Homemade bread. Close your eyes and envision it. Think of the warm, cozy aroma. The crusty exterior. The lusty-soft interior. Speckled with onions, poppy and sesame seeds. Imagine it toasted… with a smear of good salted butter or cream cheese. Now open your eyes and say hello to onion poppy sesame bialys.
“What’s a bialy?” you ask. Well, it’s sort of like a bagel, but baked instead of boiled. Rather than being rolled and formed into a circle, a bialy is flattened and pricked in the center, so it has more of a divot than a hole.
And to me, bialys shouldn’t be split like bagels, they should be toasted and torn into bite-sized chunks that you liberally schmear with your favorite topping before popping the whole bite into your mouth, eyes-rolling-back-in-your-head and groaning in satisfaction.
This recipe makes a dozen rolls and it isn’t difficult, but it takes a while because it’s a yeast dough and requires several rises.
After the dough has risen, divide it into 12 equal balls and work with one at a time to form into rounds, flatten and prick the center and top with the onion mixture. Dusting your towel and baking sheet with cornmeal prevent the dough from sticking and yield that familiar underside.
Bialys should be made the day before you want to eat them or can be frozen and taken out as needed.
- 2 1/4 cups warm water (105-110 degrees), divided
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons Crisco or other solid vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup minced onions
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups bread flour
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup minced onions
- 2 teaspoons poppyseeds
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
- the sponge (above)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 3 cups bread flour (plus more for dusting work surface)
- Into a small bowl, add 1/4 cup of water, the yeast and a pinch of the sugar. Stir to combine and set aside for five minutes until yeast dissolves and becomes creamy.
- Add the vegetable shortening to a small pan and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and stir until onions are softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer the onions and shortening into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the remaining 2 cups of water, the sugar and black pepper. Confirm that the mixture is no hotter than 110 degrees - otherwise, let it cool for a few minutes. Then add the yeast and mix with the paddle on low speed. Add the flour in a steady stream until the flour is incorporated. Scrape down the sides, if they stick. Cover with plastic wrap and let the sponge rise at room temperature for 1 1/4 hours.
- In a medium skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat and saute the onions, poppy seeds and sesame seeds together until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Brush the inside of a large bowl with a little of the melted butter and set aside - the remaining butter will be used for coating the top of the dough.
- When the sponge is ready, return the bowl to the stand mixer and fit it with the dough hook. On low speed, beat in the salt and as much flour as needed to make a dough that cleans the sides of the mixing bowl. Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for 3 to 5 minutes. Smooth the dough into a round and place it in the buttered bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.
- Meanwhile, Position the oven racks on the bottom two levels of the oven. Place a large ovenproof skillet on the bottom rack. (When it's time to cook the bialys, mix 1/4 cup water and 4 ice cubes and place them in the skillet -- this will create steam for the cooking.)
- Spray a large baking sheet with vegetable spray and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Set aside.
- Half an hour before you're ready to bake the bialys, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
- Divide the risen dough in half - leave the other half in the bowl, covered with a towel. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the first half of dough into 6 equal balls. Work with one at a time and keep the others covered with a towel. Shape the dough into a round and flatten out the center to create a 1/2" inch wide rim. I did this by pushing lightly out from the center until the bialy had a substantial divot, rimmed by half an inch of dough. Prick the center with the tines of a fork. Transfer to the baking sheet and cover with a another clean kitchen towel. Continue to form the other 5 dough balls and place them on the baking sheet. Spoon a little of the onion mixture on top of each bialy and again, prick the centers with the tines of a fork.
- Add the ice water mixture to the pan inside the oven. Place the sheet pan with the bialys on the rack above the ice-water skillet. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn down the oven to 450 degrees and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven (and turn the oven back to 500) and cool the bialys on a rack.
- Repeat the process with the remaining dough balls.
- Bialys are great toasted with salted butter or a schmear of cream cheese, if you're feeling indulgent, add smoked salmon, thin slices of red onion and ripe slices of tomato!