Halloween orange and black sourdough bagels

Activated charcoal and turmeric sourdough bagels recipe! Halloween black and orange, any colour or plain… :)

sourdough baking, Special everyday cakes and treats

These festive sourdough bagels are fun, colourful and delicious!  You needn’t make them black and orange but it’s an enjoyable weekend project for Halloween.  I was inspired by the recent Great British Bake Off Bread Week with their rainbow-coloured bagels, but these are sourdough and naturally-coloured with activated charcoal powder and ground turmeric plus an optional tiny pinch of red food colouring (or beet powder).  You could also leave them plain or colour them green with matcha tea powder; alternatively, adapt the colouring and shaping techniques to any bagel dough.  The ingredients here are straightforward:  sourdough starter, strong white bread flour (preferably organic), milk and/or water (for a vegan version), pure maple syrup or sugar/honey, fine sea salt, and baking soda for the boiling water. The optional black or white sesame seeds sprinkled on top add amazing flavour.  Simply a dream come true:  easy and relaxing to make with a forgiving dough resulting in a lightly crisp outer skin with a slightly chewy satisfying interior.  And that undefinable slightly sweet flavour of a bagel with the slightest tinge of not-sour sourdough.  Love bagels, and really adore these!  Do please make and enjoy these ever so flavoursome halloween sourdough bagels.  🙂

Turmeric and avocado sourdough bagels with cream cheese and avocado

Sourdough bagels with cream cheese and avocado

You too can have a lovely stock of bagels!

Halloween orange and black sourdough bagels

Halloween black and orange sourdough bagels

The two-tones are pretty decorative, while shaping the all-black or all-orange ones is simpler and quicker.

Is it a lot of work?

My recipes look long because of all the step-by-step detail, tips, process photos and options.  But no, sourdough isn’t really a lot of work.  It just requires waiting between short steps, so spending time at home.  Which is not difficult nowadays or if you love baking.

During the current situation in Barcelona (with the alarming rise in COVID cases, bars and restaurants having to shut 15 days, and other new measures) I’m still following the recommendations to only go out when necessary, like to buy milk and strong white bread flour from the health food store.  For these bagels.  Luckily there’s no crazy flour shortage this time round.

Anyway, it’s getting chillier here so it’s great for baking; it’s the first time I’ve used my oven since May!!!  So making and eating these bagels (plus having a new large stock in my freezer) has made me happy. 🙂  Totally worth the effort, or relaxing process of nurturing little sourdough creations.

I hope you’re safe and well wherever you are.  Have you been baking?  Fancy making some bagels?

Halloween orange and black activated charcoal and turmeric sourdough bagels

Halloween activated charcoal and turmeric sourdough bagels

“But you have to boil them, don’t you?”

I’m quoting a local Skype friend (never thought socialising online would be my thing but times change); she seemed alarmed by this concept.  Yes, you do boil them:  it’s easy and lots of fun.  I love watching them bloat up and float in water for 30 seconds or so!  If you haven’t yet, try it and see!

Simply plain

Over the last two years I’ve followed the basic steps in this recipe to make multiple batches of beige bagels, perfect filled with cream cheese and ham for sharing out on hikes.  They’ve been truly loved and I have plans with a friend to do a frozen-bagels-for-her-homemade-soap swap.

So if you don’t fancy colour or extra faff make these bagels plain!

Plain sourdough bagels

Plain sourdough bagels

RECIPE – for 16 medium-small bagels 

The bagel-making techniques used here are from various sources, like youtube videos, a friend’s German baking book and Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Sourdough book, also starting from and adapting the Sourdough School House course recipe (go there for amazing clear videos, printables and support to learn how to make all kinds of sourdough breads).

I decided to sweeten my bagels with maple syrup, use part-milk, part-water (to balance milky rich sweetness with lightness) and bulk proof with a simple adaptable timescale (1 hour between each of the 3 turns).  I made up the two-tone colouring and shaping techniques as I went along – they worked surprisingly well!  And finally got to use my activated charcoal powder!

