Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Soft Pretzels

One of my favorite snacks growing up was soft pretzels. My mom used to always buy the frozen kind that came in the box, and I distinctly remember trying to get the salt from the little packet to stay on the pretzel (it never did). This recipe is a bit more involved than sticking frozen pretzels in the microwave, but the results are tasty. It’s not particularly wet dough, so it’s easy to shape. From my dutiful research on the internet, I’ve found that there are two keys to making successful pretzels:

1.       Feed the yeast with sugar.
2.      Boil the pretzels in lye before baking. If you’re not in a fight club and don’t have lye in your pantry, baking soda works just as well.

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees)
1 cup bread flour
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, softened
Vegetable oil, for bowl and baking sheets
1/4 cup baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon course grain Kosher salt

Make the dough:
Add the yeast, 1/8 teaspoon of sea salt, and 2 teaspoons sugar to a cup of water. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes. The yeast mixture will foam up and look like a science experiment. While you’re waiting for the yeast, add the flours to a large bowl and blend in the butter using a pastry cutter (or a butter knife), until the butter is the size of pebbles. Add the yeast mixture, stirring to combine all the ingredients. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray, add the dough, and spritz the top with spray as well. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour, or until doubled in size.

Shape the dough:
Break the dough off into 12 equal sized portions (I used my scale – each dough ball came out to about 2 oz). Roll the dough back and forth, starting from the middle and applying pressure outward, until you have a rope shaped piece of dough about 16 inches long. Cross one end of the dough over the other, forming a not quite figure 8 (see pictures for what I hope will be a better explanation). Pick up the two ends, twist and flip up to the top, forming a pretzel shape. Let the pretzels rest on a baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap for 15 minutes.

Bake the pretzels:
Preheat your oven to 475°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add ¼ cup of baking soda and 1 ½ tablespoons of sugar. Boil the pretzels 3 at a time, for 1 minute on each side, until puffed up. Rest the boiled pretzels on a rack. Combine one egg with 1 teaspoon of water, and beat to create an egg wash. Place the pretzels on two baking sheets, and brush with the egg wash. Sprinkle with kosher salt, then bake in the over for 15 minutes.


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