Tuesday, June 22, 2010

3 days and totally worth it: Homemade Soft Pretzels

I got a beautiful cookbook by Richard Bertinet at a used book store about a year ago. It's titled Crust (a sequel to Dough) and it is full of gorgeous pictures of delicious bread-type treats whose crust is part of the appeal.  The recipe that made me purchase it was the recipe for Soft Pretzels, and for the last year I've thought "oh, I would love soft pretzels right now!" and pulled out the cookbook to remember that, oh yeah, it has like 5 steps of 'do this then let rest for 1-6  hours'. So finally, finally last week I planned wayyyy ahead and got all the ingredients, planned it out, and started the pretzels. Oh man. It took me three days (but really you only need 2) and it was so worth it. They were tasty, comforting, and besides the time investment, super simple.  I shared them with acquaintances and if we weren't already friends, we sure are now. The recipe makes 12 big pretzels, which I thought would be a lot, but they disappeared quickly.

The cool thing about this recipe is that it uses a base recipe of fermented white dough, which is what takes the longest (it has to rise for at least 6 hours), but with the fermented dough plus some other ratios of more bread flour, yeast, salt, etc, you can make baguettes, seeded rye bread, bagels and of course, pretzels. Amazing.  I think a lot of people are very intimidated by the thought of making bread, but if you have patience and plan ahead, it's quite simple and super delicious.

Good luck!

Pretzels from Crust by Richard Bertinet

For the Fermented White Dough (makes about 900 g/ 2 lb of dough)
Ingredients: Yeast (about 2 teaspoons of fresh or half a packet or active rise yeast), 3 3/4 cups white bread flour,  2 teaspoons salt, 1 3/4 cups water.

Directions: Rub the yeast into the flour using your fingertips, add the salt and the water and mix well until the dough begins to come together. Turn out onto an unfloured work surface and work the dough (the dough will be quite tacky). Return the dough to your lightly floured mixing bowl (to flour your bowl, lightly grease and then add a bit of flour and roll the bowl around until the flour has coated the bowl, toss the loose flour). Cover the bowl with a baking cloth and let it rest at room temp for 6 hours or overnight in the fridge (or up to 48 hours). Dough should double in size.

For the Pretzels (makes 12 pretzels)

Ingredients: 400 g fermented white dough (a bit less than half of what you've made, use the rest for a 2nd batch later or toss, you need to make the full recipe of the fermented dough to have the right amount of yeast, etc), 3 3/4 cups white bread flour, 2 t of fresh yeast or 1/2 packet of yeast,  3 3/4 t sugar, 2 t salt, 3 1/2 t butter (cut into small cubes), 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup water. For the egg wash, 1 egg mixed with a pinch of salt.

Directions: Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and then add the fermented dough, butter, milk and water. Mix the ingredients together by hand until well combined. Make sure to really combine the new ingredients with the ball of fermented dough.  The dough will be very stiff and it will seem like you have too much flour, but just keep kneading it. If you can't get it combined, let it sit for five or ten minutes and then continue to knead/combine.  Once combined, cover the bowl with a baking cloth and let it rest for an hour.  In a small bowl or cup, lightly beat one egg and add a pinch of salt. This needs to sit for an hour so do this now rather than when you're ready to roll out the dough. 

Lightly flour your work surface and divide the dough into 12 even pieces.  Roll each piece with your fingers until it is around 8 inches long with the pieces a bit narrower at the ends (I tried making both really skinny and kind of chubby pretzels - I think I liked the chubby ones better, but I may have just over cooked the skinny ones. And the skinny ones tasted more pretzel-. Form into the pretzel shape (heart shape with ends twisted in the center over the base of the heart).  Lay the pretzels on a greased baking tray and glaze with the egg wash. Let the pretzels rise, uncovered for 45-60 minutes. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Glaze the pretzels again and sprinkle with course salt (course sea salt works great), pressing the salt into the dough a bit.  Put the pretzels into the oven and turn the heat down to 450 degrees F.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until the pretzels are a dark golden brown.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!

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