Bialys: Little pockets of Yum!

Bread number 16 in the Mellow Bakers‘ roster of recipes from Jeffrey Hamelman’s amazing book Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes are Bialys, the plural form of Bialy and pronounced “bee-Al-ees” – yes, I had to look it up. It’s a small yeast roll that originated from Jewish bakers in Bialystok, Poland. It looks somewhat like a bagel but without the hole. Instead, the center is an indentation and the dough is stretched to a thin membrane. In this little pocket is placed, typically, a tasty onion mixture.

The other aspects that make it not like a bagel is that this bread is not boiled and is ridiculously quick to make. Start to finish (minus cooling) took me about 4½ hours. And this was my first time at it. In fact, I’d never heard of these until I saw them in the book.

And do they compare to bagels? Let me show you…

First thing I did was prepare the onion filling since it had to sort of sit and “meld” for a couple of hours and that also happens to be how long the bulk fermentation takes. How handy!

I took half a large-ish sweet onion (the book says a medium onion will be fine) and chopped it up quite fine. I added a little bread crumbs – supposed to be 10% of the weight of the onion but I didn’t weigh, I just eyeballed. This is then stirred and set aside. Alternatives suggested are using garlic instead or as well as onion, using poppy seed. I changed my mind after I took these pictures and added a half teaspoon of chopped garlic. I pondered adding some parsley flake for a little more colour but decided to not go too far off the recipe on my first try.

With the onion mix ready and set aside, i got all the ingredients together for the dough.

Not exactly complex! The recipe calls for high-gluten flour but I had bread flour at hand. I could have added a teaspoon or two of Vital Wheat Gluten, even thought about it as I was getting it all together but I forgot to actually add it. D’oh!

Aside from the flour we have water, salt and instant yeast plus the onions sitting and getting chummy with the garlic and bread crumbs.

This is what you call a “straight dough”: flour, water, salt and yeast. As simple as bread gets. Amazing the combinations and different products you can get using the same four simple ingredients… It’s all in the ratios and techniques, pretty much. The ratio for this one is 58% hydration – that means there’s 58% of the flour’s weight in water. “Standard” bread doughs are usually in the 65-70% range, so this dough is a little stiffer than normal.

So let’s move on the technique.

Pay attention, this will go by fast:

Add everything but onions in your bowl, mix/stir until incorporated or “shaggy”. Then mix/stir another couple of minutes until the gluten is developing.

I decided this time to just leave the dough in the bowl to bulk ferment. So for this step I just put a lid on the bowl. Then waited 1 hour. Difficult, no?

At the one hour mark, the dough had risen noticeably.

Using the plastic bowl scraper (it helps to not damage the dough when removing it from a bowl) I turned the dough ball onto the dry counter top. I then used the scraper to help streeeetch the dough into a rectangle. This is the move that replaces all the “old fashioned” kneading, developing the gluten in the flour. (See the “Stretch and Fold” blog post here.)

The dough rectangle is then streeetched a little more and folded into thirds, like a letter. This is further streeetched and folded into thirds until you have a small, well stretched and folded ball of dough again. This goes back into the bowl for the second hour of bulk proofing. At the end of the two hours, the dough has again increased noticeably in size.

The dough is now removed from the bowl (gently and with the scraper) and we’re set to divide the dough into twelve equal pieces. My calculations say each piece should be 84 grams.

What’s that on the left side. you ask? You click the photo to see the bigger version and you’re still scratching your head, right? This is the pan where the individual dough balls will rest during final proofing. It’s a pan filled with 1/4″ (6mm) of flour. What the …?!? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. But that’s what the book said so who was I to question. Just do it, you’ll “get it” in a little bit. So I start cutting up the dough into 12 pieces each about 84g (a couple 83, a couple 85…)

I don’t know if you can see (click to see bigger version) but our last dude was a runty 79g. Oh dear. I guess there were more 85 and86g ball than I thought. Once all the balls were done, they got covered and proofed for 1½ hours. At some point in there, you’ll want to get your oven preheated to 480ºF (250ºC). Unlike me who forgot.

Oh, if you want to check out a video on how to make dough balls for rolls and such look at this:

I didn’t get all fancy with two hands, I kept to one at a time. Mark’s a pro. I also don’t have that cool roll divider machine. Sigh. Nice job, Mark! Thanks for the video. Go check out his site, “The Back Home Bakery” when you have a minute.

(If the video doesn’t work, go see it on YouTube here.)

When the timer went off and I came back to the kitchen, I realized the stove was off so I set it on Rapid Preheat (gotta love convection ovens) to try and hit 480 by the time I’d shaped and filled the rolls.

The dough balls had increased in size nicely and I had my pans line with (3rd time) re-used parchment paper.

I didn’t get any photos of me shaping the bialys (being kinda busy shaping the bialys) but I pretty much did exactly what the book said: press the center of each ball to almost make a hole stretching the outside ring until the center section was about 1½” (4cm). It’s at THIS point that I figured out what that thick layer of flour was for. Pressing the dough in the centre, you hit the ‘bottom’ of the ball that has been sitting in flour; it’s now a little dryer and not as fragile as the plain dough. This is brilliant and I tip my hat to whoever figured this out, lo so many years ago.

