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Last night we tried to make bagels. We used this quick video online to give us the basics in terms of process and then we used the measurements from this website.

We proofed the yeast for a few minutes in water and sugar and it was active, and then mixed in the flour. I kneaded the dough until it was really consistent - for about 15 minutes by hand. Then we let it rest for a little over an hour. There was a bit of expansion. The mass might have grown half again it's original size (150%)

I then weighed out the 65g balls and they rested in the fridge for a little over an hour. This was longer then that video recommended, but it didn't seem like going over by a half hour would do anything terrible. Next, we rolled out the ring shapes and let them rise for an hour... and then another hour. They didn't rise. The recipe called for putting them in the fridge overnight, but we chose to let them rest in a cool room, covered, overnight, just to give the yeast more of a chance. The trouble was there had been no change in size or consistency. They were almost tacky still, just as they had been during kneading.

This morning they had not changed at all. It was possible to re-shape them into balls with a few quick turns of the hand. I nonetheless boiled the water and turned the oven on. I lifted the first one and it stuck to the plate as tacky, unleavened dough would. They all went straight to the bottom of the pot, so I had to keep watch turning them. I boiled four and put them in the oven just to see what would happen, knowing it had been a failure. The results were "bagels" that didn't rise at all. Dense and chewy. They looked like dead piles of dough with seeds on them.

I read somewhere that you can't over kneed bagels, so I don't feel it was this. We weighted every ingredient so it can't be that. The yeast was active so it can't be that (or could it have been killed somewhere along the way?). All I can think of is that something went wrong in the proofing. But I can't figure out what.

Can anyone tell me what might have happened? Thank you!

  • How much water did you add with the flour, and how hot? Also how much salt? – Chris H Mar 4 '18 at 19:07
  • @ChrisH 50 g sugar 525 ml water 15g dried yeast 20 g salt The water was lukewarm, maybe around 40°C – RickSterling Mar 4 '18 at 19:40
  • The last time this happened to me, I had make the mistake of trying to make bagels during passover. – FuzzyChef Mar 5 '18 at 2:09
  • Question: did you follow the steps as written? Particularly, did you add the salt to the proofed yeast before adding the flour? – FuzzyChef Mar 5 '18 at 2:13
  • @FuzzyChef - Ha, never make bagels during passover I guess! Although, I'm well ahead of it this time :) Yes, I have learned from the post by GdD that I probably killed the yeast with both early salt and excess sugar. Next time, I'm sending you all bagels once they're done! – RickSterling Mar 6 '18 at 6:48
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It sounds like your yeast never really got started, and you may have killed most of it off. Sugar actually retards yeast, and salt kills it, so mixing sugar and salt into the water was not a good thing, in fact it didn't kill off the yeast completely it probably did most of it. So you started off with very little live yeast, which has knock on effects. Cold conditions make proofing much slower, and what yeast you had wasn't enough to make things rise.

Yeast can come back in some cases, providing there's at least some in there, you just have to give it time to reproduce. I've had bread take 3 hours to really get going when I've had old yeast or mistreated it, and the results were fine in the end. If I suspect I've killed my yeast I've had some success kneading more in with a bit of water, again giving it more time.

The message here is not to go for a time, but a result. If you expect a dough to double in size or more then don't move on to the next stage until it does. Home bread baking is not an exact science, so be prepared for things to move faster or slower.

A couple of things about bagels:

  • Bagels won't rise or expand much in the oven as boiling them cooks them, fixing their structure. If they aren't risen enough before boiling leave them be until they are, there's no oven spring!
  • Bagel dough is supposed to be dense, but you can overdo it. Don't add any more flour than the recipe calls for
  • You can over-knead any bread, but 15 minutes doesn't sound like too much to me

I've found that using a sponge is very good for getting consistent results, in fact I won't bake yeast breads without one anymore. A sponge is a 50-50 mix of some of the flour and water from your recipe plus all your yeast which is then set aside covered. This gives your yeast an ideal environment to get started, once it's really happy (generally 30-45 minutes) you then add the rest of the ingredients (salt last) and proceed as normal. If your yeast is dead you will know it within 15-20 minutes or so and you can start again, otherwise you wait until it's super bubbly. A sponge also adds flavor I find.

  • Thank you - there is so much valuable knowledge in your response. After leading what you have taught, I think it is almost certain that the yeast was killed. My experience as a home wine maker had me thinking that the more sugar the better, but of course these are different kinds of yeast. I am excited to try again thanks to this helpful message! Can't thank you enough – RickSterling Mar 6 '18 at 6:44
  • Glad we could help @RickSterling. I hope you enjoy your bagels, I'm a New Yorker transplanted to the UK so making my own is the only source! – GdD Mar 7 '18 at 9:10
  • Interesting @GdD I'm a Montreal-er transplanted to Spain, so a very similar situation! We lasted a year until finally we decided we had to make our own. Sometimes they make white buns here that are shaped like bagels but they really, really are not... – RickSterling Mar 8 '18 at 6:35
  • Very similar here @RickSterling, they make bagel shaped objects. They even have a brand called New York Bagel Company, which is so far from it I almost want to sue them. – GdD Mar 8 '18 at 8:25
  • hahahahaha - that's good. I wonder how many times they are told they are making a mockery. Here is Spain they wouldn't care about my criticism – RickSterling Oct 3 '18 at 10:39

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