Onion Bialys with Natural Levain – BBB

Bialys are the Polish cousins of bagels. I have never made or tasted a bialy before. How can I ever resist making them? This is BBB’s (Bread Baking Babes) project of the month — “babes bake bialys”, hosted by Judy at Judy’s Gross Eats. Bagels were what my daughter first craved when she went to college. Alas, not mom’s cooking. Whenever she comes home, my husband would buy lox and several kinds of bagel: everything, sesame, onion, cinnamon raisin, pumpernickel bagels, for the breakfast spread. There won’t be any leftovers; they’ll be either consumed or taken back to school, for friends and roommates. Good bagels are hot commodities. She is such a bagel snob; she judges every city she visits by the quality of their bagels.

I’ve made bagels once or twice, never quite succeeded in comparison to the bagels from Bagel Spot, Bagels 4-U or Collegetown Bagel…. The list is long and competition is fierce. The bar is too high, so I stopped making them.

I make bread at home for a reason. There are a few requirements: less white, more nutritious, wholesome and flavorful breads as compared to the store-bought varieties. A tall order in the New York area. With that in mind, I adapted the Hot Bread Kitchen’s traditional onion bialys recipe. I like the notion that Jessamyn Rodriguez, the author of Hot Bread Kitchen, set out to make the best bialy in New York according to the parameters outlined by Mimi Sheraton, the former New York Times restaurant critic, in her book The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World. Mimi called Jessamyn to say she liked the Hot Bread Kitchen’s bialys. How can you go wrong with this recipe as a springboard for baking bialys the first-time?

Instead of preparing the preferment as directed in the recipe, I made a stiff levain (66% hydration) using a sourdough starter and added that to the dough. I did not break them up into walnut-size pieces, as the recipe called for, due to the stickiness of the levain. It was not stiff enough. I substituted 50% of the bread flour with organic whole-grain sprouted splelt flour. Gave the dough an extended kneading in the mixer. Then I followed a similar fermentation schedule as written. Caramelized the onion and topped the bialys before baking them. See the cheat sheet below for details. One last-minute change: I substituted poppy seeds with sesame seeds. I couldn’t find any poppy seeds in my pantry. I may have run out of them. So I used black sesame seeds instead.

Ran out of poppy seeds. Substituted with sesame seeds.


50% sprouted spelt flour, 50% bread flour, 72% hydration

What surprised me the most about these bialys? They all popped, to some extent. My dough seemed exuberant. The moment the bialys hit the hot 500°F, you can see every onion topping from the indentation rise, expand and erupt. Kinda neat to watch! I figure that the only way to contain the energy of the oven spring is to over-proof the dough or lower the oven temperature. That will be something with which to explore and experiment!

I like these bialys a lot. The crust is chewy like that of a bagel, but without the jarring action of tearing it up with your teeth — a gentler kind of chewiness. Eating bagels can be challenging without strong teeth. Not so with the bialys. The interior is tender with a pleasant bite. The sweetness of the onion imparts a snap of flavor. The high content (50%) of whole wheat flour is a huge plus, from a nutrition point of view. It is easier with a one-step process of baking in the oven than making bagels (which are boiled and then baked). There is nothing not to like about these bialys. Thank you, Judy, for suggesting and hosting this fun BBB bake.

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  • Reply
    Karen Kerr
    August 3, 2016 at 2:55 am

    These look wonderful!

  • Reply
    August 3, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    Yay! Yours exploded just like mine. Your Buddy Badge is on the way.

  • Reply
    hobby baker
    August 3, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    Beautiful! I really like how the black sesame seeds pop on the top.

  • Reply
    August 17, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Please excuse the lateness of this comment. Your bialys look perfect! And I love the explosions. It makes them look like they have crowns on them.

  • Reply
    August 17, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    No such thing as being late. Thanks for your kind comments.

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