Saturday, April 3, 2010

Homemade Soft Pretzels: Now All You Need Is the Dijon Mustard

Ever had that warm soft pretzel from a street vendor in the city? Yeah, me neither. I know, I know: “this is an experience I must have someday”, but my travels have been limited thus far in my life. This summer I hope to be northbound, visiting the Tri-City area. Assuredly, my opportunity will arise then. I’ll give you my verdict on the taste test comparison when the moment comes.

This story however, focuses bringing the city pretzel flair to the comfort of your own kitchen. Dough making is a skill that requires patience and precision – everything takes a while and has to remain at a pretty stable temperature until it enters the 450 inferno we call an oven. And this is where the only drawback to this whole experience came in: burning the hell out of my arm. We were attempting to take it out and use it as a cooling rack; too bad the oven had already preheated to 450 degrees. Anyway, it left a nice red, blistered stroke on my forearm. I was told to think of it as more like a cook’s “beauty mark”. Admittedly, that made it feel better.

Not sure what spurred the pretzel making, I believe it was stumbling on the internet? Regardless, it was a worthwhile, all night adventure that was enjoyed among friends. It is a recipe that uses yeast, and you know what that means: the infamous “waiting for it to rise”. This can take anywhere from 20 min to an hour, depending on your recipe. The more you time you give it, the higher it rises, aka the fluffier it gets. But this allows for other activities to occur alongside the pretzel making, like Frisbee! While the bread was rising I attempted throwing a plastic discus in the dark. I think I had better keep on making homemade pretzels; my area of expertise is the kitchen. Homemade soft pretzels are not for the instant snacker – so don’t start this at 1 A.M.

We made three different types of pretzels:

1) Original: a salty shell that encompassed a soft, warm bready center.

2) Herb/Spice: a combination of garlic powder, rosemary, and basil made this the one everyone was fighting over.

3) Sweet: you really have to add sugar to the dough mix. Brushing sugar and butter on the outside…doesn’t work.

I haven’t yet fine tuned the recipe – I want them to be browner next time, maybe the loops a bit more separated – but even though our pretzels resembled fat blobs of dough, fresh out of the oven these were perfect: warm, soft and salty. Taste is always first and foremost.

Overall, it’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon with friends, or procrastinate doing your statistics homework on a Wednesday night. The snack is best enjoyed straight out of the oven with some spicy Dijon mustard [for the original at least] and is something you’ll want to do again and again.

Homemade Soft Pretzels

[I used Smitten Kitchen’s soft pretzel recipe]

Makes 16 full-sized or 32 miniature

2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl and stir. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.

2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten times, or until smooth.

3. Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

4. Heat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each) or 32 if making miniature pretzels, and wrap in plastic.

5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. [I find the pretzels much easier to roll on an unfloured board, oddly enough, but see what works for you.] Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; eight will fit on each sheet (you may need a third sheet if making miniatures). Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.

7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.

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