In my humble opinion, bialys are every bit as good as bagels, their more popular cousin. The dough is nearly identical; this one has just slightly less water. The major difference is that where bagels are boiled before baking, these are just baked, which gives their crust a matte (as opposed to shiny) look. Instead of a hole in the middle, bialys are indented and filled with caramelized onions, then (sometimes) sprinkled with poppy seeds and salt and cooked in a hot oven until brown and crusty. These are a treat so seldom sold these days that the best way to get a truly great one is to make it yourself.
Makes: 10 bialys
Time: 3 to 4 hours, largely unattended
3 1/2 cups all purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) instant yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more for the onions
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing
2 medium onions, chopped
Poppy seeds and/or salt (optional)
1. Put the flour in a food processor. Add the yeast, sugar, and salt, and process for 5 seconds. With the machine running, pour (don’t drizzle) 1 1/4 cups water through the feed tube. Process for about 30 seconds, then remove the cover. The dough should be in a well-defined ball, only slightly sticky and very easy to handle. If the dough is too dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time and process for 5 or 10 seconds after each addition. If it is too wet, add a tablespoon or 2 of flour and process briefly. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface and knead for a minute or 2 longer by hand, adding as much flour as necessary to make a smooth, tough, very elastic dough.
2. Lightly grease a large bowl with oil and dump in the dough, turning once to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough has roughly doubled in size, about 2 hours. If you would like to let the dough rise for a longer period of time, which will help it develop flavor, refrigerate for up to 12 hours; bring it back to room temperature before proceeding.
3. Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface— you want it to be a little sticky—and cut it into 10 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then gently press it into a disk about 4 inches in diameter. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
4. While they rise, put the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the onions and a sprinkle of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent burning, until the onions are soft and a deep caramel color, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside. Heat the oven to 450°F. Put an oven- proof skillet (preferably cast iron) on the floor or the lowest rack while the oven heats. If you’re using a baking stone, put it on the rack above the skillet while the oven heats; if not, line baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease with oil.
5. When the bialys have risen, use your finger to make in indentation in the middle of each of them, leaving roughly a 1-inch border of puffed dough around the edges and making sure not to poke through the dough. Prick the indented parts with a fork to prevent them from rising too much in the oven and spoon the onion filling into the indentations. If you like, brush the puffed rim with a little water and sprinkle with poppy seeds and salt.
6. Put the bialys on a floured peel or flexible cutting board or on the prepared baking sheets. Use the peel or cutting board to slide them onto the stone or just slide the sheets into the oven. Partially pull out the rack with the heated skillet and very carefully pour 1 cup hot water into the skillet (it will create a lot of steam). Slide the rack back in and immediately close the oven door. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the bialys are nicely browned. Cool on a wire rack; these keep well for a day or two.