A few nights ago, we decided to continue our trend of hosting little fetes with a theme. This time, we decided to head to Germany and embrace Oktoberfest (deemed “Oktobeerfest” by my oh so clever roommate) by dedicating an evening to drinking songs, pretzels, and various types of beer. (…joyeux enfants de la Bourgogne…)
The premise was simple : come prepared with EITHER food, beer, or a drinking song and you are welcome to our home. My contribution, as I don’t know much about beer, was to make soft pretzels…
I will admit, I’d never made these before. I didn’t really know how to fold a pretzel or the process by which pretzels are created. Bread – I can do. Pretzels ? The seemed so…beyond my reach. But that has never stopped me in the past, so I said I’d make pretzels and pretzels I made (à la “so it is written, so it shall be.” I’m currently writing a theology paper. Can you tell ?)
In any case, I decided to try two different types : one with rosemary and the other plain with sea salt – just like at the fair. Both were remarkably simple to concoct and the only slightly intimidating portion was the baking soda bath – I’ve never boiled bread dough before, but it was surprisingly simple and stress-free. Needless to say, my trepidation about making a new food was unfounded, as everyone devoured these pretzels like it was their job – literally, there were NONE left at the end of the night. I served mine with mustard (and beer…), but for those who don’t enjoy mustard as much as this little dijonnaise (ben, fausse dijonnaise mais c’est pas important), cheese sauce is also welcome.
Guten Appetit !
For the plain dough :
1 tsp yeast
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm milk (about 50 seconds in the microwave)
For the rosemary dough :
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
4 1/2 cups flour (potentially more)
2 tbsp rosemary
The procedure is the same for both of the dough varieties – I’ll probably intermix the photos but I promise, the process is the same. Start by mixing the dry ingredients together. Depending on the kind of yeast (ex active dry or rapid rise) you use, you can just mix it right in with the flour. If you are unsure, you can mix the sugar, warm liquid, salt and yeast together in another container and let it proof for about 10 minutes or until nice and foamy. I did NOT do this because I’m lazy and everything worked out just fine.
Make a nice little crater in the flour mixture and pour the milk in and oil in to the moat.
Stir together – I jumped right in and used my hands but if you have an electric mixer, that’s fine too. If using an electric mixer, add flour until the dough naturally forms into a ball. If using your hands and good ole fashioned elbow grease, add flour until you feel you can knead it on a countertop.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is nice and smooth and feel like (I kid you not) a baby’s bottom.
Place in a large, well-oiled bowl and let rise (covered) for 1 hour.
When doubled in size, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a little bit to deflate. Shape into a log and divide into 7 (sea salt) or 8 (rosemary) even pieces. I just used a sharp knife and eyeballed the sizes. Cut with conviction !
Rolling the smaller pieces into dough can be a little challenging. I made a video (!) but it’s sideways…and I don’t know how to turn it. Basically, take the piece of dough and roll it between your hands until it starts to form a cylindrical shape. Then, grasping both ends, spin it like a jumprope, pulling to lengthen. Before you know it, you’ll have a nicely shaped cylinder.
You can even out the shape on the countertop, as you want them to be about the same thickness and to measure just overa foot – these will make a nicely sized pretzel.
Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes in this shape before reworking into pretzel form.
Roll slightly on the counter before turning up the two ends to make a U-shape. Cross these two ends over one another, twisting once.
Secure at the bottom of the U-bend, pressing gently but not too hard – we want to keep as much air in the dough as possible. Let sit on the counter and prepare a large cookie sheet (lined with parchment paper OR well-oiled) for baking.
Then comes the chemistry lesson. Pretzels gain their unique flavor due to a special ritual completed before baking : a lye bath. Lye is a VERY strong base than can cause burning of the skin, so I balked a little when I discovered this fact. However, lucky for us, a common ingredient on bakers’ shelves is ALSO a fairly strong base…BAKING SODA ! Instead of using lye, I made a solution of baking soda and water. I used a ratio of 4 tablespoons soda to 2 cups of water and the flavor of the pretzel crust wasn’t sharp, yet still retained enough bite to be called a pretzel.
Mix together the water and the soda in a pot on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Using a spatula, scoop up the soft pretzel and immerse in the soda bath for about 10 seconds. Remove promptly, shake a little, and place on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt/rosemary. Repeat for all the pretzels.
Place in a 425F oven for about 15 minutes or until the pretzels are a bronze color – these will be soft pretzels, so you won’t be able to tap them and know that they are done. I found the best way to be sure was to sample them… 😉
Serve with some Dijon mustard (nice and grainy) or cheese sauce and a stein of cold beer – I recommend Grimbergen amber ale. Delicious.
Happy fall !