Homemade bagel is flat. Why?
February 10, 2021 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I've made homemade bagels several times, from two different recipes, but with similar results: They all end up flattened/deflated. What in my process is causing this?

The two recipes I've followed are Babish and Ethan.

The first especially provided a great chew and excellent crust. Crust was good on the second, but it tasted more like a pretzel. In both situations though: all my batches come out deflated.

There's part of the process where I let the already-shaped bagels rest, proof for a while (either overnight or for an hour), and then boil them directly before baking.

I suspect that the handoff from proofing pan to boiling water makes the dough de-poof. The dough feels sticky in my hands at that point, and after the boiling has completed, the pretty, smooth, puffed dough looks like a craggly version of its former self. There doesn't appear to be any further rising in the oven that takes place when baking.

I make sure to:
- Line the proofer with oil or cornmeal so the dough doesn't stick
- Put baking soda in the boiling water
- Boil an appropriate time (tried 20 sec and 45 sec, each side, per recipe)

If this is really the issue, how can I better get the dough from proof to boil?

Or is there anything else you might recommend?
posted by mr_bovis to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
According to epicurious, you may have OVERproofed it, by boiling it too long.
posted by kschang at 8:06 AM on February 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

When you drop the bagels in the water, do they float immediately, or do they take a moment to start to float (or do they sink and never float)? If they're over proofed, they will float immediately, if they're under proofed they won't float at all. What you're looking for is for them to sink and then float after a moment or two. If you want more oven spring, you could also put the parchment directly onto a pre-heated baking stone in the oven.

Are you using a food processor or kneading by hand (or in a mixer)? There's a decent chance that you haven't developed enough gluten which could lead to flattened bagels (would also result in stickier dough). Ethan's recipe has you hand knead for 10 minutes but bagel dough needs more like 30 mins of hand kneading to properly develop the gluten you want in a bagel. If you're using a food processor, gluten development is less likely to be the culprit.
posted by AceRock at 8:33 AM on February 10, 2021 [6 favorites]

I've only made very painstaking sourdough bagels which took longer than either of these recipes, so I don't have direct experience with what you're attempting.

The Babish recipe looks terrible to me, if for no other reason than that only one minute of kneading after 110 seconds of whizzing in a food processor is in no way sufficient to develop the gluten. I suspect other problems too, but that one's a slam dunk.

The Ethan recipe looks more promising. Did you follow it scrupulously -- 10 minutes of vigorous hand kneading, windowpane test, proofing overnight in the fridge, etc.?
posted by jon1270 at 8:35 AM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

They will flatten a bit when you boil them; see end of the video, but they should re-puff in the oven.

Seconding the comments about gluten development. Smitten Kitchen calls for 15 minutes of kneading, which I usually do after a couple of minutes in the stand mixer. I used to get deflation too, and I do think making sure the dough is quite stiff and smooth will help them re-get their structure in the oven.

This recipe also calls for sponge to proof for two hours, two more proofs to shape them up, and then the long overnight one in the fridge, which I usually do. I also boil them for like, a minute and a half per side, and they still puff back up.
posted by damayanti at 8:37 AM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

This can happen if your dough is overproofed. It stopped happening to me when I eliminated the hour proof at room temperature that shows up in both those recipes. I do a sponge (with all the water, about half the flour, and a teaspoon of yeast) and let that sit for 2-3 hours until it looks bubbly like pancake batter. Then I incorporate the rest of the flour, malt, and salt. I knead that in a stand mixer for six minutes, immediately divide into balls of ~125 grams, cover those with a wet towel and let them rest for exactly 20 minutes, then shape and refrigerate for 18-36 hours. If I let it sit too long at room temperature the dough would just get flabby and it wouldn't do well after the overnight retardation. If I leave them in the fridge too long they can get a bit puffy but they usually don't flatten out.
posted by fedward at 8:53 AM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I hope some quick responses will help:

kschang: Thanks for that link. It offers a lot of good tips.

AceRock, jon1270, and damayanti:
* The bagels float immediately, suggesting they're over-proofed.
* I do all the kneading by hand. My most recent try included 10 minutes of kneading. The dough passed the window pane test.
* One recent try was my attempts at a "quick" bagel, which is what the Ethan recipe was for (I didn't proof overnight in the fridge). The distinct lack of chew in the end product (Babish recipe had excellent chew) makes me think I'll need to overnight fridge from now on.
posted by mr_bovis at 8:58 AM on February 10, 2021

I've taken to making my own bagels in the pandemic, and they've gotten good to the point where I just don't buy bagels anymore. But it took me 4 or 5 tries to get it right.

I use my sourdough starter most of the time for sourdough bagels, using this recipe. When I use that recipe, I follow it to the letter.

But when I'm in a rush and don't have three days to take my starter from the fridge and feed it a few times, I use the simpler Water Bagels recipe from King Arthur Flour, which uses regular yeast—I do modify it a bit to be more like the Sourdough bagel recipe, because I really like the texture there.

