Our Daily Bialys
By Angela Denstad Stigeler
Baking bread is good Lenten discipline. What better way to mark the works and days of hands of a contemplative time than by experiencing the patience required in a dietary staple so often taken for granted. But what is wanted now is not some showy loaf, nor sweet holiday treat, but rather these savory rolls, ornamented with a simple onion garnish. A classic New York City bagel alternative, these are less daunting for the home baker as there is no boiling of the dough. Try them toasted and buttered, with a nice veggie cream cheese, or the real New York way, sliced and sandwiched with smoked salmon, tomato and red onion. Now that’s the sort of bialy I could enjoy–daily.
2 ¼ cups warm water (110 degrees F)
2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening
1/3 cup minced yellow onion
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)
5-6 cups bread flour, divided
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup minced yellow onions
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
Make the sponge: Pour ¼ cup of the water into a small bowl; add yeast, a pinch of sugar and whisk to combine. Meanwhile, melt the shortening in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Scrape the onions and shortening into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the remaining 2 cups water, sugar, black pepper and yeast mixture, making sure the temperature doesn’t exceed 110. With the mixer on low, gradually add 3 cups of the flour in a steady stream, mixing until incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and cover with plastic wrap to rise for 1 ¼ hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping by sautéing the onions and poppy seeds in the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with pepper and let cool.
Return the mixing bowl to the stand and, using the dough hook on low speed, add the salt and enough of the remaining flour to form a dough that cleans the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and knead for 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briskly until the dough is smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball, brush the bowl with melted butter, place the dough in it and brush the dough with butter. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, place a heavy skillet on the oven floor and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with oiled parchment and dust them lightly with cornmeal. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, about 4 ounces each. Form each piece of dough into a round, flattening them into disks and pressing the centers thin to create a ½-inch-thick rim. Place them on the prepared sheets and prick the centers of the bialys with a fork. Keep the dough covered while you shape the rest of the rolls, placing 6 on each sheet.
Again stretch and flatten the centers and spoon a little of the onion mixture into each. Prick the centers again to flatten. Have ready 4 ice cubes in ¼ cup water. Put the bialys in the oven, toss the ice water into the preheated skillet (or directly onto the oven floor) and immediately close the door to trap the steam. Bake for 10 minutes; reduce the oven to 450 and bake for 5 minutes more, until cooked through and beginning to brown. Transfer to a cooling rack.
Recipe adapted from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan