On New Year’s Eve, we listened to an article on NPR about a judge who made his own bialys. I recall having heard or read the word thrown around a few times, but hadn’t really pick up on them. When he said warm chewy roll crisp on the outside with sautéed onions and poppy seeds, he had my rapt attention.
A bialy shares some common qualities with its cousin, the bagel, but is so much more fun. It has a thick, high-gluten dough like a bagel, but isn’t boiled before braking to make the outside so chewy–it is just baked. It is also filled with onions & poppy seeds–not unlike an Ashkenazi Mini-Pizza.
The bialy epicenter in this country is the Jewish bakeries of the various boroughs of New York City. Originally, the bialy is believed to have been called Bialystoker Kuchen, and they came to this country with Jewish immigrants from the beautiful Polish city of Białystok. Many of these Immigrants came for economic reasons, or to escape Tsarist Progroms like the one in 1906. Going into the 20th Century, the majority of its residents were Jewish, but the 20th Century took a devastating toll on the Jewish population of Białystok.
A good source for this history is Mimi Sheraton’s The Bialy Eaters. This recipe was modified from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from The Bread Bible.
For the dough:
- 2 cups King Arthur bread flour
- 2 Tbsp wheat gluten
- 1 tsp yeast
- pinch sugar
- a little less than a cup of warm water
- 1 tsp salt
For the onion/poppy seed topping:
- 2 Tbsp butter (or more)
- ½ small chopped onion
- 1 tsp poppy seeds (or more)
- ½ tsp course salt (kosher would make sense, kids.)
Step 1, Prepare Ye the way: Assemble all the ingredients, rummage around the pantry to find your poppy seeds, run to the store because you are out of butter, &tc.
Step 2, Sift & Leaven: sift the flour and gluten into a separate bowl (I like the chewier texture the gluten gives it, but I’m sure you could omit it–FOOL OF A SCHNOOK!!). In your mixing/bread-making bowl, add the yeast & the sugar to the warm water, whisk & let it rest a bit.
Step 3, Come together & knead: gradually add the flour into the yeast. Before it becomes too thick, add in the salt. continue to add flour (maybe more than 2 cups?) until it is very, very, very still–downright resistant. Knead, knead, knead. This is the weirdest dough I have dealt with; like the Golem, I hope it’s on our side.
Step 4, Rest & Rise: coat the dough with olive oil, put in a large bowl and allow it to rise. For best results, this would be a slow rise, several hours, but it can be rushed in a warmer place to an hour or so.
Step 5, Shape & Rise: divide the dough into 6 balls (fewer if you want them big, or more if you want them small). Flatten the balls with your hands on a parchment sheet–the shape you are looking for is a flattened roll with space in the middle to hold filling. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth, and let rise for another 30 minutes or more.
Note: some also prefer the bialy more flat & dimpled. You can also play with cheeses & pizza toppings, &tc.
Step 6, Heat & Toppings: preheat the oven to 475 degrees. If you have a stone to bake them on, that’s great. In the mean time, chop and sauté the onions in the butter on a low heat–you want them soft, but not browned. Take it off the heat and stir in the Poppy seeds & the salt.
Step 7, Put it all together: press the middles of the rolls down a bit more and cover this indentation with the onion mixture. Put tem in the oven for 10 minutes, or until them are golden brown.
Step 8, Take them out & Enjoy: allow them to cool a bit, but they are best fresh. You can eat them plain, or with a little schmear (cream cheese) maybe some capers. They are great as a side to salad or to Borscht.
They make wonderful gifts –I mean, as soon as you say butter, onions & poppy seeds, most people are ready to go–at least the sort of people I hang out with.
I also like to use them as buns for sandwiches.
My favorite is with Black Bean Cheeseburgers and Fries.
In fact, that’s what Wode, Mousy & I will be having for supper later this evening, if you wish to drop by.