers that are sold in halves to show off a beautiful cross section called moedan (萌えダン).

Additionally, there are many more variations of dessert bagels that are sandwiched with cakes, cookies, mochi, sweet bean paste, custards, creams, fruits and more.

Where to find bagels in Japan

Here are some of my recommended bagel shops to check out if you’re in Japan! They are ones I have personally tried and have had my friends recommend in other areas. Most specialty ones used to be only mail-orders, however many have opened physical shops in the last 5 years. They’re truly hidden gems so I hope you give them a try.

  • Maruichi Bagel (Tokyo): the first bagels I had in Japan right outside my apartment! They have mugyu-style bagels and their sandwiches are so generous and flavourful.
  • Fuji Bagel (Tokyo): So many flavours and they are HEAVY.
  • Bagel Beaver (Tokyo): Smaller menu but their sausage bagels are very popular. The crust is really chewy and are more similar to New York style bagels with Japanese fillings.
  • Rico Bagel (Tochigi) : Crispy, mugyu and moist bagels!
  • A-bakery (Kobe): Mochi-mugyu type bagels. They’re well known for their dessert bagels.
  • Wild Man Bagel (Hiroshima): Mugyu, mochi-mochi and moist type bagels filled with delicious fillings and offer a wide variety of sandwiches.
  • Bagel company (Kanagawa): Their bagels are very mochi-mochi! They have very clean tasting flavours so you can really enjoy the natural flavour of the bagels. Incredibly easy to eat.
  • Living Coffee and Bagels (Chiba): really moist, chewy bagels that are soft type.
  • Radio Bagel (Kyoto): a lot of variety for sweet and savory bagel sandwiches!
  • Gioconda (Okoyama): super chewy thick bagels that are hefty.

Japanese Bagel Recipes

I currently have one posted from awhile back for these Kabocha Bagels.

Stay tuned for up-coming Japanese bagel recipes! I have many planned out from simple basic bagels, to filled, toppings, sandwiches and more.

Conclusion

And that wraps it up! I think I’ve covered everything I thought would be helpful for your bagel baking journey. If you have any questions, leave them down in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you ASAP!

As you can probably tell by now, there are so many factors that should be considered when making bagels. Every step of the bagel making process affects the final product. From the selected ingredients to kneading temperature, and molding technique and boiling time.

Everyone has their own preferences for taste, texture and appearance so I urge you to experiment with all the different ingredients, factors and methods I’ve covered in this blogpost after you’ve tried the originally recipe to develop your own favourite version.

Konnichiwa

About Lisa

I'm Lisa, a home cook, recipe developer and founder of Okonomi Kitchen. Here, you'll find a mix of classic and modernized Japanese recipes, and creative, plant-forward meal inspiration using seasonal ingredients. I hope to share more about Japanese cuisine and culture through food and recipes.


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1 Comment

  1. This was such an interesting read and definitely inspired me to try making bagels! I was wondering if you had a recipe that you typically used for your bagels?