Activated charcoal sourdough bagel with cured ham

Activated charcoal sourdough bagel with Iberic cured ham


Late evening before Day 1:  refresh starter so it’s active and bubbly to make levain the next morning.

DAY 1:  use active starter to mix levain in morning (5 mins work); 6-12 hours later (with active levain) mix dough, bulk proof (20-30 mins work spread over period of 3 to 4 hours); place in fridge overnight.

DAY 2shape in morning (30 mins to 1 hour’s work, 20 mins waiting); proof (1 – 2 hours waiting), boil, add topping (5 – 10 mins) and bake (2 batches: 28 minutes each).


After mixing dough, set 3 alarms at 1-hour intervals; e.g. to proof over period of 3 hours, mix at 18:00 and set alarm at 19:00 for 1st turn, 20:00 for 2nd turn and 21:00 for 3rd turn. If room temperature is cool you can add an extra turn at 22:00 to proof over 4 hours.


Work the process around your timetable and environment.  If your environment is warmer, proof less time; if it’s chilly, proof longer.

Halloween orange and black sourdough bagels

No seeds on top, but nice blisters!

Which shaping method is best?

Well, it’s up to you.  Try both kinds (or any other method) and see which you prefer.

The 1-colour bagels were shaped on a swivelling finger and rose better, with more air pockets inside.  But the outer skin wasn’t so smooth.

The two-tone bagels, made by rolling dough out thin then folding over, rose less and are more typically dense with a firmer smooth outer skin.

Halloween orange and black activated charcoal and turmeric sourdough bagels

Activated charcoal and turmeric sourdough bagels

Pretty dramatic, right?  Those tiger print ones!

Turmeric and avocado sourdough bagels with cream cheese and avocado

Yummy sourdough bagels lunch

Special equipment

I recommend a digital weighing scale to measure in grams.  Makes life easier and the results surer (for all baking). And you need two large oven-sized baking trays (30cm x 40 cm).



  • 130g/1 cup strong white bread flour (preferably organic)
  • 130g/ml water
  • 26g/2 tbsp active sourdough starter (100% hydration)


  • 100g/ml water
  • 40g/2 tbsp pure maple syrup (or sugar/honey)
  • 6g/1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 200g/ml milk (mine was full-fat but use any kind, or water for vegan bagels)
  • 250g levain (all the levain you made, less about 1 tbsp)
  • 625g/5 cups less 3 and 3/4 tsp bread flour (strong white), preferably organic
  • 2 tsp activated charcoal powder
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric (+ optional tiny pinch of red food colouring powder or beet powder)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp water if dough is stiff


  • beaten egg wash
  • black and/or white sesame seeds (not roasted)


Levain – morning

Mix starter with water in jar until dissolved.  Stir in flour to get smooth thick paste.  Leave at room temperature until levain has more or less doubled in size, or is bubbly and active.  This takes between 6 and 12 hours.

Active levain - bubbly and ready

Active levain – bubbly and ready

Mixing dough – afternoon/early evening

  1. Gently warm water, maple syrup and salt in small saucepan until salt dissolves.  Whisk in milk (photo 1 below). Check liquid is tepid to touch (between 23-26°C – too hot or cold and it can kill the yeast).
  2. Whisk in levain (photos 2 and 3).
  3. For 2-tone bagels, split flour into 2 medium-sized bowls.  Add charcoal to one and turmeric with tiny pinch of red to other (photo 4).  For plain bagels, measure all flour in a big bowl and stir in levain/liquids mixture to combine. Knead a little to incorporate most dry bits then cover and allow to rest 10-20 minutes at room temperature (skip next section).

DAY 1 Halloween sourdough bagels dough part 1

2-tone bagels

  1. Whisk to combine flour and powder (photo 5 below).
  2. Add half liquid to one bowl then other half to other bowl (photo 6).  Be precise and divide very evenly to add 289-290g/ml in each bowl.
  3. Stir to combine and form both doughs.  Knead a little until most of the dry bits are incorporated (clean hands between colours).  Rest 10-20 minutes (photo 7).

