Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Baking Pretzels

My daughter, S., is wildly in love with soft pretzels. One of her favorite treats is to get one when she happens to accompany me on a shopping trip to Sam's Club. She loves the buttery goo and salt and considers it an entree, in fact, if it is anywhere near meal time. I see the appeal of the soft consistency, but I find them rather sweet and non-descript otherwise. I have always thought that our pizza dough would make a fine soft pretzel, but never really made the time to explore it further. Then recently I was reading Desserts by the Yard by Spago pastry chef, Sherry Yard, and it included a soft pretzel recipe! It was good timing because I had some pizza dough on hand. I had a lot of fun with this. I didn't follow any instructions except for the part on boiling the risen pretzels. I just cut the dough I had into strips and rolled them into ropes as big as they would go, which wasn't very big (so I ended up with fat, pudgy pretzels). Then I shaped them into pretzels and let them rise, covered, on a parchment lined baking sheet. Then I prepared the boiling liquid according to Sherry's recipe, except I didn't have any beer in the house, save for a non-alcoholic beer left over from my dad's last visit (he has a brain injury and can't have alcohol any more...this for a guy who used to brew his own quite well). So I got the brew going and once the pretzels were risen, I boiled the pretzels then baked them. It was a little magical, to be honest. The pretzels turned a mahogany color in the oven, and the exterior had a nice crust to it while the interior was moist and ciabatta -like in texture with a great chew. They were oh, so good and had a wonderful rustic sensibility to them, unmatched by the box store's uniform blandness. They are easy to make and fun to share. They don't hold over well though. I placed the extras in a zipped baggie and the next morning they had lost their crust and the salt had dissolved into the pretzel. The texture was completely awful. I suspect you could wrap in foil, freeze, thaw, then re-fresh in a hot oven with decent results, but just in case, make them fresh and eat 'em up!
The How To's
liquid recipe adapted from Desserts by the Yard
Pizza dough (Whole Foods sells a good one, very inexpensive)
Liquid for boiling:
8 c. water
1/4 c. beer
1/4 c. baking soda
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
canola oil
1. Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into even strips. Roll strips on clean work surface into ropes as long as they will go, about the diameter of a Sharpie. Shape into a pretzel by making a U shape, twisting the legs together then bring the ends down over the bottom of the U.
2. Place pretzel dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet, sprayed with Pam spray. With fingers, widen the holes of the pretzel and re-shape gently. Repeat with remaining dough.
3. Cover pretzels with plastic wrap sprayed with Pam, Pam side down, and let rise at room temp until almost doubled, about 30-45 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
5. When pretzels have nearly risen, combine, water, beer, baking soda and brown sugar in a 10 wide non-reactive saucepan ( I used my 6.5 qt. enamel cast iron pot), bring to a simmer.
6. Cut the parchment paper surrounding each pretzel so you can lift the pretzel to the pot using the paper underneath it.
7. Gently flip the pretzel into the simmering liquid, 2 at a time, and cook for 10 seconds, flip and cook other side for 10 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon or skimmer, allowing liquid to drain back into pot, and place onto new parchment-lined baking sheets, rounded side up. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
8. Brush each pretzel lightly with canola oil and sprinkle with desired amount of salt.
9. Bake at 450 degrees F ** for about 10-15 mminutes, or until dark brown . Remove from oven and serve warm plain or with mustard, if that's your style.
** Sherry Yard recommends baking in top and bottom third of oven and rotating halfway through baking time. I didn't do that and had excellent results.

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