Once sold at eastern European bakeries or delicatessens in Jewish neighborhoods like Manhattan’s Lower East Side, bialys have become scarce. I grew up eating the round Polish bread whose dimpled center is topped with onions and, sometimes, poppy seeds, and was excited when New York City pastry chef and baker Melissa Weller told me she wanted to bring it back. She gave me her recipe for this book, but not before adapting it for a cast-iron skillet to yield a large, sharable bialy. Her instructions for kneading the dough were specific—she found that splitting it and putting each half in the food processor for a quick, intense spin, four times on and off, with one resting while the other whirls in the machine, results in the best-possible bialy a home kitchen can produce. She cooked down the onions—lots of them!—with great care, sweating them slowly on the stove at a low temperature before moving them to the oven and baking them, covered, for a half hour.
I did everything she instructed until, as my crispy, brown-crusted, chewy bialys cooled, I decided to leave off the poppy seeds. My brain had jumped from deli to Delhi, and I wanted to make a tempering—a fried blend of assorted spices used in Indian cuisine. I grabbed nigella, mustard, coriander, and cumin seeds from my spice cabinet and quickly toasted them in sizzling ghee until they popped and crackled. I threw in caraway seeds as well, to bring a hint of the Jewish bakery to my mix. At the last minute, I put some curry leaves in the pan. Then I spooned the hot aromatics and their golden cooking liquid over the bialys, letting the crunchy bits and unctuous fat settle into the onions.
- Yields: 3 bialys
For the dough
For the spice mix
Make the dough. In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, yeast, and fine sea salt. Add the cool water and, using your hands, mix everything together until you don’t see any flour.
Divide the dough in half. Transfer the first half to a food processor fitted with the dough blade and process for about 1 minute until the dough is warm—but not hot—to the touch. Set the first half aside and process the second half for about 1 minute. Repeat this procedure four times, waiting 1 to 2 minutes between kneadings to allow the food processor to cool down.
Transfer the kneaded dough halves back to the large bowl that you first used to mix the ingredients together. Cover it with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let the dough rest at room temperature for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Give the dough a quick knead just to combine the halves, then, using a bench scraper, divide it into 3 equal pieces. Gently round each piece into a ball and set all 3 on a lightly oiled parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours. (The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
Preheat the oven to 500°F with a 10-inch cast-iron skillet set on a rack in the middle of the oven. Heat the pan for a full 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove one of the pieces of dough from the refrigerator and let it warm up for 15 to 20 minutes. Dust your work surface with coarse whole-wheat flour and place the ball of dough on the dusted surface.
With your index and middle fingers, begin to punch down the dough, starting in the center of the ball and working out. Create a rim about 1-inch-wide by dimpling the dough with your fingers. Stretch the dough by lifting it up from its center with your fist (just like you’d shape pizza dough). The stretched bialy should be 8 inches across. Spread 2⁄3 cup of the onion topping over the dimpled part of the bialy. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the bread crumbs and ¼ teaspoon of the flake sea salt on top.
Carefully pull the hot skillet out of the oven and place it on a heatproof surface. Using your hands or one hand and a large spatula, gently scoop underneath the bialy, trying not to disturb its topping. Quickly transfer it to the skillet and return the pan to the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 450°F and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
Remove the skillet from the oven and use a spatula to transfer the bialy to a wire rack. Repeat to make 2 additional bialys (see Note).
Make the spice mix. The 10-inch cast-iron skillet should still be hot from the oven. (If it isn’t, preheat it, gradually raising the heat from low to medium-high.) Place it on the stovetop over medium-high heat and add the ghee. Once the ghee is hot, add the mustard and coriander seeds and fry them for about 1 minute, until they start to pop. Add the nigella, cumin, and caraway seeds and cook for 30 seconds. Add the curry leaves and cook for 15 to 30 seconds to wilt them.
Garnish each bialy with 1 tablespoon of the hot tempering and finish with additional flake salt, if desired.
Note: The second and third bialys can be made right away, or, as noted above, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Yields: 2 ⅓ cups
Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Preheat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet on the stovetop, gradually raising the heat from low to medium. Once the pan is hot, melt the butter, then add the sliced onions and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 5 minutes, without stirring, so the onions start to shrink and become easier to move around the pan.
Cook the onions, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes more, until they are very soft and translucent and have not taken on any color. Stir in the salt, cover the pan with an ovenproof lid (cast iron, preferably), and place the onions in the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the onions from the oven, but do not lift the lid. Let the onions cool for 30 minutes
without disturbing them. Uncover and drain the liquid from the onions. If not using immediately, store them in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. I like to prepare them the day before I need them.
Reprinted from Stir, Sizzle, Bake: Recipes for Your Cast-Iron Skillet. Copyright © 2016 by Charlotte Druckman. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Aubrie Pick. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.