MISSION BIALY:2012 THE YEAR OF BAKING DANGEROUSLY
A little over four years ago, I was on the second leg of the around the world trip that became, EAT MY GLOBE. The first part of the journey had taken me to Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Mongolia, Russia and Finland. It was a life changing start to journey that confirmed that I had been absolutely correct to quit my job and head off in search of a new life.
The second leg of the journey was just as exciting and challenging and, over four months of hard travel, took in many cities in the USA, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. It began, however in one of my favourite cities on the planet, New York.
Even then, I knew New York better than just about any city on earth other than London and, at the time of writing my book, I had been there well over one hundred times. You can add another fifty times to that now, but even so, it still has capacity to surprise and most visits there find me discovering something new about the city and something new and delicious to eat.
In 2007 my “discovery” was the Bialy. It came courtesy of my still good chum, Sandra Levine who took me to a shop called Kossar’s Bialy’s (full name, for the record, Kossar’s Bialystoker Kuchen Bakery) on Grand St to introduce me to this cousin of the bagel, a bread roll that draws its name from the Polish town of Bialystock.
in the late 19th Century, Poland was occupied by Russia and the onion and poppy seed topped rolls were made by Russian bakers who later brought the Bialy to New York City. Nowadays, although Bialys can be found throughout the USA, they are particularly associated with New York and particularly with the lower East Side institution that is Kossar’s.
I had never encountered them before and, although Sandy bemoaned the fact that the bialys were not as good as they had been under the previous owners, who retired in 1998, they still tasted pretty damn fine to me and certainly a good deal better than the slightly pillowy bagels that seem to be all the rage these days.
Move on to 2012 and one of my many goals for the year is to work hard to improve my baking skills. Believe it or not, I used to bake a lot and back in the mists of time, I even went through a phase where I made all my own bread, keeping it in the chest freezer belonging to my next door neighbour in return for handing over a few sunflower seed loaves every now and again.
I have no idea why I began to crave bialys again last week, but I did and started to research the best recipes for making them at home. They actually turned out to be rather straightforward and, just before New Year I spent a very happy day mixing, kneading and waiting patiently for dough to rise, while I got on with my real life.
I was quietly pleased with the final results and they are definitely something I shall be making again very soon.
I thought I would share my recipe. Do let me know if you give them a try.
INGREDIENTS (Makes around 16-20 Bialy)
For The Dough
3 Cups Bread Flour
2 Cups Warm Water
1 Packet Active Yeast
1 Tsp Sugar
1 Tsp Salt
For The Topping
1 Large White Onion (Chopped)
½ Tsp Poppy Seeds
½ Tsp Salt
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl.
Add the salt.
In a cup, combine ½ cup of warm water with the yeast and the sugar.
Allow the yeast mixture to sit for 10 minutes until it begins to froth up, showing that the yeast is active.
Add the yeast mixture to the flour and gradually mix with the remaining water until it forms a sticky dough. (I used my Kitchen Aid with the dough hook attachment for this, mixing on a slow setting for about 8 mins)
Add more flour or water if it the dough mixture looks too dry or too loose.
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with cling film.
Place the bowl in a warm place and leave to prove until the dough has doubled in size. This may take around 90 minutes.
After 90 minutes remove the cling film and knock back the dough.
Remove from the bowl and place on a floured surface.
Knead the dough gently for about 4 minutes and return to the bowl.
Cover once more and leave to sit for a further 45 minutes.
While your dough is proving for a second time, you can prepare the topping. Simply fry the pieces of chopped onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until they are golden brown (and even have a few bits of char). Add the salt and poppy seeds, combine well and allow the mixture to cool.
After 45 minutes, remove the dough from the bowl, place on a floured surface and form into a log shape.
Cut the dough with a sharp knife into 16-20 equal sized portions.
Roll these into balls.
Take a ball of dough and with thumbs and forefingers press it into a circle of around 3in in diameter making a depression in the centre with your thumb for the toppings.
Lay the bialy on a baking tray lined with a layer of parchment paper.
Lay another piece of parchment paper on top and place another baking tray on top of that. This helps the bialys keep their flat shape.
Pre-heat the oven to 425oF and cook the bialys on the middle rack for around 6 minutes.
After 6 minutes remove from the oven and remove the top baking tray and the top layer of parchment paper.
Brush the top of each bialy with water. This helps give the outer shell the chewy texture I am told is the hallmark of a great bialy.
Return to the oven and cook for a further 6 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
Remove from the oven and transfer the bialy to a wire rack to cool.
These are great eaten hot, but are good cold too and can be stored in Ziploc bags in the freezer.
I had mine with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and cream cheese.