Post #624 Bread With A Twist

January 27, 2019 at 1:11 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I was in Frankfurt, Germany wandering around the city one Saturday afternoon.  I didn’t have a particular destination or goal in mind.  I was getting some exercise and fresh air and seeing things I hadn’t seen before.  Then I turned a corner and found a street fair.  This kind of thing happened to me all the time when I was traveling.  I found street fairs and open air markets totally by accident in nearly every city I’d been to.  Because of language barriers, I seldom knew what the fair was celebrating, but I joined in anyway, enjoying the atmosphere and food.  Sometimes I’d talk with people and other times I’d just watch and walk.

This particular day was a day for watching and walking.  The whole fair was about three blocks long with vendors of various types lining either side of the street.  It was crowded and boisterous and lively.  A band played somewhere, or it might have been a sound system.  It was a warm day with plenty of sunshine and after an hour of wandering and watching, I decided to get something to eat.  And I saw something like this:

So I bought one.  For 3 Euros I got a pretzel the size of a platter with a chunk of cheese and a soda.  Lordy, that was good!

Like most people in the U.S., I grew up with the hard pretzels in the plastic bags that always seemed to last for-flipping-ever.  As a kid, that’s what pretzels were.  When I got into my late teens, I “discovered” the soft pretzel.  Soft pretzels are an amazing thing, with a unique taste and bite.  They are made with a double cook method.  First dunk them in boiling water with baking soda in it, then bake them till they’re done.  They form a skin that get brown and crunchy, but keep a soft interior full of flavor.

In most cases, soft pretzels are meant to be eaten the same day they’re cooked.  I had one in Frankfurt once in late afternoon that was so stale it crunched.  I ate what I could from it, and it was good.  It was so large that what I could eat from it did fill me up.

My favorite American soft pretzel is Auntie Anne’s which you can find in nearly any mall in the country.  There are a few independent stores, but not many that I’ve run into.  There are others, like Philly Pretzel, but they’re pretty much all the same.  Soft pretzels in various forms.  The uniqueness of the American soft pretzel is they slather them in butter before serving.  Some places ask if you want that; others just assume you do.

Pretzels traditionally are sprinkled with salt before baking.  It’s not table salt, but a coarse grained salt that doesn’t melt easily.  Despite the large grains, it’s not overly salty, just enough to make your mouth water.  And they’re perfect for dunking into sauce.  The standard American sauces are marinara, cheese, and garlic.  I’ve seen some places that will offer dozens of sauces including chocolate, ranch, and cream cheese frosting.

Pretzel dough itself is easy to make and incredibly versatile.  You’ve all seen pretzel dogs and stuffed pretzels, etc, so I won’t go into the whole mess of what things can be made from the dough.  Maybe another time.

In our house, we’re addicted to The Great British Baking Show.  It’s a competition where home bakers are challenged to three tests during each episode.  Whoever does the best is awarded Star Baker, and the worst is eliminated.  All the rest advance to the next round.  The first challenge is the Signature challenge where they make their signature dish in whatever category is featured that week.  The second is the Technical challenge; the third is the Showstopper.  The technical challenge is a test set by the judges with very few instructions for something the bakers probably haven’t made before.  The showstopper is the contestants’ chance to create a remarkable dish for the featured category.

One week, the technical challenge was pretzels.  The bakers didn’t have too much difficulty with the basic recipe.  They were required to make one sweet (orange) pretzel, and one savory (poppy seed).  The trouble came in when they were trying to shape the pretzel.  The instructions were:  Roll a piece of dough out to an 18 inch rope, form into an invert U, form a double twist, pull up to the loop, press the ends into the middle of the loop.  They couldn’t seem to visualize it.

So, I made pretzels a couple of weeks ago.  Every time I’d made them in the past, I’d always followed the example I’d seen at Auntie Anne’s where the baker would roll it out, pick up the ends, flick their wrists until the double twist formed and laid it down while forming the requisite pinch.  I was never very successful.  This time, I followed the instructions from GBBO.  Here’s the result:

Then, of course, I boiled them as per the process.

You can see the first puff of cooking.  The one in the upper left is the first one, but it got easier after that.

And here’s the finished result.  Mine are about the size of a saucer, not the platters you get in Germany.  They work for us.  We dipped them in mustard to eat them.  So yummy.

Here’s the basic recipe:

Pretzel Dough

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 cups room-temperature water
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 3 cups White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups All-Purpose Flour

Water Bath

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons baking soda

Topping

  • pretzel salt or kosher salt

    Instructions

    1. <!– please remove InstructionPhoto
      –> Mix the sugar, water and yeast; stir to dissolve. (If you’re using instant yeast, skip this step, simply combining all of the ingredients at once.) Add the white wheat flour, salt, and enough unbleached flour to make a soft (but not sticky) dough.
    2. <!– please remove InstructionPhoto
      –> Knead well, place in a bowl, and let rise until puffy, about 60 minutes.
    3. <!– please remove InstructionPhoto
      –> Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a log, and shape the logs into pretzels. (See “tips”, below.)
    4. <!– please remove InstructionPhoto
      –> Preheat the oven to 450°. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) a baking sheet.
    5. <!– please remove InstructionPhoto
      –> In a large pot, boil together 6 cups of water and 2 tablespoons baking soda. Put 4 pretzels at a time into the boiling water, and cook for 1 minute. Transfer boiled pretzels to the baking sheet.
    6. <!– please remove InstructionPhoto
      –> Sprinkle the pretzels with salt, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the pretzels are well-browned.

As always,

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