To make the sponge:
In a 4-qt. bowl, mix the flour and the 1 tsp. yeast. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky dough (it should be thick but batter-like). Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until the mixture is very foamy and bubbly, 1 to 2 hours. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the counter.
To make the bagel dough:
In a stand mixer bowl (or in a mixing bowl, if kneading by hand), stir the sponge with the 1/2 tsp. yeast. In a bowl, mix 3 cups of the flour with the salt. Add it to the sponge, along with the malt, honey, or sugar. Using a dough hook, mix on the lowest speed, or knead by hand, slowly working in the remaining flour until the dough is stiff, dry, and almost satiny; you may need extra flour or have some leftover. Keep kneading on low until the dough is very stiff and firm but still pliable, satiny, and smooth, about 6 minutes by machine or 15 minutes by hand. If the dough rides up the hook, stop the machine, pull it down, add a bit of flour, and continue. When the machine starts to struggle, remove the dough and finish kneading by hand. The dough at this point should be much stiffer than French bread dough and shouldn’t be tacky—a finger poked into the dough should come out clean. There shouldn’t be any visible raw flour, and the dough will feel neither cool nor warm, about 80°F.
To check the dough, pinch off a small piece and gently stretch it while turning it. It should form a thin, translucent membrane. If it rips, the dough hasn’t been kneaded enough or else it’s too dry and needs a few drops of water.
Divide the dough into 12 pieces, each weighing about 4-3/4 oz. for regular bagels. (For mini bagels, divide it into 24 pieces, each weighing just under 2-1/2 oz.) Wipe the counter with a damp towel to remove any flour dust. Shape each piece into a smooth ball by pulling the dough down and around to one point on the bottom and then pinching the bottom closed. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes so the gluten relaxes.
To shape, boil, and bake the bagels:
Line two baking sheets with parchment and spray the parchment with vegetable oil.
To shape the bagels, poke a hole in the center of each ball of dough with your thumb and then gently rotate the dough around both thumbs, slightly squeezing and stretching the dough little by little as you turn until the hole has enlarged to 1-1/2 to 2 inches. The dough ring should be an even thickness all around.
Set the shaped bagels on the prepared pans so they’re 2 inches apart. Mist the bagels very lightly with vegetable oil and cover the pans with plastic (the wrap keeps the dough from developing a skin, which would restrict the rise). Let the bagels sit at room temperature until they swell slightly, by about 15 to 20 percent.
After 15 minutes, start doing the “float test” to see if they’re ready to be retarded in the refrigerator: Drop one bagel in the water. If it floats within 10 seconds, the bagels are ready for the overnight rise, or retarding. Pat dry the tester bagel and return it to the pan. (If it doesn’t float within 10 seconds, shake or pat it dry, return it to the pan, and test it again every 10 minutes until it floats.) Refrigerate the pans, still covered, for at least 8 hours, or up to two days.
When you’re ready to bake the bagels, heat the oven to 500°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot, the better) and add the baking soda; have ready a slotted spoon or skimmer. Remove one pan of bagels from the refrigerator. Slide the parchment along with the dough onto the counter. Line the pan with a clean sheet of parchment, mist with vegetable oil, and sprinkle with cornmeal or semolina flour.
Gently drop the bagels into the water (it doesn’t matter which side goes in first), boiling only as many as will comfortably fit; they should float within 10 seconds, if not immediately. Boil for 1 minute, flip them over, and boil for another 1 minute. For very chewy bagels, boil for 2 minutes per side.
As the bagels finish cooking, lift them out with the skimmer and set them on the baking sheet with the cornmeal or semolina, top side up. If you’re sprinkling sesame or poppy seeds, kosher salt, chopped onions, or minced garlic on the bagels, do so now. (I like a combination of seeds and salt; be judicious with the salt.)
When the bagels on the first pan are boiled and topped, bake for 10 minutes, rotate the pan for even browning, and then continue baking until golden brown on top and bottom and very firm, about another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the bagels to a cooling rack. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the second pan of bagels from the fridge and boil and bake them the same way.
Cinnamon-Raisin Bagels: Increase the yeast in the bagel dough (not the sponge) to 1 tsp., and add 1 Tbs. ground cinnamon and 5 Tbs. sugar in with the flour. At the start of mixing, add 1-1/2 to 2 loosely packed cups raisins, rinsed with warm water and well dried (to wash off surface sugar, acid, and wild yeast). For a cinnamon sugar crust, after baking, brush the bagels with melted butter and dip in cinnamon sugar while they’re still hot.
nutrition information (per serving):
per mini bagel;
Photo: Scott Phillips