2-tone and plain bagels

  1. After dough has rested 10-20 minutes, knead again briefly by stretching between hands and folding in a few times (steps 1 and 2 in bulk proof illustration further down) to get a nice dough with no dry bits (photo 8).

DAY 1 Halloween sourdough bagels dough part 2

Note: if dough looks too dry and stiff like mine did (maybe starter wasn’t very liquid), add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of water to dough.  Knead in to incorporate and get softer, slightly sticky dough.

Bulk Proof

Cover bowl(s) with plastic shower cap(s) or place in tupperware.

Leave to proof 1 hour, until first turn

Bagel dough resting between turns

1 hour later:  1st turn

Follow instructions on illustration below.  At an average room temperature (not too hot, not too cold: 22-24°C) do 3 turns over a period of 3 hours, as in illustration.  (If it’s cool you can add 1 turn, so bulk proof is over 4 hours.  But if it’s quite hot, reduce waiting time between each turn to between 30 and 50 minutes so dough doesn’t overproof.)

Sourdough bagels dough, bulk proof

DAY 2 – shaping, boiling and baking

  1. Let risen doughs come to room temperature 10-20 mins (photo 1).
  2. Flatten with palm to de-gas (photo 2).
  3. Plain bagels: weigh and divide to get 16 pieces (about 75-76g each).  Two-tone bagels: weigh each colour and divide each by 8 to get 16 pieces in total (about 75-76g each) – use metal pastry scraper or sharp knife to cut the pieces (photo 3).

DAY 2 Shaping Halloween sourdough bagels part 1

Plain bagels pre-shaping

For the method where you just make a hole in the middle with your ginger: flatten to a circle, pull up a side then press into middle.  Pull up next side and do same (totalling about 5 sides).  Pinch together in middle. Turn over and roll piece under palm to make a ball with a slightly resistant skin (photo 4 above and steps 2 to 5 in illustrated recipe below).Shaping brioche, balls and plaited loaf - illustrated recipe

Two-tone bagels pre-shaping

For the method where you roll our a sausage and overlap ends:  flatten each piece into an oval, pull small section of top out and up a little then pinch down to middle (photos 5 and 6).  Turn around and repeat on other side (photos 7 and 8).  This is to create tension.

DAY 2 Shaping Halloween sourdough bagels part 2

When all pinched (photo 9), pinch two sides together and seal (photo 10).  Place seam under, on surface and roll under fingers (photo 11).  Repeat until all dough pieces are pre-shaped.

DAY 2 Shaping Halloween sourdough bagels part 3

Rest 20 minutes so dough relaxes and it’s easier to do final shaping.

Final shaping – 2 methods

Hole-in-middle using fingers

Poke hole into a ball with your finger.  Then swivel around finger to shape hole or stretch hole gently with two fingers inside, trying to make the holes even and equal in shape.

DAY 2 Shaping 1-colour bagels, swivelling on finger

Long sausage with ends overlapping

This is a brief practical youtube video demonstrating a similar method:

Plain (monocoloured or uncoloured) bagels

Follow the process detailed below in photo 1, with just one colour or uncoloured dough (74-76g) rolled to a long sausage.  Then shape as from photo 6.

Two-tone bagels

Roll out dough under fingers of both hands (photo 1/video above).  Cut in half (photo 2), to get two 37-38g pieces (photo 2).  Repeat for other pieces of dough.  Place orange and black dough next to each other (photo 3).  Roll under fingers as usual, so ends taper more thinly (photo 4/video above).

DAY 2 Shaping two-tone bagels with twist and joint pt 1

Hold down one end with finger tip and twist from other end (photo 5).  Place bottom of fingers over middle, bring one side over back of fingers then other side over that (photo 6), being careful not to lose twist. Turn around so seam faces downwards and roll palm up and down on surface to seal (photo 7/video).  Place on baking tray lined with silicone mat or baking paper.  Shape and adjust for nice pattern (photo 8).

