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This weekend, I made Peter Reinhart's water bagel recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. The bagels taste yummy, but they're flat wrinkly discs! What can I do next time to get nice puffy bagels instead?

finished bagels

The recipe is basically:

  • make a sponge and let it ferment for 2 hours
  • add more yeast, salt, flour, and sweetener (I used Wheat Montana all-purpose flour, which yes is all-purpose but has a protein content closer to bread flour...so I was hoping it would behave more like bread flour)
  • knead (I kneaded for about 20 minutes, until I got a nice smooth dough that passed the windowpane test)
  • divide, form into rolls, rest for 20 minutes
  • form bagels (after I was done forming them all I also went back and stretched out some of the first bagels I'd shaped a bit more)
  • let rest for 20 minutes and then do the float test (mine passed the float test after the 20 minutes)

Here's what the bagels looked like at that point: enter image description here

  • put in refrigerator for up to 2 days (I had them in there for a little more than 24 hours)
  • take out of the fridge and boil as soon as they pass the float test (mine did right away), 1 minute on each side. This is where things started going wrong. Mine puffed up nicely in the water, but then they started to deflate as soon as I took them out.
  • bake. I saw my somewhat deflated boiled bagels and thought "they'll spring up in the oven!" but alas...basically no oven spring. You can see the result above.

The finished bagels are tasty and chewy, and the crumb is somewhat dense but not THAT bad:

enter image description here

But they're so flat!! The uncooked formed bagels almost look taller, like they spread out during/after boiling instead of poofing UP.

Here are my current hypotheses about what could have happened:

  • I think I added the extra instant yeast and salt to the fermented sponge at the same time, so maybe the salt killed some of the yeast? But the bagels did poof up and pass the float test, so the yeast must have been active enough for that.
  • I was using all-purpose flour instead of bread or high-gluten flour, and my understanding is that higher-gluten flour soaks up more water. So maybe the dough was too wet, using the same amount of water with all-purpose flour? I also didn't end up adding all of the flour the recipe called for - I was trying to pay attention to the dough foremost, so I stopped when it seemed to have a nice consistency with just a couple tablespoons of flour left to go. However, other bagel recipes (like this one https://cooking.nytimes.com/guides/81-how-to-make-bagels) say you can use all purpose flour yet have an even higher hydration, and my dough did feel quite dry.
  • Another potential downfall of that all-purpose flour: maybe there wasn't enough gluten development to hold up to the boiling. But I did knead it extensively, got the dough texture Reinhart describes, and have seen other bagel recipes that use all purpose flour without such flat results. Moreover, it seems like people recommend bread/high-gluten flour for "extra chewy" bagels, not poofier ones...and mine were chewy enough for my tastes.
  • It seems like some other bagel recipes call for only 30 seconds of boiling on each side, so maybe my 1-minute on each side boil killed too much of the yeast to get a nice oven spring? But Reinhart's book says you can boil it for up to two minutes if you want extra chewy bagels.

What do you think? What should I try next time to get poofier happier bagels?

Update

Per Johanna's diagnosis of overproofing, I tried halving the yeast and then otherwise making the bagels as I did above (just with a bit of extra rise time for the sponge), and they turned out so much better!!

happy bagels

I pulled out a couple after 4 hours in the fridge, and they puffed up well but were not particularly flavorful. The rest I took out and boiled after 24 hours, and those were great!

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    I've made these before! We called them "beagles" because they are sad and floppy. See Johanna's answer for why.
    – FuzzyChef
    Feb 3 at 2:35
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    This made me wonder what would happen when baking bagels in zero G
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 3 at 4:52
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    DK: the number of technical hurdles you'd need to overcome to do that in the first place is so huge that I can't even speculate.
    – FuzzyChef
    Feb 3 at 6:43
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    Your finished bagels actually look like a gradient - on the left they look quite good, and on the right they are... less so. When you boiled them from the fridge, did you do them one at a time? If yes, Which ones went in first? Do you remember where each bagel was in the fridge? The better ones may have been colder.
    – J...
    Feb 3 at 14:18
  • @J...you are probably on to something...there were a couple bagels in one corner of the fridge that actually got a little frosty, and those ones were some of the puffiest.
    – sheesania
    Feb 3 at 16:55
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Bagels tend to flatten when you remove them from the water if the dough is overproofed or you boiled them for too long. Next time, let them proof for shorter time in the fridge (I find that doughs get overproofed in the refrigerator after about 12 hours, so 24 hours is a very long cold proof) and possibly boil them slightly shorter.

