Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Homemade Pretzels (Hard and Soft)



I wouldn't want to type this as the first liner. I dislike pretzels :). Hence I was down with some unusual laziness to lay my hands on them when Aparna announced for the "We Knead to Bake" group.
When it finally surpassed I decided to bake them. Both soft and hard.
Here I admit that I started loving them as any other breads of the year!
Homemade pretzels are simply great. The soft ones turned out perfect with the crispy outsides and the 'bready' insides while the hard pretzels stayed crunchy with a lovely burnt flavour!

The authentic German Pretzel, the Laugenbrezel, has a dark brown, crispy, salty crust, and inside a soft dough. It has a plump "body", and thin, crispy (not dry) crossed "arms." The Hard or Crunchy Pretzels are an American invention!

The story goes that one morning sometime in the late 1800s, a baker at the Munich Royal Café, was preparing some sweet pretzels for his guests. Instead of brushing them with sugar he accidentally brushed them with the sodium hydroxide solution being used to clean and disinfect the bakery countertops!Instead of binning his dough he went ahead and bake them anyway. The resulting pretzels came out of the oven with a unique brown crust, soft centre, and delicious taste.
There many stories about the shape too. A popular one is that the shape resembles a praying monk (back then the praying position was arms crossed with the hands on the shoulders).

The taste of the Pretzel comes from its dunking in the soda bath. Originally a solution of lye was used for this bath but lye is highly corrosive and needs to be handles with care. A baking soda solution works just as well, and once you’re done, pouring it down your sink will give help unclog the drain if necessary!
Pretzels are usually brushed with an egg wash after the soda bath and this is what gives them their characteristic shine. Then they’re sprinkled lightly with coarse/ sea salt crystals before baking them. I left out the egg wash and the salt sprinkle on my Pretzels, and you can do the same if you want to.
This is a good video to watch before starting on making the pretzels. It’s for making soft pretzels but the dough shaping and soda bath technique is the same.



Crunchy / Hard Pretzels
Adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe

1 3/4 cups warm water (about 40C or 110F)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (a little more if necessary)
2 tsp salt*
6 cups water
2 tbsp baking soda
Egg wash (1 yolk + 2 tbsp water whisked together) - optional
Pretzel salt or coarse salt crystals

*You might want to cut down on the salt a bit if you’re going to sprinkle salt on the pretzels while baking.



-->Put the warm ware, sugar and yeast in a bowl and mix. Keep aside for about 5 minutes or so until the yeast activates and becomes “frothy”.
-->Put this, the flour and the salt in the processor bowl and knead until you have a soft, smooth and elastic dough that is slightly sticky to touch, but pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If your dough feels too wet add a couple of tablespoons of flour to get the required consistency. I hand-kneaded the dough and it was extremely sticky that it was in high demand of flour :)
-->Shape the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl, turning it to coat it well. Cover with a wet cloth of a cling film. I let it side in the 'pyrex' bowl used to froth yeast to save some washing time ;)
--> Let it double in volume. This should take about an hour or so.


Deflate the dough, so that almost all the air is removed. pinch out 1/4th of the dough placing the maximum 3/4th part in the chiller compartment of your refrigerator. If you are a beginner, it will take some time to shape the pretzels and this is to avoid fighting with the quick rising dough if kept inactive for minutes. Lightly flour your work surface and roll the dough out into a small cylinder. Then using a pizza cutter divide the dough into large marble sized balls.
Now lightly oil your palms and your work surface. If you add too much of oil you will not be able to roll out the dough into “ropes”. Flatten each square of dough and then roll it up as tightly as you can. Now place the “rolled” bit of dough on your work surface and using your hands, roll it out into a uniform “rope” of about 15” length. It will be thinner than a pencil.

  If the above pictorials don't do justice, please click here for the video that shows how to shape pretzels.

