This past fall, while teaching cooking classes, I met a man named Len, who loved to bake and who always showed up to class a few minutes early, ready to help with any remaining prep work, always with some sort of baking adventure to recount.
Before the last class, Len asked me if I had ever made bialys, which he had learned to make at a “bagels and bialys” cooking class held at the local community college. I hadn’t but noted I had made bagels once years ago and remembered it being kind of a process. Len assured me bialys were much simpler to make than bagels — no boiling required — and sent me the recipe later that night.
I didn’t get a chance to look at the recipe till last week, but when I did, I was struck by its similarities to the Jim Lahey no-knead pizza dough recipe. For starters, each recipe calls for nothing more than flour, salt, water and yeast — no oil, no sugar, no barley malt syrup (often in bagels), etc. Each recipe, too, calls for 1000 grams of flour, and each goes big on the salt: 4 teaspoons of sea salt for Lahey’s, 5 teaspoons of kosher salt for the bialys. Water amounts are similar as well: 3 cups for Lahey, 2 3/4 cups for the bialys.
The amount of yeast is where the recipes differ — 1/2 teaspoon for Lahey, 2 teaspoons for the bialys — but this makes sense because Lahey’s recipe calls for a long, slow rise. As you know, I love the Lahey no-knead, slow-rise technique, which creates beautiful air pockets in the final product, whether it’s a boule, a pizza, or something else. I also am always a fan of starting any recipe in the evening, especially bread, especially if it’s just a matter of mixing flour, salt, yeast and water together.
The overnight method, it turns out, works beautifully for bialys. To account for the long, slow rise and the higher quantity of salt (which can kill yeast), I used 1 teaspoon of yeast, which allowed the dough to rise at nice, slow pace. And because I wasn’t kneading the dough, I had to add 1/4 cup more water (which made the water-to-flour ratio identical to Lahey’s) to get the flour to incorporate fully. By morning (12 hours after mixing the dough), the dough had risen beautifully, its surface dimpled with bubbles and air holes.
From there, I followed Len’s recipe to a T, and ever since, I (and the family) have been on a bialy bender. Every batch disappears quickly, usually in this progression: first without even a smear of butter — the onion-poppy seed-breadcrumb filling/topping, whose flavor permeates the whole bialy, is irresistible. Later in the day we halve them and spread them with softened butter or cream cheese. For dinner we toast them under the broiler, one half covered with a slice of cheddar, and then, upon pulling them from the oven, we slide a fried egg onto the uncheesed half and hit it with a healthy squirt of Sriracha.
Bialys, understandably, are often likened to bagels, but as their makeup would suggest, they taste more like a roll, they’re not as chewy, they’re much lighter in texture, and they seem to be more versatile. My favorite way to eat them is halved, spread with cream cheese and topped with gravlax, capers, onions, chives and lemons, though as far as I can tell, there’s no wrong way to eat a bialy.
Portioning the dough into 90g pieces:
While the balls rest for another 45 minutes, get on with the filling:
Sauté an onion.
Then add poppy seeds and breadcrumbs.
- for the bialys:
- 1000 g (7.5 cups) bread, all-purpose or tipo 00 flour
- 20 g (5 teaspoons) kosher salt
- 4 g (1 teaspoon) instant yeast* (see notes above)
- 3 cups water** (see notes above)
- for the filling:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or neutral oil (grapeseed, canola, etc.)
- 2 small onions, diced
- kosher salt
- ¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds plus more for sprinkling
- Whisk the flour, salt and yeast together. Add the water. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined, then knead gently with your hands to make sure all of the flour is incorporated. The dough should stick to your hands.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for at least 12 hours. When dough has risen, remove plastic wrap, and turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Portion dough into 90 g pieces.
- Using lightly floured hands or enough flour to keep dough from sticking to you and your work surface, shape each portion into a ball. Cover balls with plastic wrap, then let rest for 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place a baking stone or Baking Steel in your oven. It's OK if you don't have one. Preheat oven to 450ºF if you're using a stone or Steel, otherwise, preheat to 500ºF.
- Make the filling: Heat the oil over medium or low heat. Add onion and sauté slowly until translucent. Add a pinch of salt. Continue to cook until onion is only slightly brown — I always overdo it...better to err on the side of underdone because the onions burn quickly once they are in the oven. Add breadcrumbs and poppy seeds to the pan. Stir to combine. Set aside.
- Shape your bialys into 5-inch rounds with a raised rim and thin center: I do this by first punching down in the center of each dough ball when it is resting on my work surface. Then I lift up the round and with my thumbs in the center of the dough, I gently stretch the dough out so that the center begins looking paper thin, while the rim stays ballooned. It will take a little practice getting your shaping technique/method down, but the truth is that it doesn't really matter unless you are looking for that really traditional bialy shape — they will taste delicious regardless of the shape.
- After shaping each one, place it on a parchment-lined baking peel. When you have five or six on your peel, brush each ball lightly with water. Sprinkle sides with extra poppy seeds. Spoon filling into center or scatter it over the top of each. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes depending on oven, baking vessel, etc.
- When lightly golden, remove bialys from oven, let cool on wire rack and repeat baking process with remaining dough balls.
Cream cheese, gravlax, capers, onions, chives, lemon. Walnut Serving Board from Provisions by Food52 — so pretty!:
Toasted bialy, melted cheddar, fried egg, sriracha:
The first batch I made puffed way up, which is totally fine and delicious, but maybe not as traditional. Be sure to really press down and stretch out that center area while you are shaping if you want that more traditional bialy shape.