Monday, July 23, 2012

Brew Food: Soft Pretzels

One things goes together better than beer and pizza: beer and pretzels. American pretzels are dry, heavy, salty, and bland. You see them at the grocery, and you can find them on bars everywhere. Why is this what we call a pretzel? because these pretzels are tailor made for mass production.

A good soft pretzel is a rare treat. I'm not talking about the bland leavened things you might get with a cup of cheese at the movie theater. To me a pretzel is leavened bread, it's rich and salty, the crust is doughy and rubbery and the crumb is soft and flavorful. This type of pretzel is more than a simple snack. A good pretzel begs to be dipped in cheese or spicey mustard and it holds up on it's own when added to those bold flavors.

(read more about great pretzels after the break.)

For the test batch of my pretzel odyssey I decided to go with Peter Reinhart's amazing recipe. Peter Reinhart is a professional baker who has authored many books on the subject of bread. Crust and Crumb, American Pie, and the Bread Baker's Apprentice are all to his credit. In his book Artisan Breads Every Day he presents a recipe for pretzels and the techniques to make them wonderful.

I adapted his recipe to my own tastes:

4 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour (dry)
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt (dry)
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar (dry)
2 teaspoons instant yeast (dry)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (95 degrees) (wet)
2 tablespoons olive oil (wet)

8 teaspoons baking soda, for dipping
2 cups warm water (100 degrees), for dipping

Pretzel salt or coarse sea salt; for garnish

  1. I combined the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Then I added the water/oil and mixed the dough into a course ball.
  3. After that I kneaded it until it was just right.
  4. Once perfect, I placed my dough into an oiled bowl and covered it with plastic wrap.
  5. Two hours later I punched down the dough.
  6. Three hours later I came back and made the pretzels. Shaping pretzels is easy; you'll figure it out.
  7. When the pretzels were made I hand dipped them in the baking soda mixture.
  8. Then I sprinkled on coarse sea salt because that is what I had in the house.
A damn fine soft pretzel. It could have used real pretzel salt. I'll have to track that down.

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