Thursday, April 30, 2020

Show Me the Bread ~ Bialys and Sourdough

I want to share a bread post during this pandemic as I know many of you are baking.  I know this because there is no flour or yeast to be found in any store and presumably there is a lot of baking going on.  Social media bears this out as pictures of homemade goodies abound.  I too have flour and yeast because I live in a perpetual state of emergency readiness.  Otherwise I would have been one of those wandering the grocery aisles bewildered by the absence of staples.  I've always kept a well stocked larder partly due to our remote location and partly due to years of California's  vigilant commercial reminders to be always earthquake ready.  They got the emergency wrong but it still turns out to have been good advice.

It's Springtime and vidalia onions are in season and therefore no better time to share a recipe for bialys.  Never heard of a bialy?  Then you probably have never been to a New York City Jewish Deli.  It's similar to a bagel but it's baked and more squat with an onion topping.  Trust me this tastes better than it sounds.  I absolutely love them and bake several batches every Spring.

The recipe I'm sharing was originally published in Saveur magazine.  It was adapted from Mimi Sheraton's book The Bialy Eaters (Broadway Books, 2002) and was pulled off line for some reason.  I've tried to remain true to the recipe as shared but I had to make a few adaptions for it to work for me.  So this is my adaption of the adaption and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do.  If you ever get to New York City make sure you hunt down a deli that sells bialys. You'll be glad you did.

Bialy Recipe

Yield ~ 16 ~

1/3 cup olive oil
1 small vidalia onion, minced
2 Tbs. coarse bread crumbs, toasted
7 grams (1 package) active yeast or 1/2 oz fresh yeast
3 cups cool water (note: original recipe called for ice water and fresh yeast)
5 3/4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting (I recommend Bob's Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour)
2 Tbs. kosher salt
3 Tbs. poppy seeds


1.  First read over the instructions in entirety as this is not your typical bread recipe.  There are two kneading stages for this dough and two options for baking, one using a sheet pan covering and one simply using baking sheets.  I recommend using the sheet pan covering option as it will result in a crispy crust.

2.  Prepare onion mixture.  Heat oil in a skillet and add onion.  Saute over low heat until onion is soft and translucent, 12 - 14 minutes.  Stir in bread crumbs, set aside to cool.

3.  Stir 1/2 cup cool (or iced) water and the yeast (either fresh or active) in a bowl until smooth and the yeast is dissolved.  Add remaining 2 1/2 cups cool (or iced) water.  Set aside.   In a stand mixer with hook attached combined bread flour and salt.  With the motor running slowly add the yeast mixture (I generally have a very wet and sticky mixture by the time I have added 2 1/2 cups  and skip adding the last 1/2 cup).  After adding the yeast mixture turn up the speed to medium-high and kneed until smooth but still still sticky, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.  Don't worry if there are some lumps they will break down during the second kneading stage.  NOTE:  As a time saving hack I use a food processor to add the water/yeast mixture to the flour/salt mixture by drizzling in through the top opening while the machine is running.  Once I have added 2 1/2 cups water/yeast I stop the machine and transfer the mixture to my stand mixture and proceed to the kneading stage as described above.

4.  Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth.  Set aside in warm place until double in bulk, approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.  If I'm using an Air Fryer "proofing" function I generally find it is ready after proofing for 110 minutes at 90 degrees.

5.  Return dough to mixer with hook and kneed for 10 minutes.  All lumps must be gone and if you still have lumps after 10 minutes continue kneading by hand until all lumps are gone (or I simply reach into the bowl and using my fingers work the lumps until they disappear).  This is a very wet dough and will stick to the bowl sides.  If you knead by hand add as little flour as possible.  Cover and set aside in a bowl until doubled in bulk, approximately 60 minutes.

6.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.   Place a pizza stone on lowest shelf in oven.  Divide dough into 16 pieces and with well floured hands roll into balls (these will not form tight balls as the dough is too wet and lax for that.  You will find this dough is different and behaves differently than other breads and don't expect it to have the form or texture of, for example, a bagel or pizza dough).   Place 5 or 6 balls (1 inch apart) on each parchment lined baking sheet.  Remember you will want them close enough that they will fit under a sheet pan cover, if you choose to bake them that way which I highly recommend.  Cover with floured cloths and let rise until slightly puffy, approximately 45 minutes.

7.  Wet the bottom of a small glass or jar (approximately 3 inches in diameter) and press into the center of each ball and twist to create a flat thin center with a puffy rim.  Using your finger lightly apply a small amount of water to rims.  Sprinkle surface with a few poppy seeds and add 1 or 2 teaspoons onion mixture to the center and a tiny bit around the edges.  Resist the temptation to add more onion mix as over filling will cause the center to rise up like a knot.

