Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Return of Snack-Time: Homemade Pretzels

I worry that snack-time for adults is seriously underrated.

Why shouldn't we be allowed to have a delicious snack in the afternoon, reward ourselves for having made it that far in the day? 

But, look, I don't need to convince you of this: these pretzels will. 

Some of my fondest memories come from sitting in the English Garden in Munich with some very dear friends, munching on Bavarian pretzels that are roughly the size of my torso. 

Seriously, you can carry them to your table by wearing them on your shoulder like a purse.  But a delicious, edible one.

Unlike many a pretzel you can find at the mall, Bavarian pretzels are not sweet, not soft, and not drenched in butter.  They are real pretzels: salty, crisp on the outside , soft on the inside, begging to be paired with some coarse grain mustard, and perfect to wash down with a good Weissbier. 

Of course, these aren't Bavarian pretzels (I hear Munich's water is 'special'), but they have the 'spirit' of those pretzels, of a sunny afternoon in the English garden, watching the swans and ducks float by, hearing traditional German music floating in the breeze, maybe catching a glimpse of Lederhosen, lingering with friends.  And, all this is just a snack-time away.

And, you will not believe how easy these are to make.  Although, they do have to be left to sit overnight.  But, can also sit for 4 days, so it gives you some flexibility.

You start by stirring together your flour, salt, and brown sugar (just a touch, mind you)
Dissolve the yeast in some water.

Mix the yeast/water and melted butter in with the dry ingredients. Use a wooden spoon and stir until it forms a ball.

Then stir for 2 more minutes.  Let rest 5.  And stir for 3 more minutes.  

Plop it onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 minute more (and that's it for the kneading!).  Form it into a ball and throw it in the refrigerator overnight or up to 4 days.

When you are ready for a snack, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  And, dissolve some baking soda in warm water.  This is key because it is what ensures that the pretzels get a nice hard crust on the outside.  In the old days, people would use food grade LYE to make pretzels.  Seriously.  But, since that seems hard to come by and not something I really want to think about, you use this mixture instead.

Take the dough out and roll it into 2 ounce balls for small pretzels or 3 ounce balls for large ones.  Roll the pretzels out so they are 17 inches.

Warning: the gluten may be pretty tough when you do this and your pretzels are liable to shrink after you have rolled them.  Don't worry, just roll them out, give the gluten time to rest, roll again, and so forth.  I must admit, I haven't fully mastered this part, but next time, I think I will roll them out and let them rest for quite a few minutes so the gluten relaxes and they come up to temperature.

Then, you shape the pretzels: fold the ends over each other.

Next cross fold the ends of the ends over each other.

A finally, take that knot and bring it up to the top.  So it, you know, looks like a pretzel.
[a less than glamorous earlier attempt]

Sprinkle with coarse salt (I used fleur de sel and loved it!).
Pop in the oven for 8 minutes.  Rotate, then bake 8-10 minutes more.
And, look, if your pretzels shrunk back into themselves so they look more like pretzel knots than pretzels,

they are still going to taste fantastic!  And it gives them, er, character. 

And, a reason to tackle them again to perfect the rolling out process.

Let the pretzels cool slightly.
Serve with mustard (my favorite is a mix of lots of coarse grain, just a little Dijon to hold it together, and a dash of honey for good measure).

Welcome back, snack-time!  

Soft Pretzels (Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day)
Makes 12-17

4 1/2 cups (20 oz/567g) unbleached bread flour
1 3/4 tsp (.4 oz/11g) salt, or 2 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons (.75oz/21g) brown sugar
1 tsp (.11oz/3g) instant yeast
1 1/2 cups (12oz/340g) lukewarm water (about 95 degrees F)
2 Tablespoons (1oz/28.5g) vegetable oil or melted unsalted butter
8 tsp (2oz/57g) baking soda, for dipping
2 cups (16oz/454g) warm water (about 100 degrees F)

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar.  In a different bowl, combine the water and yeast, let sit for about 1 minute.  Next, add the water/yeast mixture and the oil into the bowl with the flour, salt, and sugar.

Use a wooden spoon and stir everything together.  It should not take longer than a minute and you should be left with a coarse ball.  Now continue mixing by hand for about 2 minutes and subsequently let the dough rest for 5 minutes.  Again mix by hand for 3 minutes, adjusting the water or flour as needed to form a smooth, lightly tacky ball.  On a lightly floured surface knead the dough for one minute, form a ball, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and keep it in the refrigerator overnight or up to 4 days.

On the day you plan to bake, combine the baking soda and warm water in a bowl.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Right after taking the dough out of the refrigerator roll 2oz (56.5g) pieces into 17 inch ropes for smaller pretzels and 3-oz (85g) for larger pretzels.  If the roll shrinks back, just repeat the process.*  Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment and mist with spray oil.  Form the dough into pretzels (see above): first, cross the ends over each other, then cross the bottom of those ends over each other, then bring that knot to the middle of the top.  It should now look like a pretzel.  Dip in the baking soda/water solution.  Place them on the pan and sprinkle lightly with salt (or whatever topping you like).  Bake for 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and back another 8-10 minutes.  Let the pretzels cool slightly on a wire rack.

*They will shrink back, I think.  So, let them have a rest (say 5-10 minutes) after you first roll them out and try it again.  I found you can really tell if they will shrink when you shape them into pretzel form.  So, pay attention there, and if they shrink, just stretch them out again and give them a rest.