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Melissa Funk Weller Thinks the Bialy Deserves More Love

Why have bagels become so popular while its cousin is overlooked?
Photo courtesy of Gertie NYC

While good bagels and a drippy cinnamon bun would still have legs if they weren’t made by star-powered baker Melissa Funk Weller at Brooklyn’s Gertie, here’s a baked item she’s making that needs our love: the bialy. 

The bialy is the perennial runner-up in any bagel shop: it’s the bread that looks kinda like a bagel, but it’s not boiled. And instead of a hole, there’s an indentation, usually filled with onions or more novel fillings at some nouveau bakeries. Even so, it is very likely the bialy is not your thing. Weller believes she can change your mind with hers.

And she might. It seems like Weller is everywhere. Maybe you knew her from one of her NYC stints at Sadelle's or High Street on Hudson. Or you picked up her cookbook, A Good Bake, because you want to make chewy brownies. Or perhaps she’s a go-to in your pandemic snacking life, with those big, squishy bagels, or the schenken, a German spin on the cinnamon roll that's made for Instagram.  But while you’re thinking about those items, she’s looping back to the bialy.

“It was good when I was making it at High Street,” where she was before Gertie (357 Grand St., Williamsburg), she said, with folks like Ed Levine, founder of Serious Eats, among fans. But then something happened between High Street and Gertie. With Gertie’s smaller oven, she said, bialys sat in line for the oven, and as a result, were allowed to proof longer. And as it turns out, that’s key. 

“It’s a better texture,” she said. They’re chewy, “like a bagel,” and the onions are “just sweet enough.”

As it recedes from the lexicon of baked goods, the bialy is a bit of a mystery, which also intrigues Weller. She cites Mimi Sheraton, a particularly inspired bialy fan who wrote The Bialy Eaters in 2000, a tale of what started as a Sheraton’s journey to the birthplace of the bialy, Bialystok, Poland. Sheraton’s enthusiasm turned into a seven-year adventure that included visits to Israel, Paris, Austin, Chicago, Buenos Aires, and New York's Lower East Side.

Should you want to try them at Gertie, bialys are $15 for a half-dozen, or $12 for the “Best Bialy,” served with hot smoked pastrami salmon, dill caper cream cheese, and pickled onions. 

“Even now,” wrote Sheraton, “I am not sure my quest is over, nor that I want it to be.” With her bialy just getting traction, Weller’s journey has just begun. 

 

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