A little research and now I know that I am not in the minority. The Bialy, unlike its cousin, the Bagel, is relatively unknown outside America today.
Bialys originated in Bialystok in Poland. The word ‘Bialy’ is an abbreviation of the Yiddish word Bialystoker Kuchen. Kuchen is a broad German and Yiddish word for a baked good, although it typically denotes a cake. Bialys were made primarily by the Jewish bakers and were a staple part of the Jewish diet. The World wars led to the migration of millions of Jews to America. They also brought along with them their taste and recipe for the Bialys.
The Bialy is like the Bagel in that it is a soft, chewy yeast roll. However, unlike Bagels, Bialys are not boiled before baking. They also do not have a hole in the centre. Bialys are puffy round the edges and have a depression in the centre which is filled with a mixture of diced onions and poppy seeds.
The size can vary from 3” to 4” to even 9”. Bialys are best eaten fresh as they have a short shelf- life. Alternately, they can be sliced and frozen as suggested by Julia Child. They can be popped into the toaster straight out of the freezer.
The original recipe yields 12 rolls. I made 1/4th of the recipe which technically should have made 3 Bialys, but I made 4 smaller ones.
Instead of bread flour, I used plain flour and added a teaspoon of gluten.
The dough begins with a start….err….starter-
First steps first, activate the yeast in some warm water (105 F to 110 F) and a pinch of sugar. Leave it alone for about 5 minutes, till it is frothy. This proves the yeast is alive :-).
Prepare the liquid by sauteing some onions in oil till softened and adding this to the remaining warm water along with the black pepper and the remaining sugar.
Mix together the yeast, water and flour. Leave covered for 1-1/2 hour at room temperature and let the yeast get to work.
After the rest, the sponge will look like this- all frothy and bubbly. Wow! That was some hungry yeast!!
Prepare the filling by sauteing the chopped onions in vegetable oil (original recipe uses shortening) with some poppy seeds. Add the ground black pepper.
Use some muscle power and add the sponge and the rest of the ingredients to form a smooth and elastic dough. Alternately, use your stand mixer and knead on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Then turn on to a floured work surface and continue kneading till done. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise for 1-1/2 hour or till double in bulk.
That looks done. It doesn’t know it is going to be punched down. Easy though….deflate gently.
Preheat the oven to 260 C/ 500 F ( my oven has a maximum of 230 C/ 444 F).
Divide into (almost) equal pieces and shape each into a round and then flatten the center- creating a 1/2″ wide rim. Prick the center with the tine of a fork and set aside on a towel sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover it while you knock the other Bialys into shape. Repeat for the rest of the pieces.
Transfer the Bialys to a baking sheet which has been greased and dusted with cornmeal. Prick the center again (you don’t want to loose the nice depression…yeast has a nasty way of springing back). Place a spoonful of the filling in the center.
Place the baking sheet in the oven. Create steam in the oven by tossing some ice cubes in a bowl and placing it in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 230 C/ 445 F (that’s more like it!!) and continue baking for another 5 minutes (mine took longer….close to 10 minutes). Transfer and cool on a wire rack.
You can find the recipe for Onion Bialys, on pages 90-92 of Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking with Julia”.
Check out the Bialys made by the other members of TWD.