Pretzels - Not Just Airplane Food

As a fifth generation member of the Daring Bakers, I missed four previous challenges. It has been suggested (somewhat insanely I wonder) that as an off the record non-official challenge, those of us who are touched with a baking madness, could play catch-up and make some of the things missed.

Whilst I feel that, when it comes to the croissant challenge, I might just have to wash my hair that weekend, I was all up for the pretzels.
Much like bagels, pretzels are still somewhat of a novelty in the smaller, more 'sheltered' villages of little Britain. It takes a long while for us to accept culinary change, particularly if they are in anyway associated to a culture we may not understand and what is considered part of the fabric of US cuisine (so much so, that - according to dubious fact machine, Wikipedia - 2 Lbs of pretzels are consumed every year - by every American), it could be another 3 decades before it is fully integrated over here.
You all know how much we both love Mexican food, yet only a couple of years ago Paul and I were disappointed to find that the restaurant we had planned to visit for our Wedding Anniversary (Chi Chi's - for the deep fried Ice Cream and Margaritas, naturally!) had stopped serving Tacos and now served Tapas. This is a clear indication that people still want to be reminded of the food they ate whilst on package holidays to the Med but at the prices they were charging (£3.50 for 10 olives??), I could see this themed restaurant becoming a McDonalds.
On the other hand, Mexican food is filling, reasonably priced and just as varied as Tapas, yet it still remains an afficionado-only type cuisine.
With this in mind, it is inconceivable to think that there might be a hot pretzel stand in our local shopping mall. Burger King, yes. Hot Buttered Pretzels with Nacho Dip, no.
So, until today, I had to lock away that uniquely salty soft bread treat in the taste-bud part of my brain or console myself with airplane pretzels (and if you have been lucky enough to be on a post-peanut flight, you will probably have been given Snyders of Hanover pretzels, those little golden packets somehow holding all the promise of your holiday right there on the tray in front of you. Whether this is true or not, those crunchy little morsels never taste as good as when you're in the air, crunchy, salty but not the same, definitely not the same as soft pretzels). After baking pretzels today, I wondered why I had waited so long, and it wasn't just my lack of artistic ability or not being able to curl them into their familiar shape (that's what Paul's for). Pretzels are perhaps one of the easiest yeast based breads to make and certainly tastier than any long-rising loaf.
However, like any bread that has many years (nay, centuries) of history preceeding it, the pretzel is not without controversy. Only yesterday did we encounter this. Paul insisted that, as per his Mom's recipe, the pretzels MUST BE BOILED BEFORE BAKING. I, on the other hand, pointed out the Daring Bakers recipe, lifted from Ivonne's merely dips the raw, formed pretzels in hot sugary water, then leave to prove for half an hour before baking. Much easier than boiling.

For those of you who have never tasted a hot soft pretzel, it has an almost indefinable savouryness, much like cabbage or oysters, a saltiness that is pleasurable without being wincing (although, unlike cabbage and oysters, I love pretzels dipped in chocolate). There is also a second layer of flavour that comes from the bagels being brushed with melted butter, the slight separation of the butter giving a rich shine to the thick, golden twists.

This ancient treat has roots in Germany, Italy and even France, documented as early as the 7th Century. A rather charming story tells how an Italian Monk folded little pieces of dough into an intricate twist referred to as 'Pretiola', meaning 'little reward' which was given to diligent children who learnt their prayers. There are also other stories: a German baker desperate to save his life if only he can produce a bread for the Duke of Wurttemberg through which the sun can be seen twice. In another religious twist (pardon the pun), legend also suggests that the pretzel could have garnered its unique appearance through its yeasty depiction of the Holy Trinity or perhaps the position that monks adopt when in prayer.
Whilst the true history of the Pretzel remains shrouded in mystery, this curly treat remains firmly in favour, even in the new millennium. And here is how to make them:
(from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion)
2.5 Cups Plain Flour
1/2 teaspoon Salt
7g Dried (Instant) Yeast
1 teaspoon Sugar
1 Cup Warm Water
For the Glaze:
1/2 Cup Warm Water
1 Teaspoon Sugar
3 Tablespoons Melted Butter (I find it has a better flavour when it has cooled slightly but is still liquid)
Maldon Salt for Sprinkling
Place the flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the yeast and sugar.
This could be where mythology enters into my repertoire but it has also worked for me: add the salt to the side of the flour so that it doesn't touch the yeast. The salt slows down the action of the yeast.
Pour the warm water over the yeast and sugar in the centre of the bowl, and working from the centre outwards, stir well with a wooden spoon until a messy dough is formed. You will probably need to add more warm water.
Once you have achieved a well combined but shaggy looking dough that is only slightly sticky, turn out onto floured board and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is soft and smooth.
Place in an oiled bowl and cover loosely with clingfilm. Leave to rise for half an hour.
Once the dough has doubled, maybe even tripupled in size, gently punch down (is there such a thing as a gentle punch, I wonder), remove from the bowl and form into a rough cylindrical shape. Cut into 6-8 equal pieces.
Dissolve the sugar into the half a cup of warm water.
Roll each piece into a long, thin sausage shape, 24 inches long, then form into the pretzel shape. Dip each formed pretzel into the sugar water and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Preheat oven to 230c (or 250c if yours goes that high) and leave the pretzels to rise for another 15 minutes.
Cook for 6 minutes, then rotate them so that the pretzels that were at the front of the oven, are now at the back, and cook for another 6 minutes.
Remove from the oven, brush with the melted butter until it has all been used up and serve hot! We served ours with a chilli, baked potato and cheese soup that I quickly knocked up whilst the oven was on:
One large baked potato, diced
2 Cups Grated Cheddar
250ml Sour Cream
1 Toasted Dried Chilli
Spring Onions Chopped
Squeeze of Fresh Lemon Juice
Heat the sour cream over very low heat until warm, stir in the grated cheese until it has melted, then add the diced baked potato and spring onions. Stir in the lemon juice which will stop the sauce from coagulating. Crumble over the toasted chilli, add a little salt if necessary and serve.


