Bialys, and a cow-herding robot called Shrimp

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I have something that I want to tell you about: a robot herding cows.

I knew some engineering students at uni, and one of them has been telling me about our university’s robotics research. Basically they are making robots that – one day – will be able to do all kinds of clever things by remote control or (gasp!) autonomously.

One of their experiments is cow herding with a robot called Shrimp. And it was picked up on Canadian TV, the BBC and lots of other media sites! I think Shrimp is kinda adorable, in the Wall-E style, and it looks like the cows just accepted that there’s a robot ushering them around – !!

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Bialys, the stories

I digress from bialys. This bread seems about as far removed from cow herding robots as you can get. The stories about bialys are a little sad yet appealing to the romantic imagination. They look into the past, not into a robotics future.

Bialys, or bialystoker kuchen, comes from the city of Bialystok, Poland; it was part of Czarist Russia at one stage. Bialys look similar to the bagel, except it has an indent and not a hole, the indent is traditionally filled with an onion and poppyseed mixture, and it is baked without being boiled first.

Bialys seems to have been eaten at all meals by the Jewish people in Bialystok, but now is much less commonly found. Some stories from people who have migrated to the US are here. Mimi Sheraton also wrote a book, The Bialy Eaters, The Story of a Bread and a Lost World.

(Mimi Sheraton’s book title made me think of the Lotus Eaters from Ulysses, except eating bialys in other parts of the world probably reminded people of home and Bialystok, not forgetful of it.)

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Baking bialys

Bialys was this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie assignment. Could I do it justice?

I don’t know if what I made is like a real bialy, but it was really, really tasty. They had the soft crust and chewy texture that are said to be characteristic of bialys – like bagels, but perhaps a bit less dense. The onion filling really lifted the roll out of the ordinary, even if I did not have poppy seeds and subbed nigella seeds instead.

The only cautionary note is the onion filling didn’t stick to the bread, and so I nearly got a shower of onion bits on the dining table!

Recipe for bialys emphasise that it should be made with high gluten flour (14-15% gluten), or at least bread flour (12-13% gluten), to get that characteristic soft crust and chewy texture. (from this page)

The tricky part of making bialys seems to be making a large enough indent in the middle of a risen ball of dough, without squashing the air bubbles that had formed as the dough was rising. I just sort of went with the flow, and tried to imagine I was making a pizza with a super-thick crust. I also picked up on tips to make a bigger indent than you think you’ll need, because the dough will rise again in the oven, so the indent in the bialys will become quite a bit smaller.

I also made these changes from the recipe: I did not add onions into the dough, as most other recipes I found used a plain dough. And I had some egg wash left over from Chinese New Year baking, so the bialys got a very light brushing of egg wash.

Bialys should be eaten on the day they are made. I froze mine and had them for lunch – bliss, except for the shower of caramelised onion on a suit!

Sending this to Yeastspotting.

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Onion bialys

(recipe from Baking with Julia.  I also found it reproduced on bakespace.com, so here it is as published on the site with some edits like adding metric measurements)

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups warm water (not more than 115F / 46C)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
2 tablespoons shortening (only if you add onion to the dough)
1/3 cup sweet onion, finely chopped (I did not use onion in the dough)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 cups (approx 400 grams) bread flour
2 tablespoons canola oil (I used peanut oil)
1 cup sweet onion, finely chopped (I used white onions)
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups (approx 400 grams) bread flour

Method

1. For the sponge: In a large glass bowl, whisk together the water, sugar and yeast and allow to stand about 5 minutes or until foamy. If using onions in dough: In a small saute pan over low heat, sweat 1/3 cup onion in shortening until it’s soft and translucent.

2. With a wooden spoon, stir the flour and onion mixture into the yeast mixture. Stir for about 3 minutes then cover tightly with cling film and let stand about 90 minutes or until doubled and bubbly.

3. For onion topping: Sweat remaining onion in canola oil with poppy seeds over low heat until translucent, set aside to cool.

4. For the bialys: Preheat the oven to 500 F. Place an oven proof pan or baking tray in the bottom of the oven and your baking stone or heavy baking tray in the center.

5. When the sponge is ready, add salt and 2 cups (approx 260 grams) bread flour and begin to knead the soft dough right in the bowl. Add as much flour as is needed to obtain a workable dough and knead until it’s soft and pliable, about ten minutes total.

6. Cover the bowl tightly with cling film and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 90 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 portions and shape each into a round about half an inch thick. Create a depression in the center and prick well with a fork.

