I have always been Team Bialy. Not to say I won’t eat a bagel, but if there is a choice between a morning bagel or a morning bialy, I am choosing that round carb filled with onions and poppy seeds.
Bialys, like bagels, come from Poland. Bialy is actually short for Bialystoker Kuchen (German) or Byalestoker kukhn (Yiddish), both meaning “bread from Bialystok, Poland.” But the two have some key differences. For starters, bagels are boiled and then baked, whereas bialys are just baked. Bialys have a much softer texture than bagels, and instead of a hole in the middle, they are filled with their signature onions and poppy seeds.
“At the beginning of the 20th century, bialys were a staple of the city and region,” writes Caleb Guedes-Reed for The Nosher. “They were most often served with butter or soft cheese but were also served with herring and, occasionally, with halvah. For the wealthy, kuchen was a part of the meal, while, for the poor, it was the meal.”
Jewish immigrants in New York began baking bialys sometime around 1920. Kossar’s, a bakery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, has been producing bialys for 85 years and is one of the institutions most closely associated with bialys today. But the inspiration for these bialy bourekas came not from the Lower East Side, but from Tel Aviv. My colleague Rachel Myerson spotted onion-and-poppy-seed bourekas earlier this year at Hama’afia bakery, a small chain in Tel Aviv. I love when culinary traditions collide, resulting in something that is both new and old, fresh yet nostalgic.
These pockets aren’t complicated to make, since they use store-bought puff pastry. While chopping five onions does take some time and patience, the filling can be prepared ahead of time. I like to chop onions while listening to a good podcast or binge-watching my favorite show.
- You can shape these bourekas any way you like, though I did try to recreate the bakery version. This recipe makes six large bourekas, but you can fold the pastry into smaller triangles if you want smaller portions.
- You can make the filling (see Direction 1) a few hours, or even 1-2 days, ahead of time.
- Frozen puff pastry should be thawed in the fridge for a couple of hours before using.
- Tools that would be helpful to make this dish include:
- a vegetable chopper (for chopping all those onions!)
- a silicone rolling mat to use as a work surface
- a rolling pin for rolling out the puff pastry
- a pastry brush for the egg wash
- and a pizza cutter for cutting the dough.
For the filling:
- 5 medium onions, finely diced
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp butter (or olive oil)
- 1½ tsp fine sea salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp poppy seeds
- 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed in the fridge for a few hours
- 1 egg, beaten
- extra flour for dusting
- Start by making the filling (this step can be done a few hours or 1-2 days ahead of time): Heat the olive oil and butter (if using) in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the salt, pepper and sugar and sauté for a further 5-10 minutes, continuing to stir. Add the poppy seeds and cook for 3 more minutes. Set mix aside and allow to cool completely.
- To assemble: Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- On a work surface, such a large cutting board or silicone rolling mat, lay out 1 sheet of puff pastry. Using a rolling pin, gently roll out puff pastry to make it a little longer and wider. Dust work surface as needed if the dough is soft or sticky.
- Fold dough in half lengthways, and then cut into three even rectangles. Unfold each rectangle.
- Place ¾-1 cup filling on one side of each rectangle. On the other side of each rectangle, cut two long slits using a sharp knife or pizza cutter.
- Fold the side of dough with the slits on top of the other side of dough with the filling, so the onions and poppy seeds are peaking out through the slits. Crimp the edges using a fork all the way around. If you are worried the dough isn’t sticking to itself, use a little water to seal the edges. Repeat with the remaining two rectangles, and then repeat with the other sheet of puff pastry. You should have six bourekas.
- Place three bourekas onto each prepped baking sheet. Brush the top of each boureka with egg wash.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until golden all over.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.