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Make the dough: In a mixing bowl (or the bowl of an electric mixer) measure 3 cups of the flour and stir in all the remaining dry ingredients. Pour in the hot water, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon (or with the flat paddle attachment of the electric mixer at low speed) and beat for about 2 minutes.
Add the remaining half-cup of flour, a little at a time, stirring by hand. When the batter becomes thick and heavy, attach the mixer’s dough hook (if using) or lift the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured work surface for kneading by hand.
Knead the dough: Knead the dough at medium low speed on the mixer – or by hand (using a push, turn and fold motion, energetically) for about 10 minutes – or until the dough is firm and solid when pinched with the fingers. Add flour as needed if the dough is sticky in your hands, or sticks to the sides of the mixing bowl (if using electric mixer).
First Rising: When dough is kneaded enough, place it in an oiled mixing bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature until it has doubled in volume – about 1 hour.
Prepare water bath: Near the end of this rising time, bring the 3 quarts of water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the malt syrup or sugar; then, reduce the heat and leave the water just barely moving – at a slow simmer.
Shape the bagels: When the dough has doubled in volume, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and punch it down with extended fingers to remove excess gas.
Divide the dough into 10 pieces (each will weigh about 3-4 ounces). Shape each piece into a ball. Allow the balls to stand and relax for a few minutes – then flatten each one with the palm of your hand.
With your thumb, press deep into the center of the bagel and tear the depression open with your fingers. Pull the hole open, pull it down over a finger and smooth the rough edges. It should look like a bagel! Form all of the bagels and place them on your work surface.
Second Rising: Cover the shaped bagels with wax paper or parchment paper. Leave them at room temperature just until the dough has risen slightly – about 10 minutes (this is called a “half proof”). [Cook’s Note: If the bagels are allowed to rise too much during this “second rise” – they will not sink when put in the simmering water; but, if that should happen, just pretend that they DID sink – and cook them for the same 1 minute as described below. The difference will be unnoticeable to most anyone.]
Prepare the baking sheet: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. [Cook’s Note: If using a convection oven, reduce the heat by 50 degrees.] Grease a baking sheet with shortening (or use a non-stick baking sheet, or line a baking sheet with “Silpat” or similar material) and sprinkle the baking sheet with cornmeal.
Water-bathing the bagels: Into the gently simmering water prepared earlier, slip one bagel at a time (use a large skimmer, and gently lower them into the water). Simmer only 2 or 3 bagels at a time – do not crowd the pan. The bagels will sink and then rise again after a few seconds. Simmer gently for one minute, turning each bagel over once during that time. Lift each bagel out of the water with the skimmer, drain briefly on a towel, then place each bagel on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all bagels are simmered, drained and on the baking sheet. [Cook’s Note: Thanks to the malt syrup or the sugar that was added to the simmering water, the bagels will be shiny as they come from the water.]
Baking the bagels: If toppings are desired, (see “Variations” below) now is the time to add them, by sprinkling the desired topping over the bagels. Brush each bagel lightly with the egg-white-water mixture first, then sprinkle the topping if desired – or leave unadorned, for water bagels.
Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. When the bagel tops are a light brown, turn them over to complete baking. This turning-over step will keep the bagels in a rounded shape, instead of their being flat on the bottom. When brown and shiny, remove the finished bagels from the oven.
Place the bagels on a metal rack to cool.
Toppings may include: coarse salt, shredded onion, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, or other flavors of your choice. Sprinkle toppings over before baking bagels, as described above.
Another tasty treat: slice each bagel crosswise into 4 thin rounds. Return the rounds to the oven and bake the rounds until dry throughout, and just beginning to brown – about 20 minutes. Remove the rounds from the oven, immediately butter them and salt lightly – then return to the oven for about 5 minutes until the butter is absorbed by the rounds. Serve hot or at room temperature as a snack.
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