The name Bialy (pronounced bee-AH-lee) comes from 'Bialystocker Kuchen' which translates as “bread from Bialystok” which is in Poland. Apparently, Bialys are rarely seen or made in Bialystok these days.In the days when there used to be Bialys in Bialystock, it seems the rich Jews ate Bialys with their meals, while the Bialys were the whole meal for the poorer Jews.
In the early 1900s, many Eastern Eurpoeans, including the Polish, immigrated to the US and settled down in New York. Naturally, they also brought their Bialy making skills with them and that is how the New York Bialy became famous.
The Bialy maybe thought of as a cousin to a Bagel but is quite different from it. For one thing, a Bialy is baked whereas a Bagel is boiled and then baked. A Bialy is round with a depressed middle, not a hole, and typically filled with cooked onions and sometimes poppy seeds.So it is not shiny on the outside with largish puffy bubbles on the inside.A good Bialy should have a springy soft crumb and a chewy and floury crust. Bialys are best when eaten as they are and also within 5 to 6 hours of making them.
What lends Bialys their signature chewiness is the use of flour that is high in gluten. So to make Bialys, use bread flour if you can find it. Otherwise use all-purpose flour and add 1 tbsp vital wheat gluten (for the 3 cups). If like me, you can find neither bread flour nor vital wheat gluten, go ahead and make it with plain flour. You’ll still have very nice Bialys that are slightly softer, that’s all.
One way to make them slightly chewier is to refrigerate the dough overnight after the first rise. The next day, take the dough out and keep it at room temperature for about half an hour. Then shape the rolls and proceed with the recipe. These Bialys are on the softer side so do not over bake them or they will dry out and become tough.
Bialys usually have a thin layer of caramelised onions and poppy seeds. I decided to use only onions, and then lots of it. Being Indian and having been brought up on spices in my food, I also added some garam masala to spice up my filling. You can use whatever filling you would like. Anyways the filling needs to be savoury.
[Introductory content adapted verbatim from Aparna's recipe document]
And let me tell you now that there can't be a better choice than Bialys for We Knead to Bake for the month.
(Adapted from King Arthur Flour)
Yields- 8 largish bialys (or 12 medium ones)
For the dough:
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/4 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour (use bread flour if you can find it or all-purpose flour + 1 tbsp vital wheat gluten)
Milk for brushing the dough
For the Onion Filling:
1 tbsp oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp garam masala
Salt to taste
100gm paneer, crumbled (optional)
Make the dough first. If you are using bread flour or vital wheat gluten, then your dough will be tougher to knead so if you have a machine you can use, I would say go ahead and use it. Me, I always take the easier way out provided I get good results. If you’re doing this by hand, just adapt the instructions to that.
Put the yeast, sugar, salt and flour in the food processor bowl. Pulse a couple of times to mix and then add the warm water in a steady stream. Knead until the dough comes together as a mass and then let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
This will help the dough absorb water. Knead again, adding a little more water or flour (not too much) if you need it, until your dough is smooth and elastic but not sticky.
Shape it into a ball and put it in a well-oiled bowl, turning the dough till it is well coated. Cover and let it rise till about double. This should take about 2 hours.(As for Indian std temperatures it takes 1 hour)
If you’re not making the Bialys right away, you can refrigerate the dough overnight at this point as I did. (My dough was under refrigeration overnight and I continued the next morning). When ready to make them, keep the dough at room temperature for about half an hour and then proceed with the rest of the recipe.
Sprinkle your work surface lightly with flour and place the dough on it. Divide it into 8 equal pieces and shape each one into a roll by flattening it and then pinching the ends together to form a smooth ball. Place the rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet and cover them with a towel. Let them rise for about one hour (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours for refrigerated dough. Again, for Indian std temperatures it may take 45 minutes to 1 hour) till pressing with a finger on the top leaves a dent.
While the dough rises, make the filling. Heat the oil in a pan, and add the cumin seeds. When the crackle, add the onions, and sauté over low to medium heat. Sprinkle a little salt and continue sautéing until they become soft and turn golden brown in colour. Add the garam masala and stir well. Keep the caramelised onions aside to cool.
Work on one piece at a time, while you keep the others covered so they don’t dry out. When the rolls are ready, pick them up one at a time and using your fingers, form the depression in the middle. Hold the roll like a steering wheel with your thumbs in the middle and your fingers around the edges. Pinch the dough between your thumb and fingers, rotating as you go and gradually making the depression wider without actually poking a hole through.
Remember not to press on the edges, or they will flatten out. Once shaped, you should have a depression about 3” in diameter with 1” of puffy dough around the edge, so your Bialy should be about 4” in diameter. Prick the centre of the Bialy with a fork so the centre doesn’t rise when baking.
Place the shaped dough on a parchment lined (or greased) baking tray leaving about 2 inches space between them. Place the caramelised onion filling in the depressions of each Bialy. Brush the outer dough circle with milk. If you’re using crumbled paneer, add it to the Bialys in the last 5 minutes of baking or it will get burnt.
Bake the Bialys at 230C (450F) for about 15 minutes till they’re golden brown in colour. Cool them on a rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. I found that the Bialys keep well in an airtight container for a day or two and just need to be warmed up slightly before serving.
I halved the original recipe and made 6 medium sized Bialys(instead of 4 large one). This way it was easier for me to shape them, as a beginner.
I used All purpose flour as couldn't get hold of the substitution. The Bialys were perfect! Soft and chewy. Slightly browned Bialys are the best to bite into. So make it a point to switch off the oven as soon as you see streaks of light brown on the sides. Browner Bialys turn the bread harder and turns the filling blackish.
Preparing smooth rolls are essential for smoother edges. If you would like to watch how to shape rolls, the video is here.
The video of shaping Bialys, is here. And how to eat them is here :)