Monday, March 12, 2012

Homemade Soft Pretzels

This little gem of a recipe has lay dormant in my recipe book for a couple of years now. I hadn't made these in so long. I really don't know why. They are great. Simple and basic but great. Homemade Soft Pretzels. Dark, chewy and salty on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. The perfect snack on a rainy day. I rediscovered these last week in trying to come up with a hearty snack for my daughter. 

At fourteen, a high school freshman, my daughter joined the school swim team. She's never swam competitively before and I admire her courage in trying something totally new. Seriously, you go girl! I'm happy to report that she's doing great. And might I add, what a great group of kids these swimmers are. Full of fun, encouragement and positive energy. A credit to their generation. Anywho . . . about the pretzels. . . For the first home swim meet I wanted to bring S a special treat for her and her swim buddies. But, not cookies, or a sugary treat. Something not quite so unhealthy but something that was special, out of the ordinary and duh, delicious. I went flipping through my recipe binder and happened upon the Pretzel recipe. PERFECT! Special, I don't make these everyday, but not sugary and sweet. The girls loved them and I'm sure you will too. Give 'em a try. . .

(This recipe is Alton Brown's and can be found on the Food Network web site. It's always turned out so well that I've never fiddled with the recipe. Some things are best left as is. The recipe link is at the end.)

You start with pretty basic ingredients: Warm water (Seriously use a thermometer, if the water is too hot you'll kill the yeast, too cool and it will never "activate".), sugar, salt, active dry yeast, AP flour, butter (melted), baking soda, an egg (you'll just need the yoke) and coarse or pretzel salt (if you can find it).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the warm water, sugar and salt. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it foam up for about 5 minutes. Add the flour and melted butter. 

Use the dough hook and mix on low until all the ingredients are combined. It will look pretty lumpy, don't worry!

Turn the mixer to medium speed and knead for 4 or 5 minutes until the dough cleans the bowl and is smooth.

Spray a relatively straight sided container with cooking spray and plop in the dough. Use a marker or a piece of tape to indicate the level of the dough. Cover loosely and let rise until doubled in size. On a warm day this takes about 45-55 minutes. On a cold day you'll need to wait a bit longer.

While the dough is rising and the yeast is doin' it's thang, get your water bath ready: In a large pot or saucepan, dissolve the baking soda in water and bring to a simmer. Keep it simmering.

See, doubled in size. Many recipes say to just put the dough in a bowl to let it rise. I've never had much confidence in determining if it's "doubled". Using a container with straight sides allows for a more accurate estimate of the rise.

To roll out the pretzels you want to use an oiled surfaced. Not floured. Just use a paper towel to lightly oil the surface. Here I'm using a wooden cutting board.

Divide the dough into 8 equal portions.

Then roll each out into a 24-inch rope. To twist into the pretzel shape form the rope into a "U". Cross the ends over about half way down the "U". Then cross them over again forming a twist. Next flip the ends down over the "loop" and press firmly where they touch. Voila, you've just formed a pretzel.

Lay them out on a silpat lined or well oiled cookie sheet.

Get set up for the next couple of steps by beating an egg yoke with some water. Also get out some coarse or pretzel salt. Set these aside.

OK, here is where pretzels get weird. Turn the heat up on the baking soda/water mixture until it is boiling, not just simmering. Then, one at a time, place the pretzels in the water for 30 seconds. Use a spatula to gently push them just under the surface then let them rise up, do this a couple of times to make sure the top gets doused with the soda/water. Remove with the spatula and return to the baking sheet. Repeat the process with all the pretzels. This step is what gives pretzels their dark chewy exterior.

After the water bath they'll look kind of wrinkly - like your fingers and toes after a nice long hot bath. Now brush them with the egg yoke and sprinkle with coarse or pretzel salt and then off to a hot 450°F oven for 12 to 14 minutes until they are dark golden brown and shiny. Oh boy!

Let them cool, on a cooling rack, for about 5 minutes, before eating. Me? I like mine with mustard, good old, plain, American style, yellow mustard. You? Eat them anyway you like.

Here's a link to the recipe: Homemade Soft Pretzels

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