1 pkg active dry yeast
3 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 110 f)
1 tablespoon salt
4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal -- for dusting
1 sesame seeds -- optional
1 poppy seeds -- optional
1 kosher salt -- optional
1 crushed garlic -- optional
1 minced onions -- optional
1. Proof the yeast by placing it in a large bowl and add 1 1/2 tsp of the brown sugar and the warm water. Stir well and set aside until the mixture bubbles and a slight foam forms on top, about 5 mins.
2. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tsp sugar and the salt; stir well. Gradually add the flour, 1 cup at a time. Using your hands, mix the dough until the flour is well incorporated. Knead the dough in the bowl until smooth, about 7 mins. The dough should retain a sheen and not appear too floury. Cover the bowl and set aside to rest in a warm place for 40 mins.
3. Lightly dust half of a large cutting board with flour and half with cornmeal. Turn out the dough onto the floured side of the board. With a sharp knife, cut a thick 2-inch strip from the dough. On the cornmeal-dusted side, roll out the strip with palms of your hands until it looks like a rope as thick as 2 fingers. Grip the right end of the strip with your right hand and loosely hold the middle of the coil with your left hand, stretching the dough slightly as you work. Break off the bagel with your left hand. Use the thumb of your right hand to pinch the bagel together. If it fails to hold together, squeeze the seal in your hand for a few secs, then reshape the bagel, stretching and squeezing it with your hands. Continue making the rest of the bagels.
4. Lightly dust a baking sheet with cornmeal. Place each bagel on the prepared baking sheet and set aside in a warm place, uncovered for 30 mins.
5. Preheat oven to 425 F. Heavily dust another baking sheet with cornmeal.
6. Fill a large, wide pot 2/3 full of water and bring to a boil. Using a wide, slotted spoon, drop the bagels in batches into the water; they must not touch. Boil on one side for 2 mins. Turn bagels and boil on 2nd side for 1 1/2 mins. They should firm and puff up. Carefully remove from water and drain for 1 min on a rack.
7. Place the bagels on the 2nd prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with desired topping(s). Immediately place the sheet in the oven and bake for 12 mins. Turn the bagels and bake until deep golden brown all over, about 7 mins. Remove from the baking sheets to cool on paper towels.
MAKES 10 to 12.
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