Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Posted by Kate at 7:02 AM
I woke up yesterday knowing that it was going to be a cold day. I like a good snowstorm when I've got everything I need for a week or more and have nowhere I need to go. There's an unearthly beauty in falling snow that layers itself thickly over branches and fence lines. But the 20 F weather with the 25 mph wind sure makes it forbidding outside.
So I decided to do just a little baking to take the chill off the house. Since I hadn't mixed up any dough on Sunday, it was going to have to be something pretty fast. That's when I stumbled on to the bialy recipe in Artisan Baking, by Maggie Glezer. Don't know what a bialy is? Not too surprising since they're almost unknown outside of New York City. Bialys are very small breads, sort of like a bagel. But instead of having a hole in the center, they have an indentation, and they're not boiled before baking. The dimple in the bread is filled, usually, with browned onions, but occasionally with garlic or poppy seeds. Another Jewish contribution to the world of baked goods. Like bagels, bialys can be sliced and topped with various things, simple butter, or lox and cream cheese apparently being the most popular choices.
I couldn't swear that I'd never eaten a bialy before I made my first batch, but if I ever had, the experience didn't leave much of an impression on me. Fortunately, a bialy straight out of the oven turned out to be a most memorable and enjoyable experience.
I won't copy out the recipe here, because it's long and there would be copyright issues. But I will tell you that it was a real pleasure to work with the dough, which gets worked and warmed several times in a food processor between hand kneadings. The warm dough felt wonderful on my hands in a chilly kitchen. The warmth also gave the yeast a nice head start that would otherwise be hard to provide in my coolish winter home.
I tried two different ways of shaping the bialys and found that the dough really did need to be pulled out very wide and almost flat. The ones I stretched out less than that almost completely lost their dimples and puffed up like balls, despite the fact that they are shaped immediately before going into the oven. I thought handling them too aggressively would deflate the dough and make them flat. Now I know. I enjoyed them all, but the widest ones were best.
The onion filing is usually just ground up and lightly baked onions. Of course, glutton that I am, I went overboard. I had some schmaltz that needed using up. So after grinding up the onions, I cooked them in the rendered chicken fat, and used that for my bialy topping, along with kosher salt. It's not authentic, I know, but I make no apologies. The recipe also warned me to go light on the topping. This I most deliberately ignored. And I'm glad I did.
I ate two bialys right away, the first one piping hot out of the oven. The recipe said they don't keep very well, so I didn't hold back, much. I can see, today, that the cookbook is correct; they really are best fresh from the oven. It's no wonder then that whatever bialy I might or might not have eaten in the past was so underwhelming. I probably got one several hours old. My own bialys were good enough that I would have happily devoured half a dozen. But then I would have had to lay on the floor and moan for a while. I can see that these quick to prepare little gems may become a habit when the weather's chilly and there's schmaltz in the house.
If you enjoy baking and are looking for easy breads to make on relatively short notice, have a look at a good bialy recipe. I mixed the dough at 9 am and enjoyed my first bialy around 2 pm. You don't have to use the schmaltz, as I did, but it sure made for an incredibly tasty, cheap indulgence.
You've all been mighty quiet lately. Did I drive you away with the meat rabbit post, or was it my unannounced absence last week?