DAY 2 Shaping two-tone bagels with twist and joint pt 2

Proofing and boiling

Cover in plastic film or reusable plastic bag and proof 1 – 2 hours (depending on how warm your environment is).  Mine took 2 or more hours at room temperature of 20-21ºC/68-70ºF (do finger poking test: poke surface lightly with finger; if dough springs back fast it’s not ready yet – it should make an indent and spring back slowly).

The finger-swivel shaped ones puffed faster and almost doubled in size.  The two-tones didn’t rise as much; don’t worry, bagels don’t need to be extra fluffy (they’re not brioches).  But they should feel light and quite airy to pick up.

DAY 2 Proofing and boiling sourdough bagels

First tray

When nearly proofed (in photo 1 they’re half-way there; in photo 2, almost there), preheat oven to 250ºC/480ºF (static/non-convection) and prepare large pot of boiling water.

Add 1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to boiling water then place bagels face down in water – they swell up so don’t squash loads in (photo 3: 4 bagels in my pot).  Boil 15-20 seconds then turn upside-down to do other side.  Boil further 15-20 seconds.

Scoop out with slotted spoon (or tongs) and place back on baking tray (photo 4).  Repeat with remaining bagels on first tray.  Switch off heat and place lid on pot.

Brush bagels with beaten egg and optionally cover with sesame seeds (sprinkle or dip).  Place in middle of preheated oven.  Immediately lower heat to 230ºC/445ºF and bake 8 minutes.  Then lower heat to 180ºC/360ºF and bake further 20 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.

activated charcoal and turmeric sourdough bagels

Take more photos. 😉

Halloween orange and black activated charcoal and turmeric sourdough bagels

Second tray 

These two-tones needed more time to proof – looking good.

activated charcoal and turmeric sourdough bagels

When first tray is out, increase oven heat back up to 250ºC/480ºF.  Bring water in pot back to boil.

Repeat process as for first tray of bagels.

Second batch of bagels - the two-tone ones that took longer to shape and proof

Second batch of bagels

Eating and storing

Wait 20 minutes minimum before eating.  Eat on same day.  Sooo good!  Bagels get tough quite fast so don’t keep any out for the following day – freeze them (wrapped tightly in plastic film or re-usable plastic wallets).  They keep in the freezer up to a few months or so.  Take out of plastic and defrost 3-4 hours at room temperature in air-tight tupperware before eating.  The skin will be less ‘lightly crisp’ but they’ll still be amazing with a wonderful texture and flavour!

Happy halloween bagel! 🙂

Turmeric and avocado sourdough bagels with cream cheese and avocado

Homemade sourdough bagels

The black bagels are rather stunning too, delicious with cream cheese, avocado and Spanish Iberic cured ham.  Yum.

Activated charcoal sourdough bagel with cured ham

Activated charcoal sourdough bagel

But is it okay to eat activated charcoal powder?  And how tasty is it?

It’s supposed to be healthy but I’ve seen arguments for and against this ingredient, as in this BBC Good Food article.  It seems that, as with most foods, it should be eaten in moderation.  So a small quantity several times a year in bagels is fine.  Yay!   Also, ground turmeric and sourdough get a big thumbs up.

In case you’re wondering, activated charcoal gives you dramatic Instagrammable colour but no discernible flavour.  The turmeric and sourdough do add a lovely subtle aroma, making these bagels tastier than the usual ones.  Like really tasty.

Halloween may not be the same as usual this year but let’s have some comfort food: the yummiest ever activated charcoal and turmeric sourdough bagels with butter, cream cheese and avocado.  Nom nom.

Turmeric and avocado sourdough bagels with cream cheese and avocado

Time to stock up on bagels.

Halloween orange and black sourdough bagels

Colourful yummy sourdough bagels

Bye for now dears!  Stay safe and well.  Hope you’re keeping happy, baking and eating! 🙂 Lili x

Posted by

Baking on Sundays with my French mum was a lovely part of my childhood. Later I experimented with baking books or internet recipes and did the pâtisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Still trying out new recipes and inventing cakes with influences from all around the world, including some healthier ones. Yes, love cakes!!! Hope you'll love them too and have fun baking. :)

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