I love bread. If given a choice, I would eat nothing but. Bread with butter. Bread with cheese. Peanut butter. Cream cheese. Jam. There’s nothing in the world better than bread. It aggravates the other half a lot, I have to admit. He loves bread – has sworn he would never leave me just because he could never do without my baking skills – but I’m sure he’d like to see rice on the plate every now and then with my ubiquitous curry. Tough luck, I suppose.
While I’m partial to soft white breads, my favorite carb would have to be soft pretzels. There’s just something about them. Chewy with that crisp crust, wonderfully salty by themselves but dipped in melted butter or mustard they just become ambrosia. Seriously, if they’re in the house, they don’t last for more than a day. I just can’t stop.
So, I thought I’d share my recipe with everyone. It’s adapted from Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef and, let me tell you, if you like to bake – bread, sweets, pastry – buy this book! Yes, it’s expensive (thank goodness for parents and Christmas) but it has seriously changed my (cooking) life (READ: waistline). You will never need another bread book, let alone the desserts.
I should also let you know ahead of time that you’ll need a kitchen scale for this one. However, if you purchase no other kitchen utensil for the rest of your life, buy one. It is positively the most accurate way to cook and will let you reproduce, time and again, the same results no matter what the conditions. I just didn’t realize how inaccurate my measurements were when using a cup/tsp/tbl to bake until I got the scale. A cup of flour was never the same twice. Now I feel like a professional.
Traditional Soft Pretzels (makes 10)
360ml warm water (105 to 115°F/40 to 46°C)
3/4tsp dry active yeast
8g kosher or sea salt
3/4tbl granulated sugar
22oz bread flour
Kosher Salt for Sprinkling
Baking Soda Solution
1) Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the salt and sugar, and gradually add enough of the bread flour to make a stiff but soft dough. Knead either at medium speed with dough hook or by hand for approximately 8 minutes, adding additional flour as needed. Dough should be smooth and elastic.
2) Well butter a bowl and place in dough, turning to fully coat dough in butter. Cover and let rise in a warm place for approximately 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
3) In the meantime, brush melted butter over two sheet pans. I only own one so I cook five of the pretzels at a time, instead, boiling five, baking them and then repeating the process with the rest.
4) Punch down the dough and divide into ten equal pieces, approximately 95g each. Roll each piece between your palms until you create a rope 18 inches long. Try to keep the rope uniform in thickness throughout, so that it cooks evenly. (See Notes about forming difficult dough)
5) Form the ropes into twisted pretzel shapes and place them on a lightly floured surface. After the gluten has relaxed for 2 minutes, stretch pretzel out to approximately 6 x 5 inches (15 x 13cm). Return to floured surface and let rise in a warm spot for approximately 30 minutes or until slightly puffy.
Baking Soda Solution
3tbl (36g) baking soda
6) Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). While preheating, bring baking soda solution to a boil in a large pot.
7) After the baking soda solution comes to a boil, drop in 1 to 2 pretzels into the pot gently (and preferably without burning yourself). (See Notes about boiling methods) Boil each pretzel for two minutes, until noticeably plump and shiny. Remove boiled pretzel from solution with a slotted spoon and transfer to buttered sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt.
8) Baked until dark brown, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from sheets and let cool on racks. Store in an air-tight container.
If you’re having any trouble getting the desired length of dough or if it seems that the dough is being particularly rubbery and hard to work with, roll it out as much as possible and then just let it be for 10 to fifteen minutes. This will allow the gluten to relax and will make the dough much more pliable. FYI, the same rule applies when working with a pizza dough, bagel or flat bread dough.
In shaping the dough, in the last pretzel of the guide, you’ll notice the feet of the pretzel, as it were, are dimpled where they cross the body of the pretzel. That isn’t a necessary step, just an overly-cautious one. In boiling the pretzels, the feet of about one in five didn’t want to stay connected to the body so I just give them a little added incentive with the tip of my finger before boiling.
The size of the pot containing the baking soda solution determines the number of pretzels you can boil at a time. However, the pretzels do have a tendency to become misshapen if overcrowded, especially since the dough bounces around the pot with the boiling water. Therefore, I usually only boil one at a time.
This same recipe can be used to create pretzel sandwich buns (In fact, I highly recommend it). Instead of dividing dough into 10 pieces, divide into 4 or 6, depending on the size of bun you want. Shape each piece into a tight ball and then let the gluten relax for 2 minutes. Pat down the dough with the palm of your hand into a disk of slightly less than desired thickness. Let rise for thirty minutes and continue with recipe as stated in steps 6 through 8. It should be noted that the pretzel dough is an incredibly dense bread and so I recommend shaping a bun with a thickness of no more than an inch.
If you give this recipe a try, please let me know how it turns out for you!