The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bagels too dense

dpt's picture

Bagels too dense

I've been learning about sourdough bread baking, and yesterday I decided to try my hand at sourdough bagels.  I used the adaptation to Peter Reinhard's NY bagel recipe for making sourdough bagels.  This recipe is all over the internet, here is an example:

I used the same sourdough starter that I've been using to make bread (the SF starter from to make the sponge, and the sponge was very active by the time I mixed it in with the dough.  I Used KA bread flour.

One possible issue was that I might have overworked the dough.  I mixed for 15 minutes with my KA Artisan stand mixer (325 watts).  This seemed like a long time, and really worked my mixer.  It was struggling, and got very hot.

 After mixing the dough and forming the bagels, I did the "float test", and they did float.  Then I proofed overnight in a 38 degree fridge.

To boil, I added baking soda and honey to the water (a mix I found on another site).  The water was very foamy, and it was difficult to see the bagels in order to flip them.  I haven't seen any recipes that mention this issue... They boiled for about a minute a side, maybe a little more.

The bagels looked fine when they came out of the oven.  After cooling on a rack, I froze half of them and put the other half in a plastic bag.  I didn't eat any until today.  When I took one of the bagels out to toast today, I could swear that they had shrunk.  Is that possible?  I didn't measure them, but I remember thinking that they were large looking bagels when they came out of the oven, and today they looked small.  Anyway, they were a bit disappointing.  Too dense, almost like they were stale.  And they looked like they might be undercooked.  I did cook them at 500 for 25 mins, as per the recipe.  Maybe next time I will use my thermapen to test doneness before taking them from the oven.

Anyway, any suggestions as to how to make them come out better, why they are too dense?  Anyone ever hear of shrinking bagels?  Did I overwork the dough?  Were they undercooked?

Also, why does this recipe have you supplement the sourdough culture with yeast?  And does it matter what kind of yeast I use?  The recipe doesn't specify.  I used ADY.  Should I have used IDY?

David R's picture
David R

ADY vs IDY shouldn't really matter, as long as you don't try to mix dry ADY into your recipe. Amount of ADY should technically be a tiny bit larger than amount of IDY, but I'm not convinced that the difference is much outside the margin of error, at least when making a smallish recipe.

It's pretty clear that IDY is the better product of the two, unless you're one of the many people who have always used ADY and who prefer not to mess up their familiar processes by switching. (Which is certainly legitimate - ain't broke, don't fix, etc. 🙂)

The reason for supplementing with yeast is the same reason anything is in any recipe - the author thought it worked better that way. 🙂 But more seriously, it's to help raise the dough - higher than it was going to go if you hadn't used the yeast. I'm sure it's easy to find recipes using this technique when they don't really need to, but if it's by Reinhart then you can be sure he gave it some thought and testing - with an expert like him, it's better to trust his full recipe from beginning to end even if it leaves you questioning, and to only "fix" or "improve" it after you've conclusively proved his original recipe was wrong. Don't bring in tricks from other sources or from other recipes until you've made your chosen recipe "straight up" a time or two.

dpt's picture

I don't think Reinhart wrote this recipe.  Did you look at it?  It appears that his original recipe used yeast, and this is an adaptation of his recipe using sourdough.  Given the high percentage of the final dough that the sponge is (about half), it doesn't seem like the yeast is necessary.  But anyway, any thoughts as to why my bagels seemed stale, and seemed to have shrunk?  Would this happen if the dough was over worked?  Or if they were under cooked?  Those are my two main suspects.  

David R's picture
David R

I assumed from the original post here that it was written by Reinhart. If it was based on his recipe but changed around, then I doubt that it should have his name mentioned anywhere. But I get that that's just what happens.

Colin2's picture

If you take someone's recipe and tweak it, I think you should still credit their work.  But I'd agree that the name should probably not be part of the title.

bottleny's picture

It doesn't stay fresh for long. Besides, low hydration makes the crumb dense.

