The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help! Flat bagels!

Gillian Perholt's picture
Gillian Perholt

Help! Flat bagels!

Hi everyone! I read this forum regularly and love it. I've never posted before but I hope that my fellow bread enthusiasts may help with this bagel tragedy of mine.

I make bagels. Lots. I have tiny company about it. Lately my bagels have been quite flat. After the boil the bottoms of the bagel (which have been pan side down during their final rise in the fridge) are soft and sticky. A good bagel that rises the way I like has a thin skin that is obvious in cross section. These flat bagels are missing them on the bottom. I don't know how many of you boil bagels and stare at the bottoms, but you know. I do.

Here's my method, generally:

Mix preferment & let rise for 10-12 hours. 

Mix dough (professional mixer): 25 minutes. 

Roll & Shape: This is where I think the problem is. In order to prevent over-proofing I pre-chill the sheet pans in the fridge. I cut large batches of dough (enough to make 70 bagels) into 4-6 chunks and chill them while I work with one chunk at a time. I portion, preshape, let rest in the fridge and finally roll them into rings.

Final Rise: 7-8 hours in a cold fridge. I keep the fridge really cold. Somewhere around 33 degrees. Maybe that's crazy? But the bagels like it, and I've found that when everything else is in order this is the best temperature. 

Hydration: 60 percent. I know this a bit wet for bagels - I've tried going lower and it makes shaping really hard for me. 

Temperature: The kitchen where I work is pretty consistently 65 degrees. 

Weather: I live in Oregon. It's the rainy season which means wet and cool. 

Any ideas? The over proofing started becoming a consistent problem right after I got a handful of new accounts which means I'm making more dough and more bagels. Maybe the larger batches of dough are rising too much while mixing?  Do I just need to work faster while preshaping/shaping? 

Oh! I should also note that inevitably, the best looking bagels out of these flat batches are the last ones. These are the bagels that I rolled last, were in the bottom part of the fridge (which is often a degree or two warmer than the top), were boiled last and baked last. Perhaps these look best because they were sitting in the fridge the longest, waiting for me to portion and shape? 

I'd appreciate any advice! 


MisterTT's picture

are equal and since I live in Europe, flour is a bit weaker, but 60% hydration is just crazy! Using 12.8 % protein flour I use 50-52% hydration. Sure, when you mix it initially the dough is really dry and there is temptation to add more water, but if you stick with and let it ferment you will have a pliable, though still very dry dough, which makes great bagels. I think that those 8-10% of hydration should make a difference.

Using a preferment is also questionable practice, though not uncommon, so the problem probably isn't there. You don't really need a preferment to make bagels -- at least not the traditional way -- but I understand that putting a lot of shaped into refrigeration overnight is problematic. What I do is retard the dough during bulk fermentation, let it warm up for about 2 hours (it won't come to room temp, but that's OK) then shape, short proof and bake. If there's a lot of bagels, flop the shaped ones in the fridge. They shouldn't overrise, because the dough will still be relatively cool.

Another thing: is you preferment sourdough or commercial-yeast based?

dabrownman's picture

the ones that are made the same way they were before commercial yeast was invented?  Using barm, old dough or SD or does traditional today mean made with commercial yeast?

Happy baking

MisterTT's picture

the sort of bagels that old school New York bagel bakeries (or do you call them bagel houses?) produce -- I base my on Stan's formulas.

MANNA's picture

I don't see where you calculate for desired dough temp. With your increase in orders you make more dough. Well there is a bulk factor in there. The dough gets warmer since it takes more to mix it. I bet if you made a previous batch size vs your current batch size and measured dough temp before and after mixing you would see a difference. Now there is the bulk of the dough fermenting. You have a bigger mass holding on to more heat from mixing and now its fermenting, which generates its own heat. Now if you do this experiment you know how much mixing raises the dough temp. Now you can properly calculate the dough temp to 75 degrees after mixing and control the fermentation more. I think this will help solve your problem. Also put your first bagels in the fridge on the bottom and load the last at the top. Since the bottom is colder it will help quickly equalize the dough and kick the fridge into cool down mode as you load trays. This should help keep the temp in the fridge more constant. Making a few loafs temp doesn't play as big a factor as production. It helps on a small scale to get more consistent results, but for you this is a necessity now it sounds like.

Gillian Perholt's picture
Gillian Perholt

Thanks Manna! I hadn't thought too much about this issue. Today I making the largest amount of bagels so I do three smaller mixes rather than 2 larger ones. I'm also letting the dough chucks cool off for 15 minutes before portioning. Any preference for thermometers? Will any properly calibrated one do?

