Ari's Top 5, Good Food

Special Bake of Bialys at the Bakehouse on Tuesday April 6

A terrific traditional taste of Jewish baking

Back in the second half of the 19th century when Emma Goldman was making her way about the Lower East Side, connecting with anarchist ideas and interesting people from around the globe, bialys were part of everyday eating. Delicious and definitely not difficult to find. While much of the social construct that Emma was arguing against still remains, bialys have become something of an endangered species. What was once an unremarkable offering in nearly every Jewish bakery in New York is now nearly unknown. Food Republic wrote “Extinction. Like the Lowland gorilla, the cassette tape and Madagascar forest coconuts, the bialy is rapidly becoming extinct.”


I once heard someone describe bialys as a delicious cross between an onion bagel and an English muffin. I’ll buy that. And I’ll be buying bialys this coming Tuesday, April 6, when the Bakehouse does a special bake. Connecting with a bit of Jewish baking history, bialys are the traditional “roll” of the Polish town of Bialystok, brought to this country primarily by Polish-Jewish bakers around the turn of the last century. Back then they were very much an everyday bread, eaten at almost every meal, known in their hometown terroir as Bialystok Kuchen. As Chris Crowley wrote for Serious Eats, the bialy “was the everyday food of a marginalized people.” Food writer John Thorne said that a bialy “is a bagel that’s lost inside a Polish joke: it’s outside is crusty instead of glossy and the hole in the center doesn’t make it all the way through. But, fresh from the oven, it is a delicacy unique to itself, crisp and chew at once, the center dimple stuffed with translucent onion bits…” More directly, with a bialy, the “hole” in the center isn’t really a hole—it’s more of an indentation, a thumbprint of an impression, which is filled with lots of fresh, diced onions and plenty of poppy seeds. Since a bialy isn’t boiled before being baked, it doesn’t have as thick a crust.

We’ve been making bialys at the Bakehouse almost since we opened. One of the first things that drew us to wanting to work with our bread mentor, Michael London, back in 1992 was that we discovered that he had the bialy recipe from Kossar’s, my favorite Lower East Side bialy bakery. (For more on the story of the Bakehouse’s beginnings and Michael London see Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo’s beautiful book, Zingerman’s Bakehouse.) Opened in 1936 during the Great Depression, Kossar’s is clearly the classic spot to get bialys and you should definitely go next time you’re in Manhattan. I was really excited that we got to learn from someone who’d learned the recipe at the (American) source.

You can do a lot of the same things with a bialy as you would a bagel—eat ’em out of hand, or toasted with a little butter or cream cheese or smoked salmon. Mimi Sheraton, in her lovely little book, The Bialy Eaters, says that back in Bialystok people generally ate bialys by simply spreading butter across the top, not slicing them in half as we do with bagels. They’re even better if you warm them in the oven for a few minutes. Spread the word, and spread on the Creamery’s really good handmade cream cheese.

If you want a little added incentive, Mimi Sheraton included them in her book 1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover’s Life List. To wrap up, Frank Carollo shared the story of the first time Michael London came to teach us bread baking. Michael is an amazing baker and has lived his whole life around good bread. When he decides to eat a baked good with relish, it’s an act worthy of note. One day, mid-week on the first visit, Michael decided to teach Frank how to bake bialys. “He made those bialys,” Frank says, “and then he sent one of our people to the store to get some unsalted butter. He proceeded to eat about seven of them in a row.”

Order bialys for pick up from the Deli

See bialys at the Bakehouse