It's always better to eat it fresh out the oven. Or freeze them for later. If I want to it (stored in the bag) next day (morning), I will microwave it for 10-20 sec depending on size. Toast it might might it dry. For the frozen one, I will also microwave it for 30-40 sec before eating (better to cut in half before freezing).

gary.turner's picture

To begin, 50% hydration is, in my opinion (along with everything else in this post), too low. It requires overworking the dough to get even hydration.  Many recipes call for 50–58%, though 53% is more common for the lower bound.  I have better results at 58–60%.  For your recipe, I'd add an additional 80g of water and adjust from there, depending on the flour.

I'd raise the amount of IDY to about 0.7–1%, i.e. 7–10g (2-3tsp).  Depend on the IDY for the rise, and the sourdough sponge for its flavor.

The bagel's denseness and chewiness may logically call for strong flour and lots of kneading.  That is not necessarily true. The shaping process along with the long, cold ferment are part and parcel of gluten development.

For example, using my Assistent (Ankarsrum), I mix at dead slow speed with the roller for about three minutes.  Then, if I remember to, I switch to the hook and knead with the speed dial at about 3 o'clock for another five minutes.  I commonly forget the hook and simply continue with the roller. :shrug:

After the short mix and knead, cover the dough and let rest for twenty minutes or so.  One, that allows the water to be more fully absorbed by the flour.  Two, the yeast have a chance to begin fermenting the sugars.  And three, the gluten strands can relax, increasing extensibility.

Now roll the dough into a thick log, about 3–4" in diameter.  Use a sharp knife and split the roll lengthwise, followed by cutting the smaller piece into six equal (by eye is good enough) parts each.

Shape now as you've been doing.  You may notice that the shaped dough draws up, tightening around your fingers like a thick rubber band.

Immediately bag your tray of bagels and refrigerate over night.  This, with the rest and shaping times, is all the fermentation time you need.

Preheat the oven and bring your water to a boil¹.  I am not a fan of sugars in the boil.  Honey and molasses are invert sugars² and thus hydrophilic.  Malt sugar is not an invert sugar, but is also hydrophilic.  That means it sucks moisture right out of the air to maintain a 20% water level.  There goes your thin, crispy crust.

Drop³ the bagels into the boiling water.  Mine nearly all sink at first.  I make sure they're not stuck to the bottom and they soon rise.  I flip them over after a bit, then remove, top and lay out for baking.

Bagels, Bialys and pretzels are enjoyed differently from most other breads.  They are preferably eaten while still warm.  Being a lean bread, with no enrichments other than a small amount of malt, they simply do not keep.  Day old lean breads are stale.  Period.  Freezing is the only way to preserve them.

I've covered what others already have, but wanted to maintain a continuity in my narrative and cover what I think are important points.


1.  I use a 1% lye solution, i.e. 10g of lye per liter of water.  Dissolve the lye in cold water before boiling.  Use stainless steel or ceramic utensils.  Lye eats aluminum like you or I eat bagels.

2.  Invert sugars are acidic, which may explain the foaminess.  The acidic honey is reacting with the alkaline baking soda, releasing CO₂.  Malt sugar is closer to neutral, depending on the amount of other barley products in it.

3.  Don't actually drop them.  You do not want to splash boiling water around.  Ease the bagels in as you would an egg you were poaching.  I use a pasta skimmer to lower four at a time into the boil.


dpt's picture

Thanks. Very helpful. I guess I need to get some lye, which I don’t have. 

gary.turner's picture

You don't have to use anything at all in your boil. Adding alkalies* or sugars** make interesting changes in the coloring and flavor of the crust, but none are necessary to the "bagelness" of the bagel any more than the topping you add or the shmaltz or butter you shmeer on before taking a bite.


* Lot's of people are perfectly happy with the effects from baking soda, others prefer sodium carbonate (aka washing powder -- just be sure there are no additives {or make it yourself from baking soda}) and I prefer lye.

** I've mentioned my feelings toward sugars in the boil. I may not have used it at the proper dilution or for the optimum time; YMMV.