It is 6 months since the Coronavirus has stopped us from doing much of anything. Without being able to travel anywhere or even go out to any restaurants, this compelled me to do a lot of home cooking. I have always enjoyed cooking although I have never had any formal training. I tend to look for recipes for a dish and then end up extracting bits I like and then creating my own. Most of the time, this works out well with the occasional miss. I have become quite proficient at making soups and different types of casserole dishes and have been feeding the family very well with these types of foods.

The one thing I have never been that great at has been baking and so I have started delving into that now. I love making banana bread, carrot muffins, ginger cookies and brownies. Since the pandemic started, it has been difficult to find flour and other baking necessities in the store. Because of that, one time when my husband went shopping, he came home with all the flour he could find that included all-purpose, cake, almond, whole wheat and even bread flour. I had only ever used all-purpose so experimented making things with all the others except the bread flour. I was a bit unsure of what I would do with that as I do not have a bread machine and never made any kind of bread before. Then, one day, my friend posted that she made English muffins and they were the best she ever had. I decided I would have to try it too and had her send me the recipe. I had fun making those and they came out quite good for my first time trying. It was surprising to find out that they are not baked at all but grilled on a stove top.

Having a whole lot of bread flour left, I had to figure out what to make next. Being from New York City, I have a real love for bagels and bialys. I figured I made the English muffins, let me try those next. I researched for a recipe that would give me the closest thing to a real NYC bagel. I went through the process of making the dough, letting it rise, shaping, boiling, adding toppings and baking. The smell as they were baking was divine and other than a few weird looking bottoms, they came out quite authentic with crispy outside and chewy inside.

I started to feel quite confident about baking bread now and was ready to attempt the bialys. In case you do not know what a bialy is, it is flatter than a bagel round roll with a depression in the middle filled with onion or poppyseeds or both and are so delicious and crunchy.  They were brought in from Poland (a region called Bialystok) in the early 1900’s and mainly sold in the street carts. Today, they are hard to find anywhere outside of New York City. Many years ago, I was temporarily living on the Lower East Side of New York about 3 blocks from one of the most famous bialy makers called Kossars that has been making bagels and bialys since 1936.  The smell as I would pass by was irresistible and I found myself stopping by every morning to pick up a fresh and hot bialy that I would eat it on my walk to work.

I again started my search on the internet for the best and closest to NYC bialy that I could find. The first thing I had to do was make a “sponge,” which is a pre-fermented dough mixture that will then be added to the bigger dough mixture. Basically, it creates a lighter and fluffier dough texture. I did not realize how much that would rise and found it oozing over the sides of the bowl when I went to check on it a few hours later. Fortunately, I was able to punch it down and salvage it from being unusable and wasted. The next step was to add this to the main dough recipe of flour, yeast, water and salt. The mixture becomes quite gooey and sticky but that is the way it is supposed to be. After many hours of fermenting and the dough rising, the smell was already mouthwatering with its distinct sour, bready aroma. The dough was then divided into small balls that sit for another hour or two to rise. After that, I formed them into their traditional shape, a round disc with a very thin center indentation. I filled the indentation with chopped onions (mixed with little breadcrumbs).

Then they were baked for about 10 minutes in a 475-degree oven. After that time, mine looked good but needed a bit of browning so I put them under the broiler for 5 minutes. The result was perfect. I was so excited about how they looked and smelled that it was hard to wait for them to cool off enough to try one. When I did, I was elated. They tasted exactly like the bialys I grew up in New York City. I shared these with some friends and family members, and they all adored them. I since have attempted to make them the same again but did not have a good outcome the second time around. Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but I will persist and try again.

In the meantime, if you have any great bread suggestions for me, I would love to hear from you. I have a feeling that the virus is going to keep me home cooking and baking for some time.

Cheers, Zita

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