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.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.
How does the soft pretzels differ from hard pretzels?
How does the soft pretzels differ from hard pretzels?