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.
These breads can be made in an afternoon or overnight of you prefer. My version calls for ripening the dough in the fridge overnight to more fully develop the flavor. Other good ideas include making them with old dough or a sourdough starter. If you go the old dough route, simply substitute a 50% hydration, aged (up to 3-day-old, refrigerated) dough for 1/3 of the recipe (be sure to make it with high gluten or bread flour). You can do the same thing with a bread starter, just make sure that you add enough flour in your most recent feeding to bring the hydration to roughly the same 50-50 by weight ratio (make sure you’re feeding your starter with high-gluten or bread flour in the days leading up to the mixing). Or you can skip the ripening altogether and make them by the straight dough method in a single afternoon. They’ll still taste great.
Start yours by assembling your ingredients. Combine the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Stir the ingredients on low…
…and once they’re blended pour in your water as the machine runs.
When the dough looks clumpy/shaggy, switch to the dough hook and knead for 6-8 minutes until the dough comes together into a fairly firm ball.
Sorta like this.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rise for 1 hour then refrigerate it overnight. Or if you’re using the straight dough method, just let it rise for 1 1/2 hours.
Take the dough out of the fridge and let it rise about 1 hour, half an hour to take off the chill and another half hour to complete the rise. The dough should increase by at least 50% if not double.
Cut the dough into five 3-ounce pieces.
Pinch the cut ends together, stretching the ball mostly smooth on the top.
Place them smooth-side up on a towel-lined sheet pan. Sprinkle the dough balls amply with flour and cover with plastic wrap.
Let the dough balls rise at least another 2 hours until they’re about double their original size.
Over-proofing isn’t really a concern here. Indeed it’s a good thing as it will prevent the bialys from puffing up too high. When you poke the dough with your finger the impression should NOT spring back as with a well-proofed baguette. The impression should remain there, exactly as it was. Here is a live action movie of what you should see:
Got it? Nothing. If it takes another hour to get the dough to that consistency, so be it. I should add here that if you like flatter bialys, let this proofing continue up to another hour, even two if you like.
While the dough is over-rising, make your oven as brick oven-like as you can and then preheat it to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (or whatever your maximum temperature is). Now then it’s time to shape. Pick up a ball and firmly pinch it flat in the center, rotate the dough in your hands to get an even lip. My other hand appears here courtesy of Warner Brothers.
You want a wide center with a thin lip, like a small version of a pizza. Once there were special rolling pins made for this purpose. Wish I could have found one.
Lay the rounds out on a piece of parchment paper and using a pair of kitchen shears cut holes in the dough to discourage puffing. Cut all the way through to the bottom. The filling won’t fall out and indeed the holes will close during baking.
Spoon in a tablespoon of cooked onions. These are quick-sautéed onions, browned (indeed blackened) in about 8 minutes over high heat. I used one large onion, about a tablespoon of oil and about 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
You can also use sweeter long-cooked caramelized onions or baked garlic. Raw onions are an excellent choice as well. Mix in some poppy seeds to boot if you want a truly Old World look. Slide the parchment sheet onto the back of a sheet pan. Rest them 10-15 minutes to relax the gluten (another anti-puffing measure).
Once the resting is done, bake them in your prepared oven, sliding the bialys with the paper onto your baking stone as shown here. Bake them 8-12 minutes until brown patches appear. Grasping the edge of the parchment paper carefully with your fingers or a set of tongs, slide the paper off the baking stone and back onto the back of a sheet pan.
At which point they’re done. They are best consumed warm with a “schmear” of good butter or cream cheese over the top. Carmy, I hope these meet with your approval!