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    Hmm. The thing is that Reinhart says you can leave them in the fridge for up to 48 hours, so I was well within that limit. But when I make them again I'll try pulling some out earlier and see if that helps.
    – sheesania
    Feb 2 at 19:25
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    Sheesania: gonna support Johanna here. I've had the overproofing problem too, with exactly the same results as your flat bagels. Is it possible that the bagels, in the fridge, got warm from opening the door, or other issues? I'm not talking warm-warm, I'm talking even just 50F/10C. That can be enough to turn an overnight fridge hold into overproofing. Personally, I don't do the overnight rise anymore because of this issue.
    – FuzzyChef
    Feb 3 at 2:33
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    Note that Reinhart has access to a walk-in fridge that maintains a constant 40F in all locations. Most of the rest of us don't.
    – FuzzyChef
    Feb 3 at 6:44
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    @FuzzyChef Absolutely. I always have dough in my fridge, typically for up to about three days. It really matters where the dough goes - in warm spots the dough goes flat and dead. You really need to find the cold corners of the fridge to keep dough for more than 12-24h.
    – J...
    Feb 3 at 14:14
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    +1. I'd add the temperature of the dough when it goes into the fridge is also a significant factor, as well as the airflow within the fridge which influences how rapidly they cool down. There are so many variables involved with a fridge proof I'd consider any times in a recipe to be guidelines with a +/- 500% accuracy.
    – Phil Frost
    Feb 3 at 15:02
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Besides Johanna's overproofing hypothesis (which I find very likely), it seems you boiled them straight from the fridge. I would never do that, dough behaves much better when it is allowed a long warm up step after having been in the fridge.

I don't think the gluten content of the flour contributed anything to the deflation. While bagels are indeed made with high-gluten flour (actually higher than bread flour, there is a table in Bread Baker's apprentice I believe, check it out), you can get perfectly good rise out of all-purpose flour, and many breads are baked with all-purpose flour. Of all the probable causes you are listing, only the first one - added yeast - sounds like it can cause these symptoms. The more yeast you add, the less time you have before it overproofs.

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  • Could you clarify what you mean by the dough "behaving better" if it's warmed up? I might as well give it a try though!
    – sheesania
    Feb 2 at 19:27
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    Unless of course it's overproofed, in which case you let it warm up and it's so limp it won't hold its shape to get it into the water
    – Joe
    Feb 2 at 19:55
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    @joe Indeed, if it has both problems (overpoofed and used from cold) then fixing the second won't help with the first. And I agree that overproofing is probably also present in this case. But when OP solves the first one, they should also take care of the second, to see good results.
    – rumtscho
    Feb 2 at 20:38
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    @sheesania by "behaving better" I would say that it behaves as usual, just like doing it without cooling it. If you use it from cold, you can get all kinds of unpleasantness happening, but the likeliest is no rise at all, or off texture, or whatever else can happen when the yeast is asleep.
    – rumtscho
    Feb 2 at 20:40
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    If the dough is warmer/room temp, it both ensures that the water temp won't drop during your boil and that the boiling water can more or less immediately work to create steam in your bagel's air pockets (allowing it to puff up more) and gelatinize starches. If your dough is cold from the fridge, then you're spending your boil time hardening the crust while the water brings the bagel up to a less cold temperature. I think peak gelatinization happens around 90°F, so if your dough is 35°F straight from the fridge that's a big internal temperature gap to cross before the outer crust is too cooked.
    – Allison
    Feb 2 at 20:50

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