Monday, March 22, 2010

Pretzels are the human equivalent of salt lick

I don't know if guys get like this, but all the girls I know have days when there just isn't enough salt in the world. Chips, of course, are a good source of salt - I rank chips based on how salty they are. Any form of potato - fried, mashed, roasted - also works well for salt distribution. Breads, however, are usually not so salty (especially bread from Tuscany, which contains NO salt - blech!). Enter the pretzel - doughy, with a chewy crust, and as much salt as you can heap on.

I've been hearing for a while from a number of bloggers that pretzels are SO EASY to make, but I had my doubts. How easy can something be if it involves making a dough, letting it rise, shaping, boiling, AND baking? Surprisingly, they are easy. Even with all those steps, the process goes quickly, and the outcome - trays full of pretzels - is worth the effort. It takes me about 2 hours to make a batch, but then I have more pretzels than I know what to do with - definitely a good use of my time.

I'm interested in trying some variations on this recipe - like adding chopped herbs to the dough or sprinkling some grated parmesan on top - but really, these pretzels are pretty perfect just covered in salt. Feel free to vary the amount you sprinkle on - I've made them with double the amount that's on the one in the picture above, and that was just a little too salty for me.

Soft Pretzels
(from Alton Brown's recipe)
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups flour
2 ounces butter, melted
10 cups water
2/3 cups baking soda
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 Tbsp water
Kosher salt

Combine the water, sugar, salt, and yeast together in the bowl of a stand mixer and let sit for 5 minutes or until it begins to foam. Add flour and melted butter and mix on low speed with the dough hook attachment until well combined. On medium speed, knead until the dough is smooth and doesn't stick to the walls of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, give the inside of the bowl a good spray with Pam or other cooking spray, and put the dough back in. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 50-60 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray; set aside. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart pot.

Turn the dough out onto a cutting board and divide into equal pieces. I've made about 16 that come out to about the size of my palm, but you can make as few as 8 (like Alton does) or as many as 24. Roll each piece of dough out into a thin rope, no more than a half-inch in diameter. To shape the pretzels, form the rope into a U-shape, cross the ends over each other twice (like a little twist), then fold the twisted part down onto the curve of the U. Form all the pretzels before moving onto the next step.

Boil the pretzels in the water-baking soda combo one at a time for 30 seconds. Use a large slotted spatula or spoon to remove them. Lay the boiled pretzels on the prepared baking sheets, brush them with egg yolk, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake until a dark golden brown, about 10-12 minutes (add a few minutes if you make them larger). Transfer to a cooling rack.

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