Xenophon's picture

to arrive at your desired dough temperature.  Grab a good book aimed at professional bakery students and you'll learn all about friction ratios of mixers and their impact as well as formulae to make sure your target temperature stays within specs. I recommend 'Professional bread and pastry' by Suas or 'Professional baking' by Wayne Gisslen but there are many more treating this.

MANNA's picture

I would suggest two things a good insta-read thermometer and the book Bread by Jeffery Hammelman. It talks about desired dough temp. Basically you take into account all temp's and then adjust your water temp to get your desired dough temp after mixing. You have room temp, flour temp, water temp and a pre-ferment in your case all should be 75 degrees. So, 75 x those 4 things = 300 degrees. Now lets look at actuals you said the room is typically 65 and the flour is probably in that room so its 65 degrees and so is your preferment another 65 degrees and your mixing alot of dough. And you measured your dough temp to see how much mixing heated the dough, say 35 degrees. Now 300-65-65-65-35=70 degrees for your water. Now when everything is mixed it comes out at the desired dough temp of 75 degrees. Loading the bagels into the fridge has a method to the madness too. The colder temp on the bottom slows the fermentation rate of the first bagels loaded. And the warmer temp higher in the fridge gives the last ones a bit warmer temp to speed fermentation. This results in all the bagels being proofed just about the same when they come out of the fridge. Hope this helps correct your problems and you get those bagels out to more people. I take mine with a schmear of cream-cheese and lox!

MisterTT's picture

is so faulty that I can't not say anything about it. Thermodynamical processes are not linear. Physics would be so much easier if they were, but alas, to accurately calculate final mix temperature when you know the temperatures of ingredients and their masses you'd have to know the thermal capacity of each and act accordingly.

Also, remember that temperature in Fahrenheit and Celsius scales are interval measurements. So there's no multiplication of temperature unless it is in kelvins.

MANNA's picture

I disagree with you on the basis of tried and true process and from the school of try it, it works.

I suggest reading Desired dough temperature pg.382 of Bread by J. Hammelman first edition (not sure on the second edition).

RobynNZ's picture

Susan's article & calculator based on the Hammelman guidance helps in achieving consistent temperature for dough out of mixer. Not 'perfect' as Mister TT alludes, but with a bit of experimenting in your own conditions, you'll find, as Manna says , it works. Knowing what to expect from different temperature situations, helps in determining practical timing.


MisterTT's picture

set amount of mass. Now try increasing that mass by fairly large factor, say 100 times. It won't work at all! The guidelines may indeed be a semi-accurate linearization in some neighbourhood of dough mass, but they'll surely not be accurate if you shift away from it.

I will recant my statements if anyone shows me an analytic proof of said formulas. Or at least some scientific reasoning branching off basic thermodynamics.

gary.turner's picture

I think the issue comes down to too much thinking on your (Gillian's) part.

For bagels, not much mixing/kneading is needed. Try reducing your hydration a bit, say to 57 or 58%. Use luke-warm water (90-105℉). Don't bother with a preferment unless it's a sourdough embellishment. Mix only long enough to thoroughly wet the flour, say 3-5 minutes on low speed.

Let the dough rest for about twenty minutes, then form your bagels. Don't bother with pre-shaping;  roll and form and lay out on parchment lined baking sheets. Bag and put in the fridge for overnight ferment.

I think your fridge is set too low. The purpose is to ferment the dough, but slowly. 40℉ is fine. A little warmer would also be fine. If you really think they are over-fermented, cut back the yeast. Do use a little diastatic malt powder in the mix.

At dark-thirty the next morning, pull only as many bagels at a time from the fridge as you can handle in a single batch.

Give this procedure a try with a dozen bagels to see if it gets things back on track, and to walk yourself through the altered regimen.



Gillian Perholt's picture
Gillian Perholt

As an update, my bagels are happy again. I've been doing more rounds in the mixer and making sure to keep the dough as cold as possible. So, the physics debate aside, Manna's advice was absolutely useful.

As far as I know, the reason people use low hydration dough for bagels is so that the dough retains its shape during the boiling process. I accomplish the same goal by keeping slightly wetter dough at very cold temperatures. This also means that I can control over-proofing, which is the worst thing that can happen to the texture of a bagels.

There's lots of advice here that I haven't addressed just because they are things I already do (loading the fridge from coldest to warmest, only pulling bagels as needed, etc). 

Also, you guys. Preferments are delicious. I recommend them for all things.