For 'sticks' and 'bites'
You can leave them as “sticks” instead of shaping them into pretzels. If you want them shorter, you can halve them. Remember baking time will differ depending on the shape of your pretzels. The baking temperature is the same whether you shape them into sticks or pretzels.
If you would prefer to make pretzel bites then do not roll the dough out into a square. Just divide it into 4 portions and then roll each portion into a “rope that is about 1” in diameter. Cut each rope into 1 1/2" bits. Roll each ball into a long rope about 1” in diameter. Cut each rope into 1 1/2" bits. Then proceed to boil them as given in the instructions below. Bake the pretzel bites at 210C (425F) for about 15 minutes.


Shape it into a pretzel and place it on a greased plate or sheet. Place the shaped dough on the greased plate/ sheet leaving about 1/2" space between them.
First prepare your baking sheets. It is a good idea to line them with parchment paper which is lightly brushed with oil. This makes them easy to remove after baking and also protects your baking sheets from the soda solution.
Now prepare the soda bath. Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a deep pan/ pot. Add the baking soda carefully. It will bubble up and froth a bit and then settle down. Using a slotted spoon or a spatula, gently slide about 5 to 6 pretzels, one at a time, into the bath. Let them cook on one side for 10 seconds. Flip them over and cook them for another 10 seconds. Do not cook them for more than 30 seconds in total, or your dough will become slimy. Remove the boiled pretzels with a slotted spoon and place them on the parchment lined baking sheets. If using the egg wash, brush it over the pretzels, and then sprinkle it with the salt.


Bake them at 180C (335F) for 40 to 50 minutes until they’re deep golden brown in colour and hard. Cool them on a rack and store them in airtight containers or they will become soft and chewy.
This recipe makes 36 hard pretzels.

 How does the soft pretzels differ from hard pretzels?

 I halved the original recipe and made soft and hard ones. The method is all the same for both. The soft pretzels demand a thicker rope and a bit of resting to rise while the harder ones are with thinner ropes and baked until browned a shade or two more. Thus the texture differs slighly in both. The recipe for soft pretzels or Laugenbrezels were adapted from here.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thakkali Thokku / Ground Tomato Pickle or The Spicy Tomato Preserve

Thakkali Thokku

I am obsessive about tomato chutney recipes. I enjoy trying out  numerous variations, playing with the amount of tomatoes, onions and chillies going in every time and trust me you can never go wrong with the  chutney. The different tastes are always exciting and tasty however you jumble the ingredients! I have my granma's (amma's too) version of Tomato Chutney already posted here which is a 'semi preserve' type.

Thakkali Thokku or the Spicy Tomato Preserve is a stronger Tamil variation of tomato chutney in which onions are avoided completely and given a final touch of vendayappodi (methi or fenugreek powder) for the characteristic 'pickle flavour'.

So let me assure, you can be a little flexible with the ingredients for this one and the final dish will be heartwarming as always!

Thakkali Thokku

Thakkali Thokku
Yields enough to fill  two 200ml cups


Ripe red tomatoes- 750 grams
Tiny garlic cloves- 40 numbers. ( I used 'tharai poondu' or the country garlic which are tiny and slender. If you have normal cloves, use 20 no.s. Halve or quarter them lengthwise.)
[Use one-third quantity of garlic for grinding and the rest for seasoning]
Table salt-1 tsp

Oil- 1/2 cup ( let this be a 50:50 mixture of any oil you use for cooking and gingelly seed oil/nallennai
Mustard seeds- 1tsp
Fenugreek seeds- 2 fat pinches
Red chillies- 3-4 no.s broken into 3 pieces each
Red chilly powder- 1- 1 1/2 tsp
Hing / perungayappodi -1/4 tsp
Methi powder/ venthayappodi - 1/4 tsp (the methi seeds should be dry roasted well enough before powdering)


Thakkali Thokku

Wash and slice the tomatoes. They can be long, but slice them thin. Retain the juice that ooze out.
Throw in 10-12 pcs/pods of garlic pods and a tsp of salt. Combine gently and transfer to a colander placed on a wide bowl. Sundry for a few hours or at least a couple of hours under 'good' sun ( I had this out for 4 hours as there wasn't much sun and quite breezy ). Toss once every 30-45 minutes. The juice thus drips further more and get collected in the bowl below. Grind the pieces to a smooth paste. (Do not add the collected juice or water while grinding)

*I had about 1 cup of drained juice and 4 cups of pulp. This was reduced to 2 cups finally.*

Thakkali Thokku

Heat oil in a non-stick kadai. Splutter the mustard and brown the fenugreek seeds. Add the rest of garlic followed by the broken red chilly bits. Sauté for a few seconds and mix in the ground tomato pulp.

Thakkali Thokku

Bring the mixture to a boil and keep the flame low. Make sure the kadai is wide and deep enough so as to avoid splutters. Allow the saucy mix to thicken. Now pour the reserved juice and mix along. Simmer for a few more minutes. Add the chilly powder, hing and curry leaves. Thicken the mix further until the watery part has all evaporated an the oil starts separating on the sides.

Thakkali Thokku

Add fenugreek powder and salt (check and add) and mix along until the oil separates and bubbles on the sides. It's quite fine if at all you don't see the oil separating. You may always drizzle a little if it doesn't. Just make sure you had reduced the pulp to half with the consistency as in the picture below. It need not be too thick. It should be moist, oily, glossy and happy :)

Thakkali Thokku

Always use ripe red tomatoes. You may not need to use country tomatoes. I used Bangalore tomatoes and they were perfect! If your tomatoes are ripe and towards the sweeter side than sourness, you may add a bit of tamarind paste. Use very little for the tanginess. Do not avoid the final addition of fenugreek powder. It's a must for 'that' special flavour.
Drizzle a little oil if you find it too dry towards the final stages. I recommend you to  add the required oil while seasoning itself as the paste would get sautéed well enough from the start.

Thakkali Thokku keeps well for a few weeks if refrigerated.I learnt this recipe from my ma-in-law's co-sister. She suggests to top the preserve with castor oil/vilakkennai which increases the shelf life considerably for those days we never had the luxury of refrigerators. She mentions how the tomatoes were ground in large amounts those days in our ancestral village home using "aattu kallu" to serve the large joint family!

The spicy tomato preserve goes well with just anything and this was packed for sister during my visit to Singapore last month :)
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Beans Mezhukkupuratti / Kerala Style Stir-fried Beans

Beans Mezhukkupuratti

"Beans Mezhukkupuratti" is yet another authentic side dish from central Kerala. I am not very sure whether the recipe belongs to the Catholics or the Syrian Christians of the state, but all I know is that I grew up having this simple stir fry at least once a week!
This simple side dish has a wonderful flavour of garlic and shallots combined with the goodness of coconut oil and curry leaves and is flavourful and addictive. I can have this with a bowl of hot steamed rice without any accompaniments such as curries!

Straight to the recipe...
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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Tea Cake


Hugs to you, Eashwari..
This is already my personal favourite post of the year!
I love to name it Tea Cake. That's how amma calls it. She still has the flair to make the perfect tea cakes, airy and light with no luxury of eggbeaters or new age ovens those days. She used the (vintage!) glass horlicks mixer inherited from her ma-in-law; my granma, for beating egg whites to stiff peaks and a round oven that didn't have a timer or even a temperature control for baking her cake ever since I can remember or since past a few decades.
Neverthelessly my tea cakes turn out denser every time I bake in spite of modern beaters, whisks and ovens. I still am unsure where I fail to make this basic pound cake while I boast about baking ventures!

Recently I had a surprise box of freshly baked, warm pieces of simple tea cake,  neatly squared out, which had the loveliest texture, flavour and taste which I could relate to the best 'yellow vanilla pound cakes' savoured at many parts world wide and most importantly the cake amma makes!

The source point was Eashwari,  who is my friend for almost the past two decades; whom I had not recognised as a great baker! She runs her own pre-school and had had her hands  always full. On another note I get inspired the way she maintains her cute little home. In an artful way with all the simple contemporary, traditional stuff hanging here and there or  placed neatly on shelves and corners which merges with every single other piece around.

I rang her up, while the cake sent over by her, melted in my mouth bursting all its goodness. She explained the recipe which seemed to be like a simple pound cake made with a 40 year old egg beater and a 30 year old oven! Ah, so there lies the secret! The vintage appliances again!!

We fixed up a time convenient for both of us and over to her neat and systematic  kitchen...



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