It is unclear whether Steve’s Jewish grandmother, who died several years before he was born, would have been disappointed in him. (Though if Jon Stewart and legions of other Jewish comedians are any guide, she quite possibly could not have helped herself.) But as someone who reportedly kept a kosher home, she would definitely be shocked by these bialys, which feature some of Steve’s home-rendered brown lard.
Steve first met bialys as a boy in New York, where they appeared next to bagels in basically every bakery case. While New York bagels (at least in those days) could be dense, chewy and challenging for a youngster, bialys were softer and (bonus!) sported a stuffing of onions and poppy seeds. Michelle, introduced to bialys later in life, never quite saw what the fuss was all about. But the idea somehow stuck with her, and when she saw a recipe in Lauren Groveman’s The I Love To Cook Book, Michelle decided to take advantage of Steve’s seemingly insatiable interest in baking. Steve, caught recently bemoaning Gourmandistan’s lack of frozen homemade bagels, rose to the challenge, and the bialy baking began.
We must say that Lauren Groveman’s Kitchen is one of Gourmandistan’s go-to basic cookbooks. Good recipes for Sloppy Joes, peanut butter ripple brownies and more offer themselves up clearly and simply. The bialy recipe in Groveman’s sophomore showing, however, not so much. The instructions were somewhat opaque, and resulted in Steve trying to cram an extra cup of bread flour into a stiff dough. In addition to ending up like pizza dough, Groveman’s shaping suggestions (“Turn the outer rim of the round in, toward the center, to form a raised border all around”) were stupid. We ended up with almost a dozen mini pissaladières missing only anchovies and black olives to make them at home in Provence. Needless to say, Gourmandistan’s chickens feasted well that day.
Michelle suggested Steve try some other recipes, but Steve liked several things about Groveman’s version. Adding pan-toasted dehydrated onion to the bialy filling created a flavor matching Steve’s childhood memory. He also liked the addition of black pepper and fat-softened onions to the dough mix. That’s where the brown lard came in, as Steve (certainly non-kosher himself) decided to break free of Judaic law and layer in a little pork flavor. So he went back to Groveman with his eyes wide open and devoted another day to bialys.
As you can see, the second batch came out marvelously.
This time, Steve followed his own instincts on the dough, keeping it soft and hand-shaping instead of rolling. Happily abusing our temporary, injured oven (fully-functioning replacement only weeks away!), Steve popped out peel after peel of wonderfully oniony-scented bialys before Michelle came home from the office. They were tasty just cooled from the oven, but sitting overnight seemed to improve their texture even more, and made them quite heavenly broiled with a bit of butter and salt.
Other than the delightful taste of Jewish sin, we’re not sure the brown lard really added that much flavor to the bialys. But the abomination allowed Steve to use the last of his home-rendered lard, meaning one more pig part had not gone to waste. And wasting good food, at least in the tenets of Gourmandistan, is the real shondah.
(adapted from Lauren Groveman’s The I Love To Cook Book) (makes 12)
For the dough:
- 2 TB vegetable shortening or other fat such as brown lard
- 1/3 c. minced onion
- 1 package active dry yeast, dissolved in 1/4 c. warm water with a pinch of sugar
- 2 c. warm water
- 1 t. fresh ground pepper
- 2 g. barley malt extract or sugar
- 5 c. bread flour
- 1 TB salt
- Melted butter for brushing dough and bowl (about 3 TB)
Soften onions with fat in a heavy skillet for about three minutes over medium heat. Let onions cool. Meanwhile, dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and pinch of sugar, letting it sit until it becomes visibly bubbly (about 5 minutes). Put the yeast mixture in a mixing bowl and add 3 cups of bread flour, the softened onions and fat, sugar, black pepper and 2 cups of warm water. Using the paddle attachment on your mixer, beat on low speed until well combined, then beat on medium speed for a few minutes. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then cover with plastic wrap and a clean towel. Allow the sponge to rise in the mixing bowl for about 1-1/2 hours.
Uncover the sponge and reattach the bowl to your mixer, fitted with a clean paddle attachment. Add the remaining 2 cups of flour and tablespoon of salt, and mix until it forms a shaggy mass. Replace the paddle attachment with a dough hook (or, if you’re more manly than Steve, do it by hand) and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic but still a bit sticky.
Grease a large mixing bowl (at least four quarts if not larger), brushing all areas with the melted butter. Place the dough in the bowl and brush it with the remaining melted butter. Cover the bowl with greased plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm spot for 2 hours.
For the topping:
- 2 TB neutral vegetable oil
- 1 c. minced onion
- 2 t. poppy seeds
- 1/3 c. dehydrated onion
- Salt & pepper
Toast the dehydrated onion in a pan until lightly browned, then add about 1/3 cup hot water. Heat the oil in a skillet, then add the minced onion and poppy seeds. Sautée until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir the reconstituted onions into the onion/poppy seed mixture and allow to cool.
Forming and baking the bialys:
Preheat your oven to 500°, making sure it comes to temperature at least 30 minutes before you’ll bake your bialys.
Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide the dough in half. Put one piece back in the bowl, cover and return to the refrigerator. Cut the remaining dough into six equal pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time, flatten into a disk and use your fingers to stretch a flat pocket into the center. The ideal shape has high rounded edges of at least one inch. If you push your finger through the flat center, simply repair the dough before filling. With the tines of a fork, prick holes in your bialy, then fill the center with about a tablespoon of the onion mix.
Fill a quarter cup measuring cup with a few ice chunks and enough water to reach the top. Cook the bialys on a parchment-paper topped baking sheet or pizza stone. Immediately after placing the bialys into the oven, throw the ice water into the bottom of the oven, closing the door before the steam escapes. Let the bialys bake about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to wire racks to cool thoroughly before storing.
To serve a bialy, cut off the top, spread with butter and broil until brown and toasty. Sprinkle with good salt.