7. Divide the onion mixture evenly between the breads and prick the centers again before baking.
Put ice cubes or cold water into the skillet or baking tray to create steam. Transfer the breads onto your baking stone or baking tray with a bit of cornmeal to prevent sticking. (I used a cookie sheet to help transfer the bialys onto a baking stone)

8. Bake ten minutes at 500 F, reduce temperature to 450 and bake a further 5 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack

Other bialys recipes:

Bialys, from  Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible, apparently recipe is from Kossars in NY. This recipe has a different flour:water ratio. Reproduced on blogs including Smitten Kitchen.

Zusman’s recipe from the Artisan Jewish Deli, from npr.org.

Bialys stories and recipe from What’s Cooking America.

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49 thoughts on “Bialys, and a cow-herding robot called Shrimp

  1. {Main St. Cuisine} 12 February 2014 at 3:30 am Reply

    As I’m reading your post, I’m thinking…I wish I could smell these beautiful bialys through my computer screen. You don’t see much about these beautiful breads, but I recall buying them regularly for a regular Saturday breakfast when I lived in NY. I think you did a wonderful job!

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 1:40 am Reply

      Thank you! I wish I could have tasted bialys from a bakery before making these, as people have such good memories about them. Ah well, something to do if we have that US trip we are always taking about!

  2. FromageHomage 12 February 2014 at 3:32 am Reply

    Lots of dairies use robot milking machines now – and in France there are cheese-turning robots!

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 1:42 am Reply

      Really? There goes my image of French farmers and cheese makers and their bucolic cheese farms! (Just kidding) :-D

  3. lapetitecasserole 12 February 2014 at 3:37 am Reply

    Hy Saucy! these bialys are amazing… I’ve just bumped in a similar recipe from Syria ( meat stuffing) and I’m going to prepare and post the recipe next week. May I link my post to yours?

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 1:43 am Reply

      Yes, of course! I’d love to be linked to your blog. Can’t wait to see your recipe! :-D

  4. Liz 12 February 2014 at 3:53 am Reply

    cool! Leave it to you to explore these uncharted waters for me ;-) Took home a bag of these from a fun Jewish deli years ago, but had no idea what they were. Best I could figure there were sort of like a bagel (how the shop person described them to me). Great info here and yours look delish. That filling especially!

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 1:45 am Reply

      I think I need to find a good Jewish deli in Sydney! Everyone has mentioned such good memories of eating bags of bialys. And the way I went through my batch, I probably could eat them by bagful!

  5. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella 12 February 2014 at 5:48 am Reply

    These look so delicious! I had such success with your bird seed bread (which I’m putting up tomorrow) that I should really give this a go too! :)

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 1:46 am Reply

      Yay, thanks! Your post looks fabulous, with the added bonus of photos of Kevin the cat! :-D

  6. Karen 12 February 2014 at 7:21 am Reply

    The title had me chuckling and the recipe made me smile.

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 1:47 am Reply

      Shrimp is a great name for a robot isn’t it? I couldn’t resist mention it! :-D

  7. tinywhitecottage 12 February 2014 at 7:45 am Reply

    Oh my goodness these looks gorgeous! Caramelized onions on bialys sound incredible. Nice post!

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 1:48 am Reply

      Thank you! The bialys were pretty good, can’t believe I’ve never heard of them before!!

  8. Gather and Graze 12 February 2014 at 12:52 pm Reply

    Such wonderful looking bread! I know you mention that traditionally the indent is filled with onion, but have you seen many variations of fillings through your research? Sounds like such a versatile recipe to play around with. They look so beautifully light and delicious.

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 1:51 am Reply

      I haven’t seen variations in filings, but you are right, I imagine the bread would go well with pizza type toppings or middle eastern flavours, or curry!
      I would like to try the recipe that came from Kossars NY too, by all accounts they are *the* shop for bialys…

  9. laurasmess 12 February 2014 at 1:30 pm Reply

    Oh my, these look incredible!!! I’m already a huge bagel lover but the addition of that onion and poppyseed centre has me drooling. I’m definitely bookmarking this for some weekend baking. Thanks for introducing us to a new kind of bread deliciousness! xx

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 1:57 am Reply

      Laura, these were good, and I will try the Kossars bialys recipe next as it had a different flour/water ratio. Margot from Gather and Graze also had the brilliant idea of changing the fillings – not authentic, but I see possibilities! :-D

  10. Butter, Basil and Breadcrumbs 12 February 2014 at 10:41 pm Reply

    Love this!! We love bialys, I actually have three of them in the fridge right now.. Pizza bialys. Wonderful post!! The bialys look fabulous… Your photos are gorgeous.. xx

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 2:03 am Reply

      Thank you! Pizza bialys sound pretty wonderful. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of bialys before this, and I’m still not sure where to find bialys in Sydney. Must ask around and remedy this situation!

