March 7, 2014

Bialys are not bagels! Not at all!!! Yes, they’re both round. Chewy. Found in Jewish delis. And not the same!

So what are bialys? Show and tell, in that order.

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A bialy is a roll, and its formal name may be bialystoker kuchen. They come from Bialystock, Poland. Bialystock is, of course, most famous in the United States for exporting its name, attached to Max, the lead character in the play/movie/play The Producers, written by Mel Brooks.

The traditional bialy comes topped with chopped onion and poppy seeds. No blueberry, honey whole wheat or other flavors. No whole, either, but there is a depression in the middle to house the bulk of the onions and poppy seeds.

I have always had a sweet spot for bialys. They’re lighter than bagels, in part because they are not boiled before baking. Real bagels—not rolls with holes—get a brief boiling before baking. (For those of us with limited bagel options, Bruegger’s boils, and I’m not at all sure about Einstein’s.) They’re also not sweet, and no real bagel ever should be!

The main authority on bialys, I think, is The Bialy Eaters by Mimi Sheraton, former food critic for the New York Times. Great book, which I’m about to re-read!

The best book about bialys, I think, is not The Bialy Eaters. Instead, I recommend Life, Death & Bialys by Dylan Schaffer. The book’s subtitle is “(a father/son baking story),” and it’s about a seven-day father/son bread-baking experience that salvages a disastrous father/son relationship soon before Mr. Schaffer’s father dies. For anyone whose relationship with a parent was difficult—especially, any man who did not grow up with Ward Cleaver as his dad—this hidden gem is a must read.

And about the bialys? My recipe is located at the end of Mr. Schaffer’s book, adopted when I finished the book. I can’t share it, but if you buy the book it’s yours. And if that’s not in your plan? Here’s the Smitten Kitchen recipe, and a more complicated recipe from Food Republic.

P.S. I got lots of feedback on the pizza post, including several comments about “complex,” and “difficult,” etc. I will have restaurant posts soon; in the meantime, and only if the spirit moves you, give bread dough a whirl. It’s really easier than you think, and turning basic ingredients like flour, water, yeast, and salt into bread offer s big-time high!

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