I recently made bagels following this recipe, but they didn't pass the "float test" (see step 10). I took them out of the fridge for an hour, put one in a bowl of cold water, and it sunk. I repeated the test a couple times during the next hour, but they still sunk, and they hadn't noticeably increased in size.

Eventually I just went ahead with the boiling and baking. They came out edible, but pretty dense and small.

What are some things that might have gone wrong?

I bought the (instant) yeast within the last couple of weeks, so it should be good. In fact, I used the same package of yeast when making this other bagel recipe, which worked very well.

I did have to add a little extra water to the dough, since it was very dry. Could that be part of the problem?

  • Just to get the obvious out of the way, what temperature was the water you used? Did you actually measure it? 130-140 Fahrenheit and above is fatal to yeast and that really isn't as hot as many people think so when they estimate they sometimes make the water too hot.
    – Jay
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 5:32
  • Hey, nothing's too obvious for me. I don't think my water was that hot, but I'll definitely keep it in mind next time.
    – JW.
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 15:24

3 Answers 3


Yes, a very dense dough will not be able to rise. The gases will not have the strength to push the hard dough apart. There are types of bagels which are supposed to be quite dense, but American bagels are seldom made this way. This recipe is quite low hydrated at 52%, so even small errors can push it into problematic territory.

Individually packaged instant yeast keeps for a very long time. Big packs keep well if refrigerated after opening. Your yeast is not likely to be the problem. There are three possible problems you may have encountered:

  • You measured your dry ingredients by volume, not weight
  • You used the wrong type of flour
  • The recipe gives an insufficient amount of time

Measuring Ingredients

I suspect that you probably measured by volume. This is the most common mistake which leads to a wrong dough consistency. You should measure by weight because measuring by volume is not precise enough: depending on your technique and on the humidity in your pantry, you can have up to 50% measuring error. The recipe gives you a weight; use it. If you find a recipe which doesn't give you a weight, consider changing the recipe - the best sources always use weight. If you insist on using a recipe specified in volume units, use a converter and measure everything in weight. This ensures that you use the ratio given in the recipe and eliminates technique errors on your part. If the recipe author didn't make technique errors while creating the recipe, you will get the right output. (For example, Corriher calculates her recipes by weight ratio, but she lists them in volume because her readers prefer it that way. If you convert back by the factor she gives, you will never be wrong). If you absolutely must measure by volume, then pour your flour into the measuring cup and level it by shaking. Never scoop flour. Still, prepare for botched doughs from time to time, even with pouring.

Flour Type

The second likely reason is the wrong type of flour. Or maybe not "wrong" per se, but different from what the author had in mind. In different regions, flour labeled as "bread flour" has different amounts of gluten. If in doubt, look at your nutrition label; it should be around 12% for bread flour. If it's not, adjust the amount of water slightly (you have to go by feel here).


The time given in the recipe is also shady. At 4.5 g dry yeast and 453g flour, it is equivalent to 3% fresh yeast (even less if you overmeasured the flour). This is a good percentage for a slow, long rise. But saying to ferment it in the fridge "for at least one hour" is nonsense. This amount of yeast needs more than an hour at room temperature, or something like 6 hours in the fridge, even for a rich wet dough - probably more for the lean dense one. If you only kept it for an hour before shaping, you didn't have any primary rise. Next time, just go by volume. Primary fermentation should double the dough volume. The change in volume in secondary fermentation depends on the process, and I don't remember the correct one for bagels.

Bottom line: your diagnosis sounds very likely - not enough fermentation for the amount of flour. Measure correctly, and allow enough time for fermentation, to get your bread right.

  • Fantastic answer...thank you! I'm pretty sure I got the right type of flour, but your first and third points sound very likely.
    – JW.
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 15:40

The recipe calls for proofing the dough overnight in the fridge. You did this an didn't see any change in volume?

Regardless of how you measured your flour you should have seen some activity from your yeast. If after 12 hours the dough was unchanged then your yeast were ineffective.

There are a couple ways your yeast action could have been inhibited:
1- Your dough was so incredibly dry that the yeast had no water and died. This is unlikely because as you stated above you knew what "too dry" looked like and added more water.
2- Your dough wasn't bone dry but it wasn't kneaded well enough. It wasn't smooth an elastic and didn't trap the gases produced by the yeast. Again, if this was the case, I think you would have noticed.
3- Your yeast were dead.
If the water was too hot or if they were just left out, exposed to the air, at room temperature for a while they are likely dead.

Even though you mentioned that you had success with this yeast with a different batch I still feel like #3 is the most likely scenario. If you believe your yeast is questionable then mix it with some of your flour and lukewarm water and let it sit for 10 minutes. If it isn't foaming and fragrant then it is dead.

Keep your yeast in the freezer for a nearly indefinite shelf life.

  • Thanks! I did leave it overnight, and there was some change in volume, but less than I expected. The kneading is an interesting possibility...this recipe calls for much less of it than the other one (2 min vs 10), and I'm not so sure I would have known how much was enough.
    – JW.
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 15:47

Had same problem until I found out that I was killing the yeast by applying salt directly to the yeast. I would put the ingredients in a certain order yeast, flour, and last salt. This way the flour will provide a barrier against the salt. This seemed to have worked as the dough had a visible rise.

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