My notes for yeast bagel-making:
  • The King Arthur recipe, if I followed it to the letter, would make (to my standards) impossibly-small bagels. It says it yields 16-20 bagels, but I divide it out so that it's 10.
  • You have to knead the heck out of the dough. I knead it for 20 minutes, by hand. It takes a long while, but the texture is just-right.
  • I don't have barley malt syrup; I sub maple syrup.
  • I use the shaping technique from the sourdough bagel recipe instead of the King Arthur recipe:
    1. When you're done kneading, shape the dough into a ball, put it in a bowl, cover, and let rest for 20 minutes.
    2. Divide the dough ball into 10-12 equal pieces.
    3. Tuck the corners of the piece down to form a ball, cup it, and roll it on a clean countertop; this develops the skin of the bagel.
    4. Line two baking sheets with a piece of parchment. I lightly grease it with some PAM just to be sure the bagels won't stick.
    5. Evenly distribute the dough balls on the parchment. Let them sit for 15 minutes.
    6. Poke a hole in the ball, and widen it with your other fingers until it's the size of a golf ball. Try not to touch the outer edges of the bagel as you do this.
    7. Cover each baking sheet with a kitchen towel, and put them in a warm place. If you need a warm place, use your turned-off oven with the oven light on.
  • Let the bagels rise for 1.5 to 2 hours. They should be visibly puffy. Cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap and let them sit in your fridge overnight.

  • In the morning, bring a pot of water to boil on the stove. When it's at a rolling boil, add 1 tbsp baking soda, and 1 tbsp.

  • Boil for 15-20 seconds on each side, then remove with a slotted spoon, and shake gently to get rid of the excess water.

  • Brush with egg white to give each bagel some gloss and adhere toppings. Top with any desired topping.

  • Bake at 425°F for 20 minutes.

posted by vitout at 8:59 AM on February 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

My last post should say (for the boiling part): "When it's at a rolling boil, add 1 tbsp baking soda, and 1 tbsp maple syrup, or barley malt syrup if you have it".

Oh -- and don't let the bagels sit at room temperature before you boil them. They should go directly from the fridge into their bath, with a minimal amount of time sitting beforehand. Use a pot where you can boil 2 or 3 bagels at a time.
posted by vitout at 9:05 AM on February 10, 2021

Nth-ing the "overproofing" possibility. (Please note that this is based on repeatedly hearing this assessment of this problem on technical challenge portions from episodes of THE GREAT BRITISH BAKEOFF as opposed to actual experience.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Do you have a probe thermometer you can use to check the dough temperature before and after kneading? Dough temperature will affect yeast activity. (Me, I start with cold water and just give the sponge more time if the kitchen is cold enough to slow the yeast down noticeably; I feel like longer, colder fermentation helps flavor). Also I don't think ten minutes hand kneading (in the quick recipe you tried) is enough gluten development to get you a typically chewy bagel. 20 minutes hand kneading might get you there, but I'd be curious how 20 minutes of hand kneading affects dough temperature compared to my 6 minutes with a dough hook. Once I'm done kneading it doesn't matter how warm the kitchen is; the dough is just going to do its own thing until I get it into the fridge.
posted by fedward at 9:22 AM on February 10, 2021

From what I'm reading I suspect you haven't developed the gluten properly. Kneed for a longer duration, or more aggressively (your dough should feel satin-y but not sticky). Once you finish kneading, shape the bagels immediately.

Make sure there is tension in your bagel shape. If you are fast at shaping the bagels, let them rest for 20 minutes before refrigerating them overnight. If you are slow at shaping them, you can put them straight in the fridge.

The next day, boil and bake them. The longer you boil, the more chew the bagel has.
posted by axismundi at 9:23 AM on February 10, 2021

My only tiny possibility is making sure your yeast is good, and not mixing it directly with the salt and letting it sit for any longish amount of time. Everything else we did at the bagel factory was so much different to not be relevant.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:25 AM on February 10, 2021

Claire Saffitz recently had a bagel video, and as typical for her, goes into great detail about kneading and proofing.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:29 AM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

don't let the bagels sit at room temperature before you boil them. They should go directly from the fridge into their bath, with a minimal amount of time sitting beforehand

I havent made bagels but have become a pretty proficient sourdough baker over the last year and have used it as an opportunity to observe a shit ton of variables that affect how my baked goods come out. I now exclusively bake my loaves straight from the fridge because i like the results but also because it makes them much more easy to deal with - when you described the sticky mess in transferring them to the water, getting the dough colder was my first thought. two other possible suggestions - can you proof them in/on somethign where they could just be slid off into your boil? something like a long straight plant with them all lined up in a 1x4 array so you could just tip one end and send them into the bath? my other last thought is whether youve tried oiling your hands when you make the transfer into the water bath to fight the stickiness?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:54 AM on February 10, 2021

If you’re open to alternate recipes we like the Love and Lemons one around here, recipe followed to the letter. We’ve made them many times and never had deflated bagels.
posted by Red Desk at 9:08 PM on February 10, 2021

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