Kentucky Hills + Chicago Snow = World’s Best Sledding

The snow may not be as thick as it is in Boston, but it’s amazing what a foot of snow will do to shut down the City of Louisville. Schools, businesses and government offices are closed. It would all be so depressing if the sledding wasn’t so fantastic. As a Chicago boy I’m no stranger to snow. Heck I spent almost six years of my life in Minneapolis where I saw snow almost 30 inches thick on Halloween. And while the climate favors snow, the topography is mostly indifferent to sledders. Oh sure you can find some decent hills here and there in the Midwest. The City of Chicago once maintained some wicked toboggan runs (all now taken down due to too many cracked tailbones — killjoys!). …

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Filed under:  Pastry | 12 Comments

What sort of fat?

Here’s an interesting question. As mentioned below, lard is traditional for this type of rolled laminated dough. That’s probably because pig fat has traditionally been cheap and available in places where you find sfogliatelle and Murcian meat pies: Italy and Spain. The question is: will other types of fats work for this dough? My feeling is they will. Butter should work great even though it’s about 15% water (lard by contrast is only about 1% water). As we pastry makers know, butter works well with other types of laminated doughs, though the lower moisture Euro-style and “dry” butters are generally preferred. Why? Because more moisture means wetter dough layers, which tend to stick together instead of separate. In my research I’ve found recipes that call for a mix of lard and butter which I think is a terrific idea. That way you’d get good layer separation without too much “piggy” taste, assuming that’s a problem. It isn’t for me. …

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What are sfogliatelle?

And how the heck do you pronounce them? Let’s take the second part first. When I’ve heard Italian nationals pronounce the word, it sounds a lot like it’s spelled: sfo-lee-ah-TELL-ay. Of course over on this side of the pond Italian-Americans have their own ideas about it. Sfwee-ah-DELL-ay is how I mostly hear it pronounced back home in Chicago. Who knows which one is correct? Neither. Both. Hell they probably say it completely differently in Philadelphia.

Anyway. In practical terms, sfogliatelle are a type of laminated pastry, made with disks of tightly rolled, well-lubricated dough that are pushed out like paper yo-yo’s into pockets, then filled. Of course the disks of dough are a lot wider than the diameter of a Chinese paper yo-yo, but the mechanics are the same.

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Next Up: Sfogliatelle

I’ve been traveling on business the last couple of days, not so much because I need to keep the mortgage paid but because I’m trying to avoid doing these. They scare me. But I’ve been promising them to various readers for a while, and what is life without adventure, eh? Let’s get after ‘em!

Filed under:  Pastry | 42 Comments

Making Bialys

Bialys back in their turn-of-the-century heyday in Bialystok, Poland were very large, very flat affairs covered from one side to the other with chopped onion. After a few decades in New York bialys became both smaller and chubbier, with naught but a sprinkling of onion in the center. This is my attempt to split the difference to some degree. These sport the thicker torus shape but contain more onion because, well, I think more flavor per bite is better.

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Filed under:  Bialys, Pastry | 22 Comments

Reports of Polish Bialy’s Death Greatly Exaggerated

A fascinating comment came in late yesterday from reader Ilona in Poland. Seeing the image in the below “Bialysfail” post she suddenly had an inkling of what I’m attempting to make here: cebularze, or Polish onion buns. I performed a quick image search and sure enough, in no time I had dozens of images of the type of thing I’m shooting for.

These buns hail from eastern Poland, which by no coincidence is where the city of Bialystok is located. In my cursory research I discovered that there are competing theories in Poland as to where in the east cebularze come from. Some say the city of Lublin, which is well to the south of Bialystok, however that’s not the really interesting detail. Both sources I came across claim that cebularze were primarily produced by Jewish bakers in large eastern cities in the decades before World War II. …

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Nope. Dinner rolls with a pile of onions on top is not what I was shooting for. Part of the problem is that the slits in the bottoms weren’t big enough, but more than that the hydration is still too high. Also the dough didn’t proof long enough. These need to overproof, at least by conventional bread standards, before they bake. A longer resting of the shaped bialys before baking would also have helped the dough relax. We’ll try again tomorrow!

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What Steam Does For Bread

Reader Melody writes this about steaming loaves of bread:

Steaming honestly doesn’t seem to help that much. My baguettes still have a thick and dull crust. Am I doing something wrong? I spray more often than you do. If you can talk a bit about this that would be really helpful. I’ve been talking to our local baker but I think he’s getting a bit tired of me.

Melody, I would be delighted, for there are a lot of misconceptions about steaming bread. It’s widely thought that steam produces thin, crispy crusts on breads. That isn’t strictly true. What steam actually does is delay the formation of a thick crust by moistening the surface of the bread and keeping it supple. This allows the loaf to expand more than it otherwise would in a drier oven. The result is a higher rise and more open crumb since the crust doesn’t harden immediately and hold the expansion in. This is actually the main benefit of steam….

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Is high gluten flour strictly necessary?

Good question, reader Molly. High gluten flour will definitely give you a better overall bialy-eating experience. Like a bagel, a bialy should be dense and firm and/or chewy. The extra protein in the flour provides that texture boost. Think of the protein (gluten) molecules as little springs. During the kneading process they attach to one another creating a stretchy network throughout the dough. That network stays more or less intact even through the baking process, so when we bite down the result is “chew”. …

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Bialy Recipe

I confess the idea of using a starter for these was tempting. I found a few notes here and there on some recipe boards to the effect that a starter would be “traditional” for bialys. I’m inclined to dispute that. Bialys were invented in Bialystok, Poland around the year 1880. Which means they are by any definition a “modern”, “city” bread, made with the packaged brewer’s yeast that would have been commonly available at the time. Considering how much the Poles have always loved light, fluffy, fast-rising breads I think the odds of bialys being sponge-raised are remote. Still I’m not stickler for authenticity. Some of dough or starter would work well here. Substitute either for up to 1/3 of the dough, making sure the 50% hydration ratio is retained, and making sure you use high gluten or bread flour for either preferment.

2 cups (10 ounces) high-gluten or bread flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
5 ounces (2/3 cup minus a teaspoon) water at room temperature
1/2 recipe caramelized onions, chopped …

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Filed under:  Bialys, Pastry | 8 Comments