If you do a Google search for places that sell bialys in St. Louis, you will get three results.
Two of them don't sell bialys, and you have to order them a day in advance from the third.
Bialys are the lesser-known cousin of the bagel. They may not be talked about or popular, or even get invited to the prom, but they are positively delicious.
And if we may be blunt, their relative obscurity means they have not yet been bastardized. Bialys still have a unique taste and texture, unlike bagels, which used to be chewy and hearty and are now nothing more than big bread doughnuts.
Bialys are baked, not boiled like bagels, or at least like bagels used to be. That gives them a lighter texture and a taste that is finer and less complex — which allows them to absorb the flavor of the small amount of onions that makes up the filling.
Bialys can have a filling because they do not have a hole. Instead of a hole, they have a thin layer of crispy dough on which is placed just a teaspoon or so of minced onion. For additional subtle flavor, the bialys are also sprinkled with poppy seeds.
How can something so simple taste so good?
Actually, it is because they are not as simple as they seem. Making your own bialys takes some effort and some time. Not too much of either, but about as much as other baked goods.
And bialys are not just baked goods. They are baked very goods.
All you need to know is that the dough and the filling should be made the day before you are going to bake them, and the dough can me made up to three days before. Allowing the dough to rise slowly overnight in the refrigerator helps it to develop a more intriguing flavor, while resting the filling draws out some of the moisture from the onions and tempers their bite.
The dough is quite simple. It is made from a mixture of bread and all-purpose flours, plus water, yeast, salt and a pinch of sugar to encourage the yeast to make the dough rise.
The filling is even simpler. It is just minced onion that you squeeze to remove most of the moisture, mixed with a small amount of bread crumbs.
Bialys — named for the city of their origin, Bialystok, Poland — can be eaten plain, with great enjoyment. Some people like to split them in half and spread them with butter, which is also lovely.
But I like them best split open with a thin spread of cream cheese and a nice slice of smoked salmon.
It's like those cool kids, bagels, but better.