The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough allergic to itself

Metta's picture

Dough allergic to itself


Desperation drives me here as a neophyte bread maker over a persistent kneading problem.

I've made recipe breads successfully over the years but, I want to advance to more complex breads.

For the last 15 times, I have been trying to perfect Peter Reinhart's Yeasted Bagels.

10% of the time the dough comes together instantly.

I carefully weigh all my ingredients but, do not have a water thermometer yet so use my wrist. The poolish is treated with exactness and shows good ferment after it has sat out for an hour. I am using unbleached organic white flour. While the recipe calls for instant, I only have dry active yeast which I let rise in the required 1/2 cup for 3 minutes. Unlike the recipe, I mix the honey in with the yeast prior to mixing it in with the dry ingredients. I knead on a soapstone counter. The room is 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

90% of the time I can tell I will have THE PROBLEM as soon as the dough is mixed because seems too dry. On different times I have tried to resolve the problem by 1) kneading the requisite time despite this 2) Adding water after kneading 3) letting the dough sit then kneading again 4) kneading at twice the required time 5) changing the bag of flour I am using 6) Changing my kneading technique

Sometimes I make the dough really wet after its obvious kneading won't correct the problem. Nothing solves the problem.

Despite the dough becoming very smooth and elastic and firm, dough starts to tear and break in the centre where it grows more and more allergic to itself, showing raggedness and failure to stick even when I turn it inside out and reknead it. Dough never passes the windowpane test. Eventually, it starts ripping on the outside of the ball. I have a photo but, can't figure out how to post it.

I am feeling rather discouraged so any help would be appreciated.

lepainSamidien's picture

Hey Metta, Sorry to hear you're having difficulties . . . I understand that bagels can be especially tricky, given the level of gluten development they require in order to hold up to the cooking process. As far as what's causing the dough to be allergic to itself, I'll offer some speculation into the matter: It could be the ambient humidity. I know that dough doesn't always behave itself when the air is too dry or too wet. Changes in outside humidity often affect the way my dough comes together . . . not quite as radically as with temperature changes, but there are noticeable differences in dough performance after heavy rain or a dry spell.

It could also be the flour that you are using. Perhaps the company has hit a bad batch of wheat? It's not terribly likely, but it's a possibility. I've read some posts on here about folks who just got some batches of wheat that weren't very well suited to gluten development. You could try using a different brand of flour, or opt for some stronger flour. With the amount of gluten required to make bagels, you might be better off using a bread flour with a high protein content.

You could also try letting the ingredients autolyse following your mix. I often find that this helps with gluten development in the long run.

Good luck!, and keep at it ! We've all been there; sometimes rough patches just happen, and it seems like we've been stricken with an incurable case of the "yips." But if you hang in there, it'll come back!

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

I wonder about your flour - what's the protein content?  Bagels really benefit from higher protein flour, even higher than regular "bread" flour.  I would suggest using something like King Arthur Bread flour which is 12.7% protein at a minimum.  Anything lower in protein might very well give you the inconsistent results you are seeing. Or look for a high gluten flour (around 14%)

dsadowsk's picture

You say that you can tell the dough is too dry after mixing, but you only talk about adding water after kneading. Is there a reason you're not adding water before you start kneading?

At any rate, bagel doughs are supposed to be stiff. Are you certain that over-dryness is the problem?

Re Kitchen Barbarian's point about flour, I add a teaspoon of gluten per cup of bread flour. It helps give structure. That being said, perhaps you're overkneading the dough. I'm not familiar with that Reinhart bagel recipe (I have tried his whole wheat bagel recipe, which I thought made bagels that were too soft), but bagels should not need a lot of kneading.

Lastly, you could simply try a different bagel recipe. I'm happy with the one in Baking Illustrated (published by the Cook's Illustrated folks).

Good luck.

nicodvb's picture

probably your gluten is not sufficiently developed. You wrote

Despite the dough becoming very smooth and elastic and firm, dough starts to tear and break in the centre

This happens when flours are very high in gluten (good for you!) and don't get kneaded long enough. If doughs aren't sufficiently developed they tear just like doughs made with much weaker flours.

You could try to knead longer, adding more water if necessary. A dough that is too rigid wil always tear. Rigidity is detrimental to dough expansion, it's like trying to blow a baloon made of leather.

Metta's picture

Thank you for the responses so far.

I tried autolysing for up to an hour and it makes the ripping and tearing worse. I have tried kneading for up to double the time. The more I knead the worse the ripping gets. I then tried a totally different bread recipe and had the same problem. We are down to the flour or human factors. Would low protein do this? Or how I knead? No loaf ever passed the windowpane test although some have been close. The actual results show rise and are edible.

I have no idea where to buy gluten in Ontario, Canada.

If anyone has a link to a good kneading technique, I'd love to know about it.

Thank you again for your help.