  11. Sunita 13 February 2014 at 3:53 am Reply

    Your Bialys and the crust look perfect!!

  12. melimelocooks 13 February 2014 at 4:19 am Reply

    Wonderful!!
    They look perfect!!!
    I love your pictures! Well done!!

  13. Tammy 13 February 2014 at 4:59 am Reply

    “No outfit is complete without a few onions on your suit.” Or is that cat hair? I know there’s a saying about this somewhere! Great job.

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 2:05 am Reply

      Hahaha! Good point! I’ll put that up on my desk and see what my manager says, hehe. Thanks for visiting!

  14. simplyvegetarian777 13 February 2014 at 6:57 am Reply

    These look gorgeous Saucy :)). Onion stuffing is my favorite.

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 2:06 am Reply

      Thank you! Caramelised onion is wonderful isn’t it?

  15. steph (whisk/spoon) 13 February 2014 at 8:24 am Reply

    those look perfect, and the centers are stuffed with onions! I was a little stingier with mine. :) the robot video was hilarious!

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 2:08 am Reply

      Wasn’t the video good? I wish I could see “Shrimp” in action. And yes, can you tell I’m a fan (or should that be fiend) of caramelised onions? :-D

  16. Lisa 13 February 2014 at 8:49 am Reply

    These look fantastic! I was recently in New York and made sure to stock up on Bialys – they’re so incredible, aren’t they? It’s like an everything bagel kicked up a notch. Love the idea of doing an onion one.

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 2:11 am Reply

      They were petty tasty, addictive even. But can you believe it, I’ve never had a bialy from a bakery, really need to remedy this situation. Maybe time for a New York trip! ;-)

  17. SandraM 13 February 2014 at 11:53 am Reply

    Gorgeous bialys!! Now I wish I still had some left.

  18. Jody and Ken 13 February 2014 at 3:04 pm Reply

    Good for you. I didn’t realize they weren’t boiled before baking. One summer my son lived in a cramped rental apartment on Orchard Street in the East Village (NYC) with his girlfriend. One of the consolations of the neighborhood (and there were many) were a couple of traditional Jewish bakeries that sold bialys. First you went to the bakers for a bag of bialys, then you went in search of good cup of coffee to drink with them. Hard times. Ken

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 2:17 am Reply

      Hard times indeed! That sounds like us traveling through southern Germany, except it was pretzels or whatever dark bread. You know, something light after all those pork knuckles… All these stories about bialys and New York, I think we need to make that trip to the US soon.

  19. sunshine x 2 13 February 2014 at 4:38 pm Reply

    Thanks for a bit of history on these delicious bread treats. I don’t think robots will ever be able to make these…..

    • saucygander 14 February 2014 at 2:18 am Reply

      Haha! No indeed, but it might be funny to see them try! :-D

  20. The Novice Gardener 14 February 2014 at 3:33 am Reply

    1. Where can I get one of these robots? Can you pre-order?
    2. Where can I get one of these bialys? Can you pre-order?

    I don’t know which one I want more, robot or bialys. You’ve given me a serious dilemma. But I think the bialys is more drool-worthy. Okay, bialys. I’d like half a dozen! Must. Try. Top. List. :-)

    • saucygander 20 February 2014 at 12:50 am Reply

      Angie, one of those cow herding robots coming your way carrying (or maybe herding) bialys! That should be another Fiesta Friday / April Fools entry.

  21. Mary Frances 14 February 2014 at 12:19 pm Reply

    I wish I could find a use for a herding robot in New York… Maybe use it to herd pigeons? Your bialys look amazing!

  22. Michelle 14 February 2014 at 1:47 pm Reply

    Oooh, I love bialys. And a big yes to robots!

  23. Cathleen 21 February 2014 at 12:13 pm Reply

    Your bialys look great! I wish I had thought to give them an egg wash. Good idea!

  24. Lu 23 February 2014 at 4:39 am Reply

    They look so amazing … I think these would be perfect with arabic tea with mint … Might try them out this weekend

    • saucygander 27 February 2014 at 11:11 pm Reply

      Ooh Arabic tea sounds amazing by itself! And would be just right for these little treats! :-)

  25. […] a similar version of these buns look at Saucy’s […]

  26. Karen @ Karen's Kitchen Stories 17 March 2014 at 8:09 am Reply

    They look sooo good! I intended to try these but time got away from me. I love anything with onion.

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