Sharing Food and Memories with Friends and Family

June 18, 2010
Irene Saiger



This is the first Father’s Day since my father, Harry Graf, passed away.  It feels strange despite the fact that in recent years he was not well enough to really enjoy the celebrations.  He never knew his father and I often wondered what it must have been like for him to grow up without one.  I never asked.  What was most remarkable about my father was his resilience.  He survived his service in the Polish army and he survived the Holocaust. After the war, he and my mother moved to France where they faced a new language and culture.  Five years later, with my sister in tow, they moved to the United States and settled in New York where I was born.  My father had to learn yet another language and adapt to a new country once again.  Determined to have a better life, he studied English and eventually become a stock broker.  Anyone who ever met my father knows that he would shake your hand and then would tell you to “squeeze.”  That word had so much meaning for him.  It stood for strength, determination and a belief that one must live life to the fullest, to squeeze out every drop that you can.  On July 2, 2010 we will have his unveiling and  “squeeze” will be inscribed on his gravestone. May he rest in peace.

One thing that my husband and father had  in common was that they both had Sunday rituals that revolved around the family. When I was growing up my father always made steak and fries on Sundays.  It was his day to cook and it was a treat.  Norm, my husband, has always made Sunday breakfast for our family.  When the children were young, he prepared eggs, hash browns, french toast or pancakes. Now that our children are grown and out of the house, Norm has developed a new Sunday ritual.  He bakes.  He has taken a class with famed artisanal baker Peter Reinhardt and is very serious about his new hobby.  We no longer have big hearty breakfasts but we have bialys, bagels, challahs, artisanal breads, and hazelnut flutes. Both of these men nurtured their families by cooking for them. What a wonderful legacy.

So Happy Father’s Day to all of you and especially to the men who take the time to cook for their family and friends.

Adapted from Peter Reinhardt’s Lean Dough Recipe.


2  1/4 cups warm water
2 tsp instant  yeast
3 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
5 1/3 cups bread flour
Flour for dusting
Oil for greasing bowl

1 whole onion, minced
2 teaspoons poppy seeds (optional)
1 Tbsp bread crumbs
1 pinch salt

Place minced onion in a bowl and leave on counter for about 30 minutes.  Combine with remaining topping ingredients and set aside.

Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl.  Add warm water and mix thoroughly until dough is formed and comes away from the sides of the bowl.  Allow to rest for five minutes.  Place dough on a floured surface and knead gently for about four minutes. Dough will be sticky.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large oiled bowl and turn to coat.  Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to four days.

Take dough out of refrigerator and divide into 16 equal portions, and roll into balls. Gently flatten each ball  into a 3  1/2 inch circle, spacing evenly on a cookie sheet with oiled parchment paper.  Cover with tea towels and allow to rise until puffy, about one hour.

With wet hands, make an indentation in the center of each bialy, leaving a 1″  edge. Then flatten center of bialy with a moistened shot glass by pressing in a circular motion.  Place about 1 tsp of the topping into the hole and press down slightly.

Cover with cloths and allow to rise for another half hour.  Preheat oven to 450°F and bake bialys for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating cookie sheets after 10 minutes.  Bialys are golden on top and crusty on bottom when finished.

Makes 16 Bialys.

Norm’s inspiration to try Bialys came from Mimi Sheraton’s book “The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World”



17 thoughts on “Bialys

  1. Hi Irene, I LOVE that your blog is about family memories and food. The two are very closely woven in my family as well. My memories of bialys are that my father would buy them for sunday breakfasts, which was often the only meal we ate with him. At first I did not like them, the onions were to strong for me. But I developed an appetite for them as i became a teenager. I always associate them with these sunday morning breakfasts with my dad. As you know, I called him and he said that he bought them from the now closed bialy bakery on Pico in the ‘hood.

    Norm, your baking is amazing!!!! YOU GO!!!!!!!!

    • Thanks Barbie!! I would love you to share a story about your Dad and his restaurant and a recipe!! You have hidden treasure waiting to be discovered, you just haven’t explored it yet!


  2. the stories are so beautiful, and i can smell the bialys from santa monica, love rachel

  3. What a great post Irene. Always love your stories and I can’t wait to try these bialys. Growing up on the east coast, we always ate bialys but have never been able to find anything that even comes close on this coast. And your husband bakes – aren’t you the lucky one! I must admit, though, that mine is pretty darn handy in the kitchen, just not on a regular basis 🙂

    • That’s so nice. Thank you! Norm bakes the bialys or the challah almost every week now. I do agree with you about the bialys on both coasts! Someone just told me that there is a really good place to buy them in L.A. so when I try it out, I will let you know. IF they are as amazing as I have been told, I will ship you a few.

      Thanks again,

      • Buy bialys? No way! Maybe just a reconnaisance to check if I can “tweak” the recipe a bit.
        You might also mention that the inspiration to bake bialys came from our close friend Perry, who’s family comes from Bialystock, Poland (and yes, that’s how bialys got their name!) He was showing us the Yizkor (Memorial) Book of the town and the fact that a book was written about the famous bread roles that came from Bialystock. I read Mimi Sheraton’s book – more than anything else it was an inspiration to experiment! She found that no two bialy bakers anywhere in the world are actually making the same bialy! What was important was that bakers are baking what someone likes!! I enjoyed learning that lesson – and it makes the hobby so much fun!
        Love, Norm

  4. Hi, Irene.

    Memories are strange things. They bring sadness and tears but also smiles and happiness. This story about daddy did all that. He was definitely unique and very strong willed as well as physically strong.

    I think you agree that he always cared about what he ate. He ate food that he believed helped him to be healthier and stronger. If he read anything in the newspaper about acertain food that was purported to be healthy, he immediately made it a part of his diet even though some of the combinations he adopted were a little strange to others. He ate peanut butter with garlic and thought that it was the bee’s knees. Maybe it was and we were just a little leery of trying this concoction. Daddy loved it. He also had peanut butter and cornichon sandwiches. He was very innovative with peanut butter.

    We are looking forward to seeing you and Norman in a few weeks and finally getting to try Norman’s baking especially his bialys.

    Love to you and Norman,

  5. Dear Irene, What a lovely post! My dad’s (when he was home on leave) thing was making waffles! What a treat! What a production! Batter had to “sit” a certain amount of time, the heat of the griddle, etc, etc! And because Dad had made them…..well, they just couldn’t taste better! Happy Father’s Day to Norm, and to wherever my Dad is…I love you so much and still have conversations with you in my dreams, Dad!
    Love, Wanda

  6. Now, THIS, is real food. Yummy. And great father’s day blog, Irene!

  7. You made me cry again… I miss your dad!
    I read some of your posts to my dad and he remarked on what a good writer you are!
    Shabbat Shalom…

  8. Another great post, Irene! Thanks for including me and for the good wishes. And of course it wouldn’t be Father’s Day for me without you!! Lots of love and Happy Anniversary!

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