You can also leave the bialys plain and set out a spread of toppings for people to add after they come out of the oven. Any toppings that work for bagels work for bialys as well. Cream cheese and lox, anyone? Or maybe just a simple spread of butter and jam?!
1 teaspoon active-dry yeast
1 1/4 cup (10 ounces) water
3 cups (15 ounces) bread flour (or substitute all-purpose flour plus one tablespoon vital wheat gluten)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup cream, milk, or melted butter (for brushing)
Fillings: caramelized onions (about 2 onions makes enough for 8 bialys), poppy seeds, minced garlic, eggs, or any other fillings you desire.
Combine the yeast and the water in the bowl of a standing mixer (see below for directions by hand) and let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast is dissolved and the water looks cloudy. Add the flour and salt, and stir until the dough forms a shaggy mass.
Set the bowl in your standing mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead on low speed for 4 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes to give the flour time to absorb the water. Continue kneading on low for an additional 6-8 minutes, until the dough forms a smooth, springy ball. You may have to stop the mixer and scrape down the dough as it kneads.
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel. Let rise for about 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.
At this point, you can make the bialys right away, or you can refrigerate the dough overnight and make the bialys in the morning.
Sprinkle your work surface lightly with flour and turn out the dough on top. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. Shape the pieces into rolls, cover them again with the plastic wrap or dish towel, and let them rise until a finger pressed in the top leaves a dent, about an hour (1 1/2 - 2 hours for refrigerated rolls).
A half hour before the rolls are finished rising, pre-heat the oven to 450°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Also, prepare any fillings you may be using.
When the rolls are ready, pick them up one at a time and form the depression in the middle. Hold the roll like a steering wheel with your thumbs in the middle and your fingers around the edges. Pinch the dough between your thumb and fingers, rotating as you go and gradually making the depression wider without actually poking a hole through. Aim for a depression about three inches in diameter with an inch of puffy dough around the edge.
Prick the depressions with a fork to help them stay flat during baking and fill the bialys. Brush the edges with the cream or butter (this will help them brown). Put the bialys in the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, until they turn golden-brown.
Transfer to a cooling rack and enjoy immediately. Leftovers can be saved in an airtight container and re-heat well for several days after baking.
• We recommend using high gluten bread flour, or adding vital wheat gluten, to give the bialys a chewy and dense texture, similar to bagels. All-purpose flour by itself will definitely work; your bialys will just be softer.
• To make these by hand, follow all the directions as they are written, but knead the dough on the counter for 15 minutes. Try to add as little flour as possible. If you’re using high gluten flour, the dough will feel tougher than usual. It helps to have a few extra able-bodied people on hand to take turns with the kneading!
• If baking an egg in your bialys, try baking them at 450° for the first 5 minutes and then lowering the oven temperature to 350° so the eggs stay soft and the bialys don’t brown as quickly.
(Images: Emma Christensen)