Of Unknown Cultures, Bialys and Long Weekends

I have a confession to make, I have never been to Poland, actually not even Europe, know zilch about Poland or it’s culture or even food for that matter. When I wiki Polish culture, Bialys don’t feature in the cuisine section at all! However, when I wiki Bialys, I do learn that they are from a city called Bialystock in Poland. In fact the pictures on the wiki page for Bialys are umm…how should I put it politely…uninspiring! So what then prompted me to bake them?

The same old reason…I see something, it messes with my mind, I let it grow till I can take it no more and I just have to cook/bake it. This one followed the same pattern, I saw some stunning pictures of them on one my favorite blogs long ago and those Bialys have been haunting me ever since. I waited till I had all the required ingredients (the vital wheat gluten was missing), apparently you can make them without the vital wheat gluten, but I wanted that beautiful brown that I saw in the picture, so I wasn’t going to take any chances. Now that I think about it, the brown probably has more to do with leaving the -Bialys on in the oven with the top heating coil on than the gluten. I didn’t know it back then, but never mind. When my SIL brought it for me from the US, I finally had it. Of course I forgot all about it for a good 1.5 months till she was here. Now that I am back in the bread-baking mode, I remembered them and that’s how they were baked in my house. I made the dough on Friday and then stored them in the fridge. Made one batch for lunch on Saturday and another for brunch on Monday, twice over the long weekend (in India, on account of Ganesh Chaturthi) that went by. And although I am agnostic, I like the elephant god for how cute and cool* he is, so want to abide by the no non-vegetarian rules around the festival time, so it was a happy coincidence that this bread has no eggs in it.

*You should see how many liberties people in India take with this one god, he is always “in” with whatever trends are in vogue. So you have super-hero Ganesha idols, six-pack ones and so many variations.

I made them with two fillings, Paneer and Onions. They are good separately, but simply fabulous when paired together.

You could follow the original recipe from here or use the one I typed out below:

What You Will Need

For the dough:

  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (use bread flour if you can find it or all-purpose flour + 1 tbsp vital wheat gluten)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • A few tbsps of milk for brushing the dough

For the Onion Filling:

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 cup onions finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp poppy seeds
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tbsp chopped mint leaves

For Paneer filling:

  • A few cubes of paneer
  • A handful of mint and cilantro chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 green chilli chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp of garam masala
  • 1/2 a lime

How You Make It

The dough:

  1. Add the yeast and sugar to half a cup of warm water and set it aside for 10 minutes till it bubbles over.
  2. Sift the flour with the salt and add the yeast mixture to it. Add more water to it if required and knead it till it comes together into a ball.
  3. Place it in a large well-oiled bowl and cover with cling-film till it doubles in volume (about 1.5 – 2 hours). If you are not making the Bialys right away, you can refrigerate the dough at this point. Make sure to put it in a container that gives it enough room to double in volume. The lid of my Tupperware storage container popped-up and fell to the side in the fridge.
  4. Make sure to leave the dough out for 30 minutes before you make them.

The Filling

Paneer filling:

  1. Heat oil in a non-stick pan and add cumin to it and wait for it to crackle
  2. Add the chopped green chillies
  3. Add the cubed paneer
  4. Add a pinch of salt, the garam masala and stir
  5. Turn off the stove and add lime chopped mint

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Onion filling:

  1. Heat oil in a pan, add the coriander seeds and let them splutter
  2. Add the onions and poppy seeds and saute till the onions turn light brown
  3. Add salt and chopped mint, stir well and take off the stove
  4. Set aside to cool

Shaping the dough:

  1. Sprinkle your work surface lightly with flour, divide it into 8 equal pieces and shape each one into a roll by flattening it and then pinching the ends together to form a smooth ball.
  2. Place the rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet and cover them with a towel. Let them rise for about one hour (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours for refrigerated dough) till pressing with a finger on the top leaves a dent.
  3. Ensure that you keep the other rolls covered while you work on each roll, so they don’t dry out. When the rolls are ready, pick them up one at a time and using your fingers, form a depression in the middle. Hold the roll like a steering wheel with your thumbs in the middle and your fingers around the edges. Pinch the dough between your thumb and fingers, rotating as you go and gradually making the depression wider without actually poking a hole through.
  4. Remember not to press on the edges, or they will flatten out. Once shaped, you should have a depression about 3” in diameter with 1” of puffy dough around the edge, so your Bialy should be about 4” in diameter. Prick the center of the Bialy with a fork so the center doesn’t rise when baking.
  5. Place the shaped dough on a parchment lined (or greased) baking tray leaving about 2 inches space between them. Place the onion filling in the depressions of each Bialy. Brush the outer dough circle with milk. If using the Paneer, add it to the Bialys in the last 5 minutes of baking. The second time I baked them, I layered the onion filling at the beginning and in the last 5 minutes added the crumbled Paneer to the Bialys. They will rise up in the center, so press the Paneer filling down with a spoon when you fill it in. I also realized that crumbling the Paneer, makes it easier to add as a filling.
  6. Bake the Bialys at 230C (450F) for about 15 minutes till they’re golden brown in color.
Bialys baking in the warmth and glow of the oven

Bialys baking in the warmth and glow of the oven

 

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The first batch of Bialys

Cool them on a rack. Serve warm/ toasted with some butter or garlic cheese spread (like I did :))

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The beauty of asymmetry

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2nd batch of bialys with paneer filling on a bed of onion and poppy-seed mix

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3 thoughts on “Of Unknown Cultures, Bialys and Long Weekends

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