Here are the shaped bialys with a good teaspoon of filling. Note that that half-onion still left me with about half the chopped up bits after I’d filled the wells of all the rolls (see photo below). That’s OK, we’ll use them in other stuff soon enough. These bialys were about 4 or so inches wide  with the center the suggested 1½”.

By this point, the oven had stopped preheating and said it had reached 480ºF so I popped both trays in and set the timer to 8 minutes. Yes, it’s a short cooking time. At about the 4 minute mark, I turned the trays 180º and switched shelves. They were still rather anemic at that point. At the 8 minute mark, I checked and they were getting brown but not really done yet so i bumped the timer up 2 extra minutes. At the ten minute mark, still rather pale with just a few spots nearing brown (vs light golden) so I left them in another 5 minutes total. I also switched the convection on hoping that would help speed the browning up and noted that it said the oven was currently at 440º. Well dang. I guess the inside temp hadn’t really stabilized or maybe not really reached 480. This would explain the slow browning. Still not much to be done now except give them more time.

I was concerned they would have dried out baking longer at a lower temp, as the book very specifically notes that the thicker sides, when done, should still be tender while not dry and hard. I would have to wait until they were finished to see how they turned out.

Finally, I looked them over and figured they were browned nicely. Pulled them out and here they are:

They had puffed up a lot in the baking and that interior space closed up on pretty much all of them.

Notes to self:

  1. PREHEAT THE DANG OVEN, fer pete’s sake! Don’t forget!
  2. Look at the illustration on page 263 and note that the outside ridge is much smaller and that the inside hollow is shown as considerably more than 1½ inches. Do THAT instead.
  3. When pressing the dough balls in the centre, do it away from the baking sheet because there’s a fair bit of flour on the underside and it will burn if you dump a little pile of it on the tray.
  4. Don’t forget to add VWG to increase the gluten. They still had a nice “chew” to them without so it would be interesting to compare the difference.

Once they were a little bit cooler (not that much) I checked the sides and they were, indeed, still supple and not dried out.  Whew!!

Let me tell you, these smelled really nice while baking and even more so while cooling.. a bit. For these rolls, you’re allowed – and even invited – to have one while still warm. Do so.

Another note:

  • Consider other possible fillings: add herbs like tarragon or rosemary to the mix. Perhaps make some of these sweet with apple or other fruit mix for variety.
  • A Disclaimer: I have a confession to make. I made this using bleached bread flour. I know, I know, a veritable sin! But when I was low on my usual unbleached bread flour, I went to the bakery supply place and asked simply for “Dover’s Vienna Bread Flour” and the guy grabbed a 20k bag of the bleached since I hadn’t specified. My error and I didn’t notice until I had opened the bag and began pouring it into the pails that it was whiter than normal. So for the next long while, this is what I’ll be using. Hope it doesn’t interfere too much with the end results. But I have a lot of it to get through.

These are so easy to make and fast… I’m really happy with the results. We immediately went out back and had them for dinner. Some cheeses, veggies and humus, a dip or two and we had ourselves a really tasty meal.

The bialys have a really nice texture, the crust is not as dense as bagels. The crumb was fine but light and the taste was, well, wonderful. So wonderful that Punkin has asked these be made again for a luncheon we’re having next Monday. Now if the Wonder bread lover thinks they’re good, you know they’re really good!

Here are a couple of final shots. Sorry, I didn’t get a crumb shot, we were too busy consuming them.

Again, other than needing a slightly wider centre and making sure I remember to fire up the oven (and give them a good instant heat blast) these came out superbly.

As noted, this is bread #16 in the Mellow Baker’s project. I skipped ahead a bit just because I needed something fast for dinner, I’ll move backwards to do the others shortly. You can check out other Mellow Bakers’s progress here. Oh, these are also JULY breads and it’s still June. Yeah, not quite Mellow… Or is making July bread in June really mellow?

This bread has ben submitted to YeastSpotting on the

Mellow Bakers

5 Replies to “Bialys: Little pockets of Yum!”

  1. Wow, these look and sound delicious, Paul! I haven’t had a bialy in years, but your post makes me want to try them tonight . . . if only I had some breadcrumbs (gotta get used to keeping those around). Thanks for all of the tips, too! =)

  2. What a wonderful post, Lovely to hear about the point in placing them on a flour bed. I’ll have to try that too. must have smelled delicious with that onion and garlic! Can’t wait to try them!
    Lien recently posted…Mellow Bakers in JuneMy Profile

  3. Delicious!

    Another wonderfullly written and informative post. Really feel like we are with you in your kitchen Paul! Making fast mental notes as I read, but I might have to pop back again and check before I make these. Sounds like you had a really good time making them – what better way to spend a few hours 🙂 Apart from sitting on that patio munching away of course ….
    Joanna recently posted…Beer Bread with Roast Barley MaltMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge