Soft and Chewy Pretzels

My first experience of a real, proper bready pretzel was at the Arts Centre in Christchurch many years ago with my best friend Cara.

It was crunchy in some places but soft and warm in the fatter bits. The salt covered exterior satisfied me more than any cheeseburger or bag of mini pretzels ever could. It was like the best salty bread roll I had ever eaten. But way cooler. And tastier.

It changed my life.

I never thought I could make one myself though. I thought that they would be difficult to make.

That was until I stumbled upon a wonderful blog.

I have found that following other foodie type people on Instagram I have been able to stumble across and discover some really cool new blogs. I found this one here,  The Sophisticated Gourmet which is brilliant. Unfortunately he hasn't posted since last year but he has some great recipes like this pretzel one here. I was so excited to find a decent look pretzel recipe from a reliable source. Everything is beautiful to look at. Definitely go and visit it. I can't wait to try out his bagel recipe too.

So this week has been a bit cray cray. I'm not too sure why. Probably a mix of everything. I find one of the best ways for me to calm down is to make bread. It is time consuming. You need to be patient and committed to it. You can't just make it on a whim, it needs to be planned for. I had a mad soft pretzel craving on Wednesday. Unfortunately I don't know of anywhere in Dunedin that sells these beautiful authentic pretzels so what did I do? No I didn't just make myself a piece of toast and tell myself to get over it, I freaking well made an entire batch of them.

Typical Sophie. It was like that time at 11pm I felt like a warm cookie. Most people can't be bothered if it isn't right in front of them. But not me. I will go and make myself an entire batch just so I can have one (or two . . or three . . .). I've also been known to make up corn fritters in the early hours of the morning just because I woke up and was hungry.

I was also curious as to how to make them. Pretzels are one of the few foods (other than fermented shark meat) that has a basic pH (ie above 7).  Now upon reading how to make them I realise it is because they are boiled for about a minute before they are baked in a pot of water and baking soda. Boiling the pretzel in basic solution allows for the interior of the pretzel to puff up making it softer but also chewier. The baking soda allows the exterior to form a nice golden brown crust. Its an odd step compared with usual bread baking but it was actually really cool to see the small pretzels knots puff up in such a quick space of time.

Now I used the dough hook on my stand mixer to knead the dough but kneading by hand (which was originally called for) is totally sufficient and in itself very theraputic.

I have a literature review to write so I am gonna stop waffling on and get to the point!

New York Style Soft Pretzels
Adapted from The Sophisticated Gourmet (who I believe adapted it from Martha Stewart)
Makes 12

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoon white sugar
1 cup warm water

1 cup (128g) high grade flour
2 cups (256g) plain flour
2 teaspoons salt
35g softened butter

2 tablespoons baking soda
2 teaspoons sugar
7cm worth of boiling water in a medium sized pot (super accurate I know)

Chunky sea or rock salt
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon water

In a small bowl, activate the yeast with the warm water and sugar for around 10-15 minutes. It should become very foamy. If nothing happens you need to get new yeast.

In a large bowl, mix together the flours and the salt. Either use your mixer to rub in the butter or do this by hand. You want to achieve a smooth crumb with no visible lumps of butter.

Once the yeast has been properly activated, pour the yeast liquid into a well in the centre of your flours. Use a spoon to bring the dough together.

Either tip the dough onto a lightly floured bench and knead the dough for around 5 minutes or pop it into your cake mixer with the dough hook and leave it to be kneaded for around 5 minutes also. The dough should become smooth and elastic.

Grease up a large bowl with a small amount of oil. Place the dough into this bowl, cover in cling film then leave to rise for an hour in a warm place (like on top of the hot water cylinder). You want the dough to double in size. Apparently you can also leave it in the fridge overnight, which is handy if you want to make these early in the morning.

Cut the dough into 12 portions. Roll out each ball into a rope around 20cm long.

Bring the rope up into a large U shape.

Take the two ends and twist them around each other twice.

Bring the ends back onto the curve of the U and press down lightly to attach them.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C (or as high as you can go) on bake.

Bring the water in the pot to a boil. Add the sugar and baking soda.

Using a slotted spatula place three of the pretzels in the boiling water at a time. Leave to boil for 45-60 seconds before removing and leaving to drain on a cooling rack. Repeat with the rest of the pretzels.

Transfer the puffed pretzels onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.

Mix the egg and the teaspoon of water together and brush this over each pretzel.

Sprinkle over a generous amount of salt and any other topping of your choice. Poppy and sesame seeds work well.

Bake for 15 minutes until the outer surface has turned a nice dark golden brown.

Serve warm!

Make sure you eat them within 12 hours of baking them. They aren't as good after that.