Ever since Oliver has taken up bread baking with his own sourdough, my bread baking has decreased – he’s just too good at it. But rolls, buns and similar are still my business. So today you’ll get a new recipe video of a Jewish favorite you might not even have heard of yet, unless you live in NYC or have a broader knowledge of its culinary intricacies…
Bialystoker Kuchen or Bialys are oftentimes compared to bagels, but that is not exactly right: they don’t contain any malt, they are not boiled and while their shape may be somewhat similar, they – contrary to the bagel – should be eaten straight from the oven. Even though they may never have come close to the bagels’ popularity, they are perfect for the home baker!
My only personal and very memorable bialys encounter was a visit to Kossar’s Bialys (a website with frames!!!), so the second I spotted a bialys recipe based on Kossar’s formula in “Inside the Jewish Bakery” by Stanley Ginsberg & Norman Berg (a book with great recipes and tons of background information on the bialys’ and other baked goods’ history), the bialys recipe high-jacked my to-bake-list. It took me a couple of trials to get the shape right, taking suggestions from other sources (esp from “Artisian Bread in Five Minutes a Day” by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoë François). But meanwhile they have become a weekly regular at our table and probably one of my very favorite savory baked treats. To quote the authors Berg & Ginsberg, p.123: “few breadly pleasures can compare to the tastes and textures of a bialy hot from the oven, eaten uncut and slathered with sweet butter. The bialy deserves a bigger following than it has.” Oh yes.
Add flour to your food processor bowl (KA in my case) and make a depression in the center. Crumble the fresh yeast into the center and pour the water over it. Start kneading with the dough hook on low speed for about 1-2 minutes until the dough starts to come together (only add water by the tablespoon if the dough seems very dry and doesn’t want to come together at all), then add the salt and knead for at least 5, better 8 minutes, until the dough has cleaned the sides of the bowl, looks shiny and feels elastic (but rather firm). Form into a ball, cover with plastic wrap (I use a shower cap, thanks for the tip, Ulrike) and let proof until at least doubled in size. Mine usually takes about an hour (when using active dried yeast more than 2 hours).
Meanwhile prepare the filling: Peel the onions and chop them (not too finely). Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions over low to medium heat until they turn translucent and start to gain some color (but are not fully brown and caramelized, otherweise they will burn once baked). Add poppy seeds and salt to taste – you are aiming for a well-rounded, rather salty taste. Set aside to cool.
Deflate the dough directly in the bowl or turn it onto your work surface and punch it down gently before cutting it into 6 equally sized pieces. Shape each of them into a ball by pinching together opposite sides until its surface is smooth and tight. Let rest on a floured board for at least half an hour, dusted with flour and well covered with plastic wrap (if you only cover them with a towel, the surface can develop a dry skin that may diminish the final look). Preheat the oven to 250°C (~480 °F) with a baking tray on middle level (I tried different levels and am back to middle level or one above middle again).
On to forming the Bialys: Take one dough ball in your hands and gently but firmly press both of your thumbs in the center until you can feels your index and middle finger (dough should be really thin, just not see-through), then start rotating and stretching the dough so the cavity grows and the rim gets smaller. Be sure to form the cavities a notch larger than you’d think is necessary, they tend to quickly close up as the rim rises during baking (diameter ~10-12 cm/~4-5 inch).
Fill each of the Bialys generously with about 1 tablespoon of the onion-popps seed filling, then slide them (including parchment paper) onto the preheated tray and bake until they start to gain a nice golden brown color (9-11 minutes). Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for a couple of minutes before devouring one after another. You will, I promise!
Further tips: Since it took me numerous trials until I got their shape right – my first attempts looked more like an erupted volcano after baking – I tried various adaptations, three tips actually did help to tame the oven rise: pinching the depressed center numerous times with a fork, baking them on a cold baking tray and – most obvious – extending the proofing times until the dough nearly collapses.
Prep time: 30-45 min., rising time: ~90min., baking: ~9-11 min.
Ingredients (yields 6 Bialys):
350g bread flour (I used German type 550)
~200 ml lukewarm water
15 g fresh yeast (or ~5 g active dried yeast)
7 g fine sea salt
1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
(ground) poppy seed & sea salt to taste
serve with butter or cream cheese & fresh chives