I used three sources for this recipe, all of which have great background info about the history of bialys and are worth a read.
I was first introduced to bialys at the Macrina Bakery that was underneath my first apartment in Seattle. They did (and probably still do) a killer breakfast sandwich on one, which is most definitely not at all vegan.
The bialy originates from the Polish city of Bialistok, and migrated to NYC with Polish immigrants sometime in the early 1900’s. A bialy is often referred to as a kind of bagel, except it’s not boiled before it’s baked, and there is no hole in the center, so the comparisons probably have more to do with the fact that if you can find them, they’re probably going to be in a bagel shop.
Bialys have a depression in the center which is meant to lead to a thin, crusty middle, which is filled with caramelised onions and poppy seeds. The ‘proper’ way to eat a bialy is not to slice it open (like a bagel) but to fill the center with butter or cream cheese and eat it like a savory, bread danish.
As you will see, what I made in no way conforms to traditional bialy beauty standards, and probably doesn’t count as one at all.
Whereas your historically accurate (read: made by someone with baking skills and talent) bialy has a pronounced innie, my ‘bialys’ had something closer to an outie. These domed little pillows of bread were objectively tasty, but if you put them in a police line up for some kind of strange bakery-related crime, it’s not going to fit the witness’ description.
I have limited experience baking – and even less experience shaping bread – generally relying on an old faithful ‘no knead’ recipe which is kind of gloopy and impossible to manhandle into the shape of a loaf, but also impossible to mess up? So while the texture of these ‘bialys’ was great – soft, good spring, yet satisfyingly resistant when you bite into them – their little spiky haired domes were not what I set out to make.
And then I broke the cardinal rule and sliced one in half to make the most structurally unsound sandwich possible. There was so much height and so many slippery ingredients (avocado, tomato, pickles, Chao cheese, sprouts, tofurky slices, mayo!) that they all made a quick exit through the back of the buns when I tried to bite into it. I was going to say ‘You live, you learn’ but I knew this was going to happen, and I did it anyway.
Bialys can be hard to come by (apparently you can’t even buy them in Bialistok anymore!) so if you see them in the wild, I suggest you grab one because if these monstrosities I made are this delicious, the real thing has to be transcendent.