Joyce said...

You make pretzel making seem a snap. Have never given it a go, but now you've piqued my interest.
The back stories were good, too!

Jenny said...

I just made these too! They were so easy and good.

I think your husband is right - if you were planning on making crispy pretzels. But these are the soft ones, so I think the process is different. I'm not a professional or anything but boiling stuff is tricky. ;)

Sara said...

Oh my gosh you make these sound so great. I missed out on the pretzel challenge too, maybe I should try...

Little Foodie said...

'I could see this themed restaurant becoming a McDonalds...' You are funny and quite possibly mad, in a very lovely sort of way of course. Amanda

Susan said...

Not so terribly different or difficult, as you showed us with your bagels. One of the chief pleasures of New York street dining are the hot, soft pretzel carts. I second the chocolate dip, though I like a robust mustard, too.

T.W. Barritt said...

As I sat in an airport lounge last night on a 4 hour delay, I consumed FOUR soft pretzels - a little soggy, and not nearly as good as how yours sound!

Janet said...

There is an airline out there that still serves food? I'd be happy with a pretzel any day.... on Air Canada you have to pay 5$ for a soggy sandwich. Blech!

Deborah said...

I am not one of those Americans that eat 2 lbs. of pretzels a year, but maybe if I lived in NYC (or anywhere with street food) I would. I LOVE soft pretzels. And all of these pretzel posts are really making me crave one!

Nora B. said...

Hmm...pretzels. I don't like the small, salty crispy ones, but I love the soft ones. I have a sweet tooth, so I tend to go for the sweet, soft pretzels, the kind that's glazed with something sweet & sticky.

Lydia said...

The hot soft pretzels you can buy from street vendors in New York, topped with a bit of spicy mustard, are the absolute best street food in the world. I have wonderful memories of eating hot pretzels in the middle of winter, walking along the street in front of the holiday windows of the 5th Avenue department stores.

valentina said...

Freya, I will have to give this pretzel recipe a go.I am a tad addicted to pretzel and grab one everyday on my way to work as well as my coffee. i have never tried it dipped in chocolate. Have put note to self in diary.

tigerfish said...

Oh, I've learnt so much about pretzels from you.

When can I ever have the chance to try a hot soft pretzel? Send them to me, pleeassee?

Culinarily Curious said...

Oh thank you Freya... I'm glad I'm not the only one who needed to enlist in my boyfriend's help to twist my pretzels.

Which sounds *far* kinkier than reality... :)

Toni said...

Hot soft pretzels made at home? Wow! Even though you make it sound easy, I think I'll stick to cooking, not baking. I tip my hat to you!

maltese parakeet said...

it cracks me up that there's a mexican restaurant called chi chi's! it's spanish slang for, well, um, to use a british phrase...jubblies.

Passionate Eater said...

My heart is beating so fast--you've described pretzel making and the history of the pretzel so perfectly. I can envision a shiny, golden-baked pretzel, just gleaming under the glowing oven light. But why am I in the mood for oysters, cabbage, and bagels too? You have such a way with words and with cooking! I always leave enamored with you two.

Saffron said...

I love pretzels but I've never tried to cook them.Actually here it's startng to be very hot so I don't know if I can still use my oven!Anyway it's a recipe I want to ...steal from you!

millufe said...

i've never had pretzel, is it heart shaped solty cookie like sweet right? Hot soft pretzel sounds soooooo nice. i want to try it. But before that, i will make apple cake! My husband loves it so much, then i have a question. Do any apples are ok for your cake? i mean, which goes well with youe cake, sweet apples or sour ones?
im waiting the photoes.

lynn said...

Aren't pretzels fun to make? They're so easy my kids love to make them with me, twisting them into their own unique shapes. The boiling part makes the glossy, chewy outer crust, like a bagel, but your version sounds fabulous, too.

Garrett said...

THis post is just rocking my socks! Totally want to make pretzles now!

Kelly-Jane said...

Great post. Well done for giving them a go!

Mrs. E said...

Thank you for visiting me :) I have to say you have a wonderful place here. Isn't food grand? lol I love pretzels too.

I have been reading many of your posts and one in particular caught my eye. The Dulde de Leche Duos look quite amazing. I too am a fan of Dulce de Leche and am always eager to use in any recipe :) Sometimes I just smear it on a soda cracker and wow...heaven!

Thank you for sharing such wonderful recipes. This one is going in my recipe box for sure. Will visit you again!

Callipygia said...

Yes homemade pretzels are a delightful thing. I have only made them once and keep thinking to make em again. I've heard of a company who stuffs the pretzel by rolling filling into a long rope and encasing it with prezel. Pizza stuffing, cinnamon and sugar, chocolate, raspberry. Not at once of course!

Truffle said...

What an informative post and both those recipes look excellent!

Pille said...

Such a great idea to re-create the missed Daring Bakers "episodes" - I should consider it, too!