Bialys for #TwelveLoaves May

Food Blog May 2014-3847I didn’t learn to drive until I was 17, an oddity at my high school where brand new cars to fit their brand new drivers started showing up during junior year. When I did learn, however, my dad took me on biweekly drives through Orange County, making a wide circle that climbed a gradual hill and then descended steeply toward, much to my dismay, a stoplight that was always red. One week I vividly remember Smash Mouth’s “Walkin’ on the Sun” playing as I coasted down the hill, hoping to hit the brakes soon enough to show I was paying attention, but not wanting the downhill glide to end. Another week, I remember stopping at a bagel shop just before getting to that glorious hill, and then, poised nervously at the parking lot exit, fumbling for the gas pedal instead of the brake. You only make that mistake once.
Food Blog May 2014-3833But really, the bagel shop is the important part here. My parents moved a lot when I was a kid, and one of the most important components about making a new city “home” was finding a good bagel place. This meant they were always hole-in-the-wall, never big names. This one in particular, though it was a bit of a drive from our house, was special in that it carried a treat I’d never had before: a bialy.
Food Blog May 2014-3830Bialys, if you’re not in the know (which more than likely means not from the East Coast ), are a bagel relative. A cousin, perhaps. Bagels are special because they are a chewy yeast dough that is boiled before it is baked, and they have that signature hole in the middle. Bialys, though their dough is similar in composition, have a depression rather than a hole in their centers, and that depression is filled with sautéed onions, poppyseeds, and sometimes garlic. Because they contain this little gold mine of flavor, they aren’t boiled, but go straight into the oven for a hot, short bake.
Food Blog May 2014-3849It is their filling – that little pocket of gooey caramelized onion goodness – that makes them right for this week. The Twelve Loaves challenge for May was baking with onions. I was stumped at first, but when N. suggested onion bagels, this chewy crusty treat flooded back at me with all the power of Proust’s madeleine.
Food Blog May 2014-3783The recipe I’m using here is a minor adaptation of Deb’s. I’ve added a few twists, incorporating garlic and sesame seeds in with the onion and poppyseed filling, sautéing the aromatics in butter rather than oil because I love the added richness, and combining a few tablespoons of vital wheat gluten with my bread flour to replace the high gluten flour I don’t have in my pantry. Plain bread flour will likely work as well, but the extra hit of gluten adds a chewiness I wouldn’t forgo.
Food Blog May 2014-3787I asked N. to take some photos for me while I rolled, pinched, and prodded the dough, so much of what follows is his work. Some of mine, though, include the rolling pictorials that follow. I’m using my own version of Joe Pastry’s technique, which I’m finding I like quite well. Rather than just slicing off hunks of dough and rolling them, I flatten out a piece, fold up and pinch the edges into a weird starfish, and then follow Joe’s suggestion of lightly rolling the dough in circles around the board inside my lightly curled hand. My system – in pictures – follows, but you can see Joe’s technique here.

