My husband loves the onion platzels - chewy round bread rolls - he buys from bakeries in London. I, having lived in New York, say that the platzel looks like a bialy but my husband says the two are very different, although he can't tell me why. I tested about a dozen onion platzel recipes, but my husband always found fault with them - they were too chewy, not chewy enough, too dry, too flat, too puffy … Finally, I tested a recipe for onion bialys that I found in The Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. His response? "You finally got it right!" He did complain that I used too much onion (he's wrong, though). So, here's the recipe I adapted from The Bread Bible. Beranbaum (and others) call them bialys, but I call them platzels - at least, in front of my husband.
Onion and poppy seed platzels (bialys)
If you prefer plain platzels/bialys, make the dough and shape it as instructed, but omit the onion and poppy seeds, and just sprinkle them with rough-flaked sea salt before baking.
300 grams bread flour, plus more for shaping the dough
½ tsp instant yeast
Fine sea salt
175ml water, about 30 degrees Celsius, or more if needed
1 onion, about 200 grams
30ml cooking oil
Poppy seeds, as needed
Rough-flaked sea salt (such as Maldon), as needed
Put 300 grams of flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the yeast and stir to combine thoroughly. Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in 175ml of water then add it to the bowl and mix on low speed until the ingredients form a rough dough that is pliable and just slightly sticky. If it seems too wet, add a little more flour; if it seems dry, drizzle in some water. Turn the mixer speed to medium and mix the dough until it clears the sides of the bowl and becomes smooth, elastic and slightly glossy (about five minutes). Very lightly coat a bowl with oil (or cooking spray), put the dough in the bowl then turn the dough over so the oiled side is on top. Cover the bowl with cling-film and leave at room temperature until the dough doubles in size.
While the dough is resting, make the topping. Finely chop the onion. Heat the cooking oil in a skillet, add the onion and a sprinkling of fine sea salt and cook over a medium flame until the onion is soft, stirring often. Increase the heat slightly and continue to cook the onion, stirring more frequently, until it starts to brown slightly. Remove the onion from the skillet and cool to room temperature.
When the dough is ready, put a baking stone on the lowest rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius. Line a baking sheet with a non-stick silicone-coated baking mat (preferably) or baking paper.
Without deflating the dough, put it on a very lightly floured work surface and cut it into six even pieces. Shape the dough into round balls then place them, smooth side up, on the baking sheet, leaving about 4cm between them so they have room to expand. Press on each ball with the palm of your hand to flatten it slightly. Lightly dust each ball with flour then lay a sheet of cling-film over them. Leave at room temperature until the balls have almost doubled in size (about an hour). Remove the cling-film. Using the tips of your first two fingers of both hands held tightly together, press on the centre of each ball to make a crater in each one. Press firmly, all the way down to the baking sheet. The crater should be about 3.5cm in diameter, with an even ring of dough around it. Spread a thin layer of onions in the crater. Use a clean spray bottle to spray a fine mist of water over the platzels/bialys then scatter poppy seeds and a very light sprinkling of rough-flaked salt on top (the water helps the poppy seeds and salt to stick to the dough).
Put the tray of platzels/bialys on the baking stone in the oven. Spray a heavy mist of water into the oven then close the oven door and bake for five minutes. Working quickly, remove the tray from the oven. Use a wide spatula to remove each platzel/bialy from the tray and place it directly on the baking stone (this browns the bottoms better). Continue to bake until they're fragrant, firm and lightly browned (about five more minutes), then place them on a cooling rack. Eat them the same day, as they become stale quickly. Stale ones taste best when split horizontally, then placed, cut side-up, under the oven grill until lightly toasted, then spread with butter or cream cheese. The leftover cooked onion can be refrigerated for about 10 days and used for future batches of platzels/bialys.
Styling Nellie Ming Lee
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