Step On It

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No one is sure about the birth of Bialys (pronounced be-Al-ee), a little Polish roll with an onion and poppy seed filled pocket. In her book, The Bialy Eaters, Mimi Sheraton speculates that a pretzel like bread fell on the floor and was unwittingly stepped on. Not wanting to waste precious dough, the frugal baker filled it with onions and poppy seeds and baked it. Whatever the story may be, you’ll be running to try these savory, filled breads. Just try not to step on any. The recipe follows:

Makes 12 Bialys

Dough

4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons Kosher salt

1 tablespoon sorghum or sugar

2 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast

2 cups warm water

Filling

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 large onions, sliced thin

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Instructions

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, and yeast. Stir in sorghum or sugar and water. Mix until no dry bits of flour remain. Dough will be quite loose and wet. Using a wet hand, fold dough by pulling dough up and stretching it over itself. Turn bowl a quarter-turn and repeat. Continue to turn and fold dough for 3 minutes. Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in size, about an hour, maybe a little longer if your kitchen is cold.

Meanwhile, pour oil into a large skillet and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool and stir in poppy seeds.

Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly flour parchment. Transfer dough to a floured surface and gently press into a rectangle. Divide dough in half and then in half again. Portion each quarter into 3 pieces. Form dough into rough ball by folding edges of dough into the center. Arrange 6 balls, seam side down, on each baking sheet. Lightly flour tops of dough and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Proof for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Heat oven to 475 degrees. On lightly floured surface, gently press each dough ball into a 5-inch circle (flour your hands if dough is sticky). Return to baking sheets, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and proof until dough is puffy, 15 to 20 minutes.

Grease and flour a 1-cup measuring cup. Firmly press cup into center of each dough round until cup touches sheet to make pocket for filling. Cup should not tear through bottom of dough. Grease and flour cup as needed if dough is sticking.

Divide onion-poppy seed mixture evenly between rounds (start with a heaping tablespoon per Bialys and then fill in the rest). Bake until spotty golden brown, about 20 minutes, rotating and turning baking sheets halfway through baking. Transfer Bialys to cooling rack for 10 minutes before serving.

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Aloha Rolls

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These pineapple and vanilla scented rolls have a sweet history in Hawaii. Portuguese immigrants came to the Hawaiian Islands in the 1850s, bringing with them their sweetened breads. Refined sugar was scarce and expensive, so immigrants turned to local ingredients like pineapple juice and honey to sweeten their loaves. Aloha means hello and goodbye in Hawaii, and that might be exactly what happens to these rolls. They’ll be gone as soon as you say hello to them. The recipe follows:

Makes 18 Rolls

1 Cup pineapple juice

1/2 Cup milk

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for brushing on rolls

1/3 Cup honey

5 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 Teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast (1 package)

2 1/2 Teaspoons Kosher salt

1 Large egg, lightly stirred

2 Teaspoons distilled white vinegar

2 Teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine pineapple juice, milk, melted butter, and honey in a 4-cup measuring cup.

2. In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast, and salt. Stir until combined. Add pineapple juice mixture, egg, vinegar, and vanilla to flour mixture. Stir until dough starts to come together. Finish kneading by hand until dough forms a slightly sticky ball, 3-5 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours, or until dough has doubled in size, folding every 20 minutes. Do do a fold, gently pull up one side of the dough and fold it over itself. Turn dough 90 degrees and repeat. Repeat 2 more times, turning dough. This counts as 1 fold.

3. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface. Gently shape dough into a rectangular shape, and divide into 3 equal parts. Divide each third into 6 equal pieces. On an unfloured surface with floured hands, shape each roll into a ball by placing a piece of dough between your thumb and index finger and rolling dough in a circular motion with your palm, forming a taught ball. If the dough is sticking to surface too much, lightly flour it and try again. Don’t worry if rolls don’t come out perfect, they’ll still taste good.

4. Arrange rolls on baking sheet in 3 rows of 6. Lightly flour rolls and cover with a kitchen towel. Proof for about 1 hour, or until rolls have doubled in size. Thirty minutes before rolls are done proofing, heat oven to 400 degrees and place oven rack in middle position. When rolls have finished proofing, bake for 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Remove rolls from oven and transfer to a wire cooling rack. After 5 minutes, brush rolls with softened butter and let cool for another 30 minutes.

These rolls are great for hamburgers, sausages, and if you’re feeling really native, grilled SPAM.

Roll Another One

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I’d have a say my favorite clouds are Altocumulus. They resemble little, lightly dusted dinner rolls floating on a buttery breeze. Almost as if you could reach up and pull one out of the deep blue sky. Second best to that is making the real thing, and with the holidays approaching, what better time to roll out a delightful dozen than now.

This recipe is straight out of Christopher Kimball’s, The Cook’s Bible, and it needs no improvement. However, you might want to make a double batch since these chubby cheeks go down easy. The recipe is as follows:

Makes 12 Rolls

3 cups white flour, preferably bread flour

2 Tb sugar

½ Tb salt

½ package rapid-rise yeast

2 Tb unsalted butter, softened

1 egg, whisked

½ cup warm milk

½ cup warm water

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and stir. Add the butter, milk, water, and egg. Using a rubber spatula, mix the ingredients until they come together. At this point, you can keep using the spatula or use your hand to knead the dough for about 5 minutes. The dough will remain wet and sticky, you just want to work the gluten. Leave the dough in the bowl, scraping down the sides, and cover with a towel. Leave in a warm place. Every 15 minutes, give the dough a couple of turns and let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ hours. Pull the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and loosely shape into a round. Divide the dough in two. Roll each half into a cylinder and divide into 6 equal portions, giving you 12 rolls. Now the tricky part:  shaping. On an unfloured surface with floured hands, take a piece of dough and place it between your thumb and pointer finger. Roll the dough counterclockwise (if you’re right handed), putting pressure on the dough with the ball of your thumb. The goal is a tight ball with a closed seem on the bottom. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come out perfect; it’s harder than it sounds, and it will still taste delicious no matter what it looks like. Place the rolls on a parchment lined baking sheet so that they are close but not touching. Lightly flour the rolls and cover with a kitchen towel. Proof until they have doubled in size, about 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Before loading the rolls, brush with melted butter or lightly flour. Bake the rolls for 18-20 minutes, until their tops are golden. Let the rolls cool on a rack and smile. Feel free to test a warm one just to make sure it’s up to par.