Food Blog May 2014-3790 Food Blog May 2014-3791 Food Blog May 2014-3792 Food Blog May 2014-3793 Food Blog May 2014-3794 Food Blog May 2014-3795 Food Blog May 2014-3797 Food Blog May 2014-3798Food Blog May 2014-3800 Food Blog May 2014-3816 Food Blog May 2014-3805 Food Blog May 2014-3807 Food Blog May 2014-3808 Food Blog May 2014-3811 Food Blog May 2014-3820 Food Blog May 2014-3823Food Blog May 2014-3828 Food Blog May 2014-3843
Makes 12
For dough:
1 ¾ cups water, at body temperature (it should feel neutral – not hot or cold – when you dip your finger in)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar (helps the yeast bloom a bit faster)
4 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
2 teaspoons kosher salt
For filling:
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely diced onion
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon poppyseeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
(optional: ¼ teaspoon celery seed, because I’m obsessed)
  • Add the yeast and the sugar, if using, to the water and set aside for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is thickly bubbly and smells like bread.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer (it would be quite an intense knead by hand), combine the flour, vital wheat gluten, and salt with the paddle attachment.
  • Slowly add the water and yeast mixture, stopping the mixer when the dough becomes wet and clumpy, as in the photo above. Switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook and knead for about 7 minutes on medium speed. The dough should become smooth and elastic, and tug itself away from the sides of the bowl a bit. If it seems much too wet or much too dry, add a bit more flour or water, just a tablespoon or two at a time.
  • When it is well kneaded, heft the dough out of the mixer bowl, oil the bowl lightly, and replace the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 1½ – 2 hours, or until doubled. In my warm home office, at about 85F, my dough had doubled in 90 minutes.
  • Punch down the dough to release trapped gas by gently but firmly depressing it with your fist. Dump it out onto a well floured board and let it sit for a few minutes to get its breath back.
  • Divide the rested dough into 12 equal pieces (they should be about 3 ounces each), and roll each piece into a ball, keeping the others covered with plastic wrap or a cloth. My technique is as follows (as illustrated above): flatten each section of dough like a mini pizza. Then, fold each edge or bit that pokes out to the center. You will make about 8 folds. Pinch them together where they meet to keep them adhered. Flip this over and, positioning your hand like a cage around the dough, fingers curled down loosely to touch the board and palm just touching the dough, drag your hand lightly in a circle, taking the dough ball along with you. Continue to trace your hand in circles until the dough forms a nice cohesive, homogenous ball.
  • As you form each ball, set it on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Let these rise, under plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, for another 1½ – 2 hours, until they have almost doubled, and an indentation made by pressing your thumb into the middle remains depressed.
  • While they rise, make the filling. Heat the 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium low heat. When it is melted, add the onions and salt and cook gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook gently for another 5 minutes, or until the onions reach your desired level of caramelization (not much more will happen during baking).
  • Remove from heat and add the seeds and pepper. Cool to room temperature.
    30-45 minutes before you intend to bake, place a cast iron skillet on the lowest rack. Place the other rack just one slot above this, and preheat the oven to 475F.
  • When the dough has risen again, uncover and create depressions (Deb says “craters,” which I love) in the center of each. Fill with 1-2 teaspoons of the cooled onion mixture. Sprinkle the tops with a bit of flaky salt, if desired.
  • Place in the preheated 475F oven, then carefully dump a mug full of ice cubes into the cast iron skillet just below and close the oven door quickly. This creates a burst of steam like commercial ovens use, which helps create a nice crust.
  • Bake for 8-12 minutes. The tops of each bialy, around the onion filling, will bronze a bit.
  • Cool at least 5 minutes before devouring.

Jalapeño Cheese Bagels

August 2013-2541Seeing as it’s now been more than half a year since I started this dough resolution, I think it’s high time for a check-in.  When I began this project, I was afraid of pie crust.  I found baking bread an intimidating procedure: proofing yeast was a touchy business; sticky dough made me wring my hands in despair.  My first few loaves came out with black bottoms, and I didn’t have a real sense of the difference between bread flour and all-purpose.

August 2013-2537Fast forward.  This past weekend, I made bagels.  Real, crisp crusted, chewy, bagel-y bagels, studded with jalapeño slices and dripping with sharp cheddar cheese.  I’d been thinking of making them anyway, but when this month’s Twelve Loaves challenge came along with a demand for savory breads, it sealed the deal.  I know, I’ve used this flavor combination before.  In fact, I used it for another Twelve Loaves challenge.  You could say I’m rather fond of it.  Maybe I need a bit of an intervention.  But… jalapeño and cheese!  How can you resist?  See, the cheese transforms into a delicate crackling lace encasing the top of the bagel, and the pepper slices roast and shrivel in the oven’s high heat, and the whole thing becomes just so savory and interesting, that I want to put it on everything.

August 2013-2534Bagels are an odd-ball bread.  The additional protein of plain old bread flour is not enough for them – they require the even heavier duty high gluten flour, and sweetener in the form of barley malt syrup, both products I’d never heard of (see note on ingredients below).  After a lengthy turn with a dough hook that I thought would break my stand mixer (the heaving strain of the machine was almost too much to take), the stiff, dense dough gets portioned out, rolled into wormy logs, curled and pressed and sealed into rings, and then refrigerated overnight to allow for a long, slow rise that enhances the flavor and texture of the finished product.  Upon retrieval from the chill-chest, the rings are plunged into a vat of boiling water before being sprinkled with toppings and levered into a hot, hot oven to bake up shiny and crisp and chewy.

(Obligatory apology for the weird lighting in the pre-topped, pre-baked photos.  That’s what happens when you bake at night…)

August 2013-2516 August 2013-2518 August 2013-2519 August 2013-2520 August 2013-2521 August 2013-2522 August 2013-2523These are not the easiest baked good I’ve tried.  They involve odd ingredients, special equipment (I can’t imagine kneading this dough by hand.  Baking Illustrated, my guide for this recipe, says you shouldn’t even try), and considerable time.  They require not one, but two methods of cooking, and they make a lot of dishes for a willing but sometimes reluctant dishwasher sous chef helper to wash up.

