Making Bialys

Bialys back in their turn-of-the-century heyday in Bialystok, Poland were very large, very flat affairs covered from one side to the other with chopped onion. After a few decades in New York bialys became both smaller and chubbier, with naught but a sprinkling of onion in the center. This is my attempt to split the difference to some degree. These sport the thicker torus shape but contain more onion because, well, I think more flavor per bite is better.


Bialy Recipe

I confess the idea of using a starter for these was tempting. I found a few notes here and there on some recipe boards to the effect that a starter would be “traditional” for bialys. I’m inclined to dispute that. Bialys were invented in Bialystok, Poland around the year 1880. Which means they are by any definition a “modern”, “city” bread, made with the packaged brewer’s yeast that would have been commonly available at the time. Considering how much the Poles have always loved light, fluffy, fast-rising breads I think the odds of bialys being sponge-raised are remote. Still I’m not stickler for authenticity. Some of dough or starter would work well here. Substitute either for up to 1/3 of the dough, making sure the 50% hydration ratio is retained, and making sure you use high gluten or bread flour for either preferment.

2 cups (10 ounces) high-gluten or bread flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
5 ounces (2/3 cup minus a teaspoon) water at room temperature
1/2 recipe caramelized onions, chopped


Making Melba Toast

The operative logic behind melba toast seems to be: if you’re going to eat nothing you might as well make it interesting. There’s no question that Escoffier did as much as he could with what he had to work with here. This is as interesting as dry toast gets. Start by turning on your oven’s broiler and procuring some bread. If it’s already a little stale, so much the better. This is some leftover brioche because honestly plain white bread was too much nothing even for me.


Making Pan de Muerto

This is the traditional bread of the Mexican Day of the Dead — Día de Muertos — a celebration that actually encompasses three days: October 31st, November 1st and November 2nd. Together they make up Allhallowtide, a trio of Christian holy days that includes All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween), All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Of course in Mexico they take on a unique character, blended as they are with pre-Christian traditions and motifs. These sweet and aromatic breads, which resemble little piles of bones, are frequently placed on Day of the Dead altars. Just as often they’re simply consumed with wild abandon.


Pan de Muerto Recipe

Under the hood, Pan de Muerto is very similar to pan dulce, the fluffy, slightly sweet white bread that Mexico is famous for. The main difference is that it’s flavored with anise seeds. The presentation is different as well, as it’s typically shaped into round loaves decorated with bone- and teardrop-shaped dough pieces, then glazed. Here’s the basic recipe:


19.25 ounces (3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1.75 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons anise seeds or (1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
2 teaspoons orange zest (or orange blossom water or 2 drops orange oil)
8 ounces (1 cup) milk
2 ounces (1/4 cup) butter or shortening or lard
2 eggs, room temperature


Making Pan de Ramerino

These little Tuscan breads are ingenious. Neither completely savory nor sweet they’re scattered with raisins, perfumed with rosemary and olive oil and lightly painted with an apricot glaze. They’re a variation on the hot cross bun, and as such appear around Easter in Florence. Traditionally this bread was made in loaves on Holy Thursday for the observance of the Last Supper. The loaves would be baked, taken to church for a blessing then eaten after mass. Nowadays I’m told this bread is mostly baked up in buns, and no longer just for Holy Thursday. You’ll want to eat yours all year round as well. Begin by assembling your ingredients.


Pan de Ramerino

“Rosmarino” is how you say “rosemary” in Italian, but in the Tuscan dialect it’s “ramerino”. The formula has a few extra steps compared to a typical herbed bread as the aim is to infuse the oil with rosemary flavor instead of adding chopped herb to the dough. The results is a very light and elegant flavor. If you like a stronger rosemary flavor, add a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves at the same time you add the raisins to the dough. The bread goes like this:

2 ounces (1/4 cup) olive oil
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3.5 ounces (2/3 cup) raisins
3 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 ounces (scant 2 tablespoons) sugar
17.5 oz (3 1/4 cups) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup water
2 eggs
egg wash
apricot glaze


How to Make Hot Cross Buns

These come together so quickly and easily you’ll want to bake up a batch every Friday (or Saturday, or Sunday, or Monday…). They’re light, slightly sweet with a hint of spice and candied fruit. Delicious but not so much of a Lenten indulgence that you’ll have to go to confession afterward. Use whatever dried fruit is handy. Raisins are very common, currents are very English, citron is very hip, dried apricot is very, um…Louisville. Mix and match them to your heart’s content. Start by


Hot Cross Bun Recipe

I’m normally a long-fermentation snob where it comes to bread, but frankly with all the spices in these little guys it’s mighty hard to pick up the subtleties that a long rise offers. A full tablespoon of instant yeast blows this dough up in no time — foom — which means from mixing to glazing, you can have these done in about four hours.

1 lb. 9 ounces (5 cups) bread flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups warm milk
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs, room temperature
4 tablespoons soft butter
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins
egg wash
simple icing


Making Kugelhopf

Eating kugelhopf is a little like traveling in time. You’re reminded of what “cake” was like before it became the ultra-rich, ultra-sweet, ultra-moist sort of device that it is now. I’m not complaining about modern cake, mind you. I’m just saying that “cake” as it was defined a few hundred years ago is a beautiful thing. I served this as the closer for Mrs. Pastry’s birthday party the other night, complete with candles, and it was a hit. A sweet white dessert wine positively makes this, as it blends elegantly with the toasty-sweet crust, tender buttery interior and tangy rum-soaked raisins. Talk about a grownup cake, I want one for my birthday!