8.  You will bake the bialys in batches.  If you want to create a dutch oven effect, cover tray of bialys with a 9x13 sheet pan turned upside.  Place tray of bialys (covered by sheet pan) on the pizza stone and set a heavy cast-iron pan (or brick, etc.) on top of the sheet pan to weigh it down and trap heat.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the sheet pan covering and move the tray of bialys to the middle rack and bake until well browned, approximately 6 to 8 minutes (total cooking time 16 to 18 minutes).  Note:  the original recipe does not call for baking bialys under a sheet pan I found that tip online and I find it creates a nice crust.  But you don't have to use the sheet pan to cover the bialys and can simply follow the baking instructions omitting the sheet pan covering.  If you skip the sheet pan covering you can get by with using just 2 baking sheets (8 bialys per sheet).

Bialys are wonderful freshly baked and still warm from the oven but they also freeze well.  To reheat I zap them in the microwave for 30 seconds and toast for a couple of minutes in a toaster oven.  I personally don't add any topping (such as cream cheese, etc.) as I would with a bagel.

Pictured above is a typical breakfast for me.  I love Coach's Oats topped with fruit and walnuts, Japanese green tea (in particular, DavidsTea Gyokuro Yamashiro), a slice of my homemade sourdough bread and I like to have another type of breakfast bread such as a bialy as well.  This is a substantial repast and needless to say I have no need or desire to snack mid-morning.  I adhere to the philosophy of breakfast like a queen, lunch like a princess and dine like a pauper!  At least in a caloric/carb sense.  That is if you ignore my lunchtime baked treat. 

A Word or Two About Sourdough

There is currently a tremendous interest in sourdough.  But a sourdough adventure requires a multitude of things not necessarily on hand including wild yeast, bread proofing baskets (brotform), lame (for scoring), dutch oven (for crust) and a process that is well beyond the scope of my humble blog.   If you are interested in sourdough I recommend the recipe in Tartine Bread and getting a jump start on your wild yeast by buying King Arthur Flour's Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter.  Years ago I attempted to create my own wild yeast via a petri dish until I had the epiphany that it was crazy to try and improve on King Arthur's hundred year old starter that had obviously stood the test of time.  I do keep dual starters - one fed by the Tartine Bread method and the other following King Arthur Flour's method.  I do this as it gives me flexibility with different types of recipes and also ensures that if one starter goes bad or spills, etc. that I have another to begin again with.

I love huge door stopper slices of sourdough and my favorite toppings include butter and honey; olive oil and Zaatar (make middle east style bruschetta by adding feta cheese on top); olive oil and dukkah; and last but not least, butter and seville orange marmalade.  Sourdough isn't just for breakfast though.  It's also fantastic with a bowl of soup, toasted hard and drenched in olive oil.

Homemade bread is one of my favorite foods and I never cease to be amazed at the amazing results you can achieve in your own kitchen.  I hope you will embark on a life long love affair as I have.  If you are new to bread baking and want a try a simple yeast bread recipe I recommend trying my classic dinner rolls.

Just a quick word on the pandemic before closing.  Each of us are having to make changes in our priorities and we are recognizing that the actions we take impact others and the planet.  It is my hope this will lead to positive and lasting changes in society and how we treat each other.  If it does the world will be a better place to live.  Something good coming from something that is bad.  Until next time be well and stay safe and keep baking, it's something wonderful that you can share.


Anonymous said...

Oh, gosh, Claudia, it is the nature of humanity to keep repeating history. Despite this, there is NO humanity if we don't keep trying to learn from history by sharing knowledge, utilizing our talents and spreading love - like the medical community is - dramatically - exemplifying these days...You are right. Baking may be keeping the whole nation going right now, which is a service in itself. And if one is out of flour there are actually flour-less recipes out there. Will have to try bialys one day. Can't get with the starter thing right now but luckily you have plenty of other recipes! Thank you for this inspiring post. Chloe

Claudia Bugh said...

Chloe you have a kind and compassionate heart and you are so right about the medical community. I have a cousin married to an ER doctor and they have 3 small children, one of whom has an autoimmune disorder and I can only image the stress and worry of potentially bringing this home to his family. Everyone keeping the healthcare and food supply going is working under tremendous stress and pressure and I hope that the appreciate and respect they receive is just the start of a change in attitude toward our healthcare providers. BTW if you don't have flour in your local store you might check to see if there are any online options through Amazon, etc. Stay safe and well Chloe, and happy knitting.