August 2013-2524 August 2013-2525Yet I think, if you are up for the challenge, that you should take it on.  Watching them transform from a scrappy, tough dough into firm rings, and then seeing the crust take on that glossy shine and texture surrounding a chewy, densely-spongy interior, is not far short of amazing.  Several times during the process, astounded by how bagel-like they actually were, I said to N., “I can’t believe I’m making bagels!  Actual real bagels!”  The finished product is a far cry from the soft, fluffy offerings you’d find on a grocery store shelf.  The extra labor and the strain they put on my stand mixer (seriously, guys, you should have heard the motor.  I thought it was going to die on me right there) make these only a truly special occasion project, but one that was certainly worth doing.

August 2013-2528 August 2013-2530Note on ingredients: I couldn’t find high gluten flour, but Baking Illustrated told me it could be readily ordered from King Arthur flour, if you have that kind of time, and the sweet, helpful woman who swept in to help me navigate the rows of flour in our Whole Foods market said it was sometimes at “crunchy granola” sorts of markets.  I used, at her recommendation, a combination of bread flour and a few tablespoons of vital wheat gluten instead.

Barley malt syrup is a sweetener made from sprouted barley with an intriguing, earthy taste, less saccharine than white sugar or honey, not nearly as intense as molasses.  I found it at my Whole Foods, but again, if you can’t find it, you might try a natural foods store or the internet.

August 2013-2542Jalapeño Cheese Bagels
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
Makes 8 bagels
4 cups high-gluten flour OR 3 ¾ cups bread flour and ¼ cup vital wheat gluten (22 oz)
2 tsp salt
1 TB barley malt syrup
1 ½ tsp yeast (I used active dry yeast; you could also use instant)
1 ¼ cups water (at 80 degrees – it should feel just barely cool to the touch)
3 TB cornmeal, for dusting the baking sheet
1 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 green jalapeño, sliced wafer thin


Day 1:

  • If you are using active dry yeast, sprinkle it over the water and leave it to burble for a few minutes while you collect the rest of your ingredients.
  • Combine the flour, salt, and barley malt syrup in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment.  Add the yeast and water (if you are using instant yeast, skip the proofing step and measure it straight into the bowl) and mix on the lowest setting with the paddle attachment for about 4 minutes, until the dough is in dry tangles.  Baking Illustrated says until it “looks scrappy, like shreds just beginning to come together,” which is a perfect description (124).
  • Exchange the paddle attachment for the dough hook, and continue to knead on medium-low speed until the dough comes together into a stiff but slightly elastic ball, about 8 to 10 minutes more.
  • Turn the ball of dough onto a work surface.  It won’t be very sticky, so you probably won’t need to flour your board at all.  Divide the dough into 8 even portions, roll each one into a smooth ball and cover them all with a towel or plastic wrap for 5 minutes.
  • Once the dough balls have rested, form each one into an 11 inch rope of even thickness by firmly rolling from the bottom joints of your fingers down to the heel of your hands.  I found I had the best luck angling my hands slightly away from each other and pushing down and forward, which helped lengthen both sides of the rope simultaneously.
  • Shape each 11 inch rope into a circle, allowing for a 1-2 inch overlap.  Dampen the dough surface where it will overlap, and press together, squeezing and pinching tightly to seal the edges.  To secure the seal, put your fingers through the dough ring, resting it at the base joint where your fingers meet your palm, and roll the dough circle over the board a few times with the overlapped portion against your palm.
  • Dust a baking sheet with the cornmeal, evenly space the dough rings on it, and cover securely with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 12-18 hours.


Day 2:

  • 20-30 minutes before baking, remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator to let the dough rings warm up just a bit and get the yeast ready for quick action.  With the rack in the middle position, preheat your oven to 450F.  Pour water into a large stockpot or a wok to a depth of about 3 inches and bring it to a boil.
  • With the water boiling, drop the dough rings 4 at a time into the water; stir and submerge them with tongs, a slotted spoon, or a little skimmer for about 30 seconds.  They will puff very slightly as the yeast expands and then is extinguished by the heat.
  • Remove the dough rings from the boiling water and drain them on a wire rack, bottom-side down.
  • While the rings are still wet, sprinkle them with the cheese and stud them with jalapeño slices, then transfer each to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Bake 14 minutes, or until they are crisp and golden, and the cheese has transformed from drippy and melted to lacy and crunchy, and the jalapeños are just toasty and shriveled.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving.