Sunday, April 25, 2010

Long time ago: Soft pretzels

This recipe was dated December 28, 2005.

I started by measuring about a cup of warm water (in, redundantly, a measuring cup), in which to activate the yeast. Just to remind you, it should be warmer than your hand, like you might want to bathe or shower in. But if it feels _hot_ it's too hot. Hot tap water should be right. Anyhoo, I dissolved in one packet of active dry yeast, plus a heaping teaspoon of white sugar and a (1/4 cup) scoop of (white) flour into the water, stirred it up, and let it sit.

While it sat, I ate an orange and then put about four or five scoops of flour into a large mixing bowl, along with a large handful of salt. It's much more salt than you'd put in bread, although ultimately maybe a teaspoon or two, and enough that you probably don't want to add it to the yeast water (it wasn't so much that it'd kill the yeast outright, but it'd slow it down). Mixed the flour and salt, and then walked downstairs and then upstairs, by which time the yeast water had grown a nice, vigorous froth on top. I poured it into the flour, and mixed a little. I then added some oil: a little sesame oil (not enough to over power, but a small splash), and a fair amount of vegetable oil (a large splash or two). I then proceeded to knead in another five or so (could have been more, I didn't count) scoops of flour. Don't put in too much flour: the dough should still be tacky and very malleable, just not real _sticky_, so that you can actually knead it without it sticking more to your hands than to itself.

The dough is a little over-yeasted, and should sit for a bit --- I gave it half an hour. Preheat the oven a little less than 400 degrees. The dough came nowhere close to doubling, but it doesn't really have to. Punch it down, and break or cut off chunks, maybe two-inch diameter, to make into your pretzels (I like my large pretzels pretty small). I rolled them out just in the air --- no floured surface, etc., for me (and I don't want to add more flour that way either) --- rolling a chunk between my hands until it was maybe ten inches long and a centimeter in diameter (mixing units is how I think). Then I set it on a temporary tray (one of my cookie sheets) lined with saran wrap, in the right shape (place the middle on the saran, cross the ends about an inch in on each, and then fold the oval back on itself).

After finishing all the pretzels, I let them have their second rise while I leisurely retrieved a saucepan and filled it halfway with water. Dissolve into it a couple chunks of baking soda (total a little more than a teaspoon), and heat it to boiling. I also lined a cookie tray with fancy heat-proof baking paper (I highly recommend getting a roll of the stuff, although it's a little spendy). You should be able to peel the saran wrap off the bottoms of the pretzels without mucking up their shapes, and drop them in the water. Each should puff up a little as it starts to float: don't leave them in to long, -- if it's puffy and floating, it's done, and can be removed with a flat spatula and placed on the baking-paper-lined cookie tray. Then lightly sprinkle the boiled pretzels with sea salt (yes, even more salt), and bake in a preheated oven maybe 12 minutes. The pretzels won't quite look done, but it's amazing the color change they go through as they sit cooling off (from white to yellow). Once reasonably cool, peel from baking paper.

Enjoy! At my sizes, makes just shy of 20 pretzels.

Incidentally, bagels are about the same: make a dough (although not as much salt), rise etc. essentially like bread, then shape (bagels you can just take balls and poke a hole in them, and then stretch into the right size), second rise, short bath, and bake. I should try making bagels sometime.

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