Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Different people have different ideas of what makes a perfect pretzel. I don't know much about pretzels in the US, or in particular at ball games. The pretzels I wanted to recreate are the kind that you can find all over Southern Germany, Alsace and Switzerland. I'm sure there's variations among these too, but I am not well-informed enough to know them.
What I was after was a dark, shiny pretzel with an elegant shape. Reading different recipes on the web, I discovered that if I really want to be authentic, I need to dip the pretzels in a lye solution (hence the "laugen" in "Laugenbrezel", which I never understood until now). In theory I could have purchased the necessary substance ("Natriumhydroxid" or NaOH) in a pharmacy, but given it is quite toxic, can produce rashes or burns, and requires special handling, I decided to start with something simpler, if not as authentic: a baking soda solution. You can find a whole debate on the merits of different kinds of bathing or glazing solutions on The Fresh Loaf.
One point I didn't want to compromise on was shaping. In the link above, there are photos of some tasty looking bread, but not, to my mind, pretzels: the chubby rope of dough was simply crossed over once, without the characteristic knot of the pretzel. Then through one of the comments on this post I found a lovely website with video demonstrations on shaping. The original link in German is here, and a translated one is here. While I have yet to master one of the different toss and fling techniques demonstrated, the videos showed me what I should aim for. I hope one day to be able to replicate the elegant moves and beautiful bretzel shapes.
Then came the question of ingredients. I first wanted to try a Sherry Yard recipe, but found it a little complicated (dark ale and buttermilk, for instance, and egg glaze, if my memory serves). I decided to try one of the recipes posted on the German site mentioned above (the one with the videos). It's simple, the dough is easy to make, and it rolls out quite easily. They taste good and pretty authentic to my non-expert palate.
One final word before I give you the recipe. Why would I choose to make these myself when I can buy delicious fresh pretzels here in Switzerland? To begin with, I don't have a pretzel stand literally near my home, and also they're quite expensive (think three children who do not want to share a pretzel among them.) But most of all... they're fun to make!
Adapted from a recipe for "Laugenbrezel"
- 500g all-purpose flour.
(type 450 or 550 in Germany, ie type 45 or 55 in France.)
- 2 teaspoons salt (10g)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 liter (250g) lukewarm water
- 1 cube fresh yeast (42g).
This I believe is equivalent to 14g instant yeast. I was suprised by this quantity, but the pretzels didn't taste too yeasty.
- 40g margarine (hunh?) or butter (definitely butter!)
- Coarse salt for sprinkling
- 100g baking soda
- 1 liter (1000g) water
This is a lot of baking soda. You can probably get away with less, though I really like the tangy flavor the soda gives the pretzel's crust. I keep the dipping solution for a while in the fridge for the next time I make pretzels, but I don't know if I can recommend that or not.
Dissolve yeast in water. Mix flour and salt. Form a well, add the sugar and the yeast + water. Let it rest for 15 minutes before mixing.
Add the soft butter and knead everything to a smooth dough (I kneaded for 5 or 6 minutes on 2 in my Kitchenaid). Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
From this dough you can make about 12 pretzels. Cut the dough into twelve equal parts, then roll each piece on the table (unfloured in my case, and I even had to dampen the table a little to generate some friction) to about 50 cm (20 inches?), tapered toward the ends. Don't make it smaller than 50cm, as it's impossible to get a good shape with a short, thick rope of dough. The dough should not get too warm or "locker" (loose? slack?) as you roll it out, or it might tear. (I didn't have any problem with this though, even after my kids' hot hands worked way longer than necessary on the dough ropes.)
Place the pretzels without covering them in the fridge for about an hour. This helps build a skin that will absorb the dipping solution better and make a beautiful shiny crust.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F)
Dipping the pretzels: (this is where I didn't follow the original recipe with its lye solution...) Add the baking soda to the water, and bring to a boil. Then dip each pretzel for 10 seconds into the simmering solution, and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (I would recommend dipping for no longer than 10 seconds. I left some in longer, and believe this caused them to develop too many cracks).
You're supposed to score the dough once like for a baguette with a razor blade or sharp knife. I tried with a knife on one or two without much success, so my pretzles cracked in random places.
Sprinkle with salt. (Notice you don't need to brush the pretzels with egg wash or anything).
Bake the pretzels at 200°C (390°F) for about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how dark you like them.
I let the girls have fun with shaping. I probably let the heart simmer for too long in the baking soda solution, as it has too many cracks. At least I assume that's what the problem was.