Saturday, May 14, 2011

bialys (or the incredibly relaxing day that took a sudden turn when I exploded a glass pan in my oven)

I didn't wake up this morning intending to bake bialys.

I planned on making bagels. But when I pulled out my computer to check how much flour I needed for smittenkitchen's homemade bagels, the bialys just caught my eye. A lighter version of the bagel, chewy and soft, topped with carmelized onions. YUM.

The bagels would have been the practical choice. The recipe yields 16 bagels, which keeps me fed for breakfast for a few weeks. The bialys, on the other hand, yield six, and I knew going in one would disappear the moment they were removed from the oven.

But, I had only ever had bialys once in my life, and they somehow seemed more fitting, more exciting, for a Saturday. Also, the bagels required an overnight stay in the fridge, and ours is just overflowing with fresh produce. Not that we're complaining.

Bialys are not particularly quick to make. You're looking at about 5 hours, when you include rising time. However, the process will take longer if you decide to bake a batch of oatmeal pecan chocolate chip cookies in the middle.

The process will take even longer if, upon placing the bialys onto the baking stone, you go to add ice cubes to the glass baking pan you placed on the floor of the oven (to release steam which would simulate a real bread oven), and the moment you add those ice cubes, the glass pan explodes. Suddenly, my relaxing Saturday vanished.

Imagine the scene. There I was, oven door hanging open, degrees of heat escaping each second, staring at the exploded glass all around me. My major concern: could I still cook my bialys with all the glass in the oven? After consulting with my roommate, I shut the oven door, glass grating as I closed it, and proceeded to bake the bialys.

They were deliciously and miraculously glass free.

My oven is cooling and covered with glass I need to clean up.

Recipe adapted slightly for the chef without a stand mixer from smittenkitchen and The Bread Bible

This recipe yields six bialys. They store on the counter for about a day, but they also freeze well. I wrapped most of mine up in plastic wrap and put them in a container in the fridge. I'll defrost them one by one when I need them, thawing them right in the plastic wrap. If you have a stand mixer, make sure to read the smittenkitchen version of the recipe, which will save you a little time and a lot of energy.

2 cups bread flour (I like King Arthur's)
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, at room temperature

Onion-Poppy Seed Filling
2 1/4 teaspoons olive oil
6 tablespoons onion, chopped
3/4 teaspoon poppy seeds
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper to taste

Mix the dough. Whisk the flour and yeast together in a bowl, and then whisk in the salt (Deb's note was that yeast is killed when it comes in direct contact with salt, so it's crucial for the salt to be whisked in second). Add water, and stir until just combined. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured counter, and kneed constantly for at least 10 minutes, until the dough is soft and easy to work with. Add a little flour or water if necessary.

Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top. Cover the container with plastic wrap. Mark the side of the container with a rubber band at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Place the dough in a warm spot, ideally between 75 to 80 degrees, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until it is doubled.

Press down on the dough firmly to deflate it, and transfer it to a floured counter. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. Cover 5 of the pieces with a moist towel. Round each piece by pulling the dough ends together to form a pouch (trying to keep as much air as possible inside the dough), and then pinch the edges together. Put them on a floured baking sheet, pinched side down. Flour the tops and cover with plastic wrap.

Let the bialys rise for 2 hours at 75 to 80 degrees until almost doubled. When pressed lightly in the center, they should keep the impression. If you don't think the dough has risen enough, you can cut a make a small hole in the center before adding the filling.

While the bialys are rising, making the onion-poppy seed filling. Heat the oil in a small saute pan. Add the onions. I sauteed mine over low heat for about 45 minutes to caramelize them, but you could also do a quick five minute cook over medium heat until translucent. Remove the onions from the heat, and add the poppy seeds, salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture cool.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees about 30 minutes before baking. Place a baking stone or baking sheet on an oven shelf at the lowest level. Place a sheet pan on the floor of the oven before preheating it (use a metal pan, use a metal pan, use a metal pan. DO NOT use a glass pan).

Holding each piece of dough with both hands, with your thumbs in the middle and almost touching, pinch the center of the dough tightly between your thumbs and first two fingers and stretch the dough to 4 1/2 to 5 inches in diameter, creating a crater in the center. Place it on a lined baking sheet (I put mine on a sheet of parchment paper on the baking sheet so I could slide it right off onto my baking stone), and spoon 1 teaspoon of onion-poppy seed filling into the center.

Use a peel or cookie sheet to slide the parchment with the bialys on it onto the baking stone or sheet that has been pre-heating in the oven. Toss a handful of ice cubes in the sheet pan on the oven floor (I tried this, for the first time even, which is supposed to help make your oven closer to a professional bread oven by releasing steam which helps form a crust. Immediately shut the door.

Bake for 6 to 10 minutes, or until pale golden and mottled with brown spots.

Remove the parchment from the oven and, with a pancake turner, transfer the bialys to a wire rack to cool until just warm.



  1. Katie, This is a very funny story after the fact…I can only imagine how upsetting it was after you put in all that work! Your Bialys look absolutely wonderful! I learned long ago never to put cold into hot a very similar way!

  2. OMW...I would have freaked...amazing things happen in the kitchen.

  3. I definitely did freak out. I was glad a very calm roommate was home who asked me if I was OK and helped me clean up. I definitely jumped at loud noises for a week afterward!