You don’t have to be German to enjoy a soft chewy pretzel!
This past weekend was the 42nd Annual Muenster Germanfest in nearby Muenster, Texas. I didn’t go, but it made me think of pretzels. It also reminded me that I attended the festival around 1982 with friends. Then, I worked at a small, restaurant/pub called Cozy Oaks, in Denton, Texas. I schlepped burgers, beers, sandwiches and salads there for about three years and made lifelong friends.
Everyday, around 5:30, the then Mayor of Muenster, Leo Hess, and some of his buddies would come in and have a beer. Cozy Oaks was the only restaurant in Denton that served bottled beers from around the world. We served Kirin from Japan, Beck’s from Germany, Heineken from the Netherlands, Sapporo from Tokyo, Negro Modelo and Corona from Mexico, and more. If I recall, the Mayor of Muenster always had a Coors Light…go figure! Anyway, he invited all of us to attend the Annual Muenster Germanfest one year; and being free of adult responsibility, we piled up in the car and drove to Muenster. What a fun day it was! We drank German beer and ate pretzels, strudels, cheeses, danced, and had a big time out in the middle of nowhere…Muenster, Texas…population 1500 (today!)
The festival was founded in 1976 and even in 1982, it was still a relatively small event; you could walk the grounds and run into people you knew. Today, I hear the festival has moved to a large park and attracts thousands to the three-day event. And even though I’m not German and I didn’t go to the Muenster Germanfest, I still thought about pretzels…all week. So I made some.
Some pretzel makers use a food-grade lye to dip the dough into prior to baking.
Lye is high in alkalinity and by dipping the pretzels in the lye, it increases the alkalinity so that the Maillard effect takes place. The Maillard effect is a process central to all bread baking…it is the reason breads brown. Basically, it’s a chemical reaction between sugars and amino acids (proteins). The lye breaks down the proteins in the dough and these small pieces of protein, or amino acids, combine with the sugars to form flavor, texture and browning.
Food-grade lye isn’t easy to find, so the next best thing is baking soda. By adding about 2/3 cup of baking soda to water, the alkalinity of the water is raised to about 9 versus the lye alkalinity of 14. As a result, baking soda accomplishes almost the same result as a food-grade lye.
The pretzels were actually pretty easy to make and they tasted delicious! The challenges for me were shaping them and placing them into the boiling water without them falling apart.
First, it’s important you oil your hands when you’re rolling out the “snake” shape of the pretzel. The oil helps the dough move easily between your hands and it also helps stabilize the dough so it won’t shrink once formed. If your dough shrinks after you form the pretzel, oil your hands and reshape the dough. Don’t reshape it too many times or you will mess up the gluten consistency. Too much or too little dough handling impacts the final product.
Once you’ve got the dough in a long snake shape, pull the ends up to form a “U”. Then, “criss-cross” the ends and attach to the bottom of the “U”. Lightly pinch the dough where it criss-crosses and also where it meets the base of the “U”.
When placing the dough into the water, I recommend you use a spatula or spider, and gently lower the dough into the water, hold the spatula in place until the dough begins to float. One the dough floats, it’s probably ready to come out…this boiling process only takes 30 seconds per pretzel.
Note also that there are two kinds of salt in this recipe; salt (table salt, kosher salt) for the pretzel dough and course sea salt for the garnishing of the pretzel. Have fun making these! My next batch, I’m going to try a variety of seasonings in the dough–garlic powder, Parmesan, dill…Let me know how your pretzels turn out! Oh, and if they fall apart in the water, to hell with it. Make pretzel balls or pretzel sticks. Cooking is experimental and fun. Finally, don’t stress over it! See you in the kitchen!
- 4 1/2 cups flour
- 1 pkg active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water warm 110º-115ºF
- 2 teaspoons salt kosher, not sea salt
- 2 tablespoons butter melted
- 2/3 cup baking soda
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon water
- course sea salt
- In a stand mixer bowl, add warm water, sugar, salt; sprinkle one package active dry yeast and let sit for 5 minutes; don't stir it! After 5 minutes, the yeast will begin to form a foam. This is good. If it doesn't form a foam, start over because your yeast died due to the water not being the correct temperatureNOTE: use a thermometer to test the temperature of the water; it MUST be between 110ºF - 115ºF.
- Pour the flour and melted butter into the water/yeast mixture and combine using the dough hook of the stand mixer; mix on low until dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl; (5-10 minutes)
- Take the dough out of the stand mixer bowl; clean bowl with soap and water; dry; pour some oil on a paper towel and run it along the inside of the clean mixing bowl; put the dough back in the mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap; place in a warm area (heat rises, so I put it on top of the fridge); let the dough sit for 50 minutes (until it has doubled in size)
- Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat the paper with oil
- Once the dough has doubled, punch it once with your fist, then turn it out onto a lightly oiled surface; (NOT FLOUR)
- Form a big ball with the dough and cut it into quarters; then cut the quarters into half; you will have 8 balls of dough
- Bring water and baking soda to rolling boil;
- Preheat oven to 450ºF
- With lightly oiled hands, take each small dough ball and turn it out into a long, skinny strand, about 18-24 inches in length
- Form a "U" with the strand of dough, then, holding each end, bring it down to the base of the "U". Lightly pinch where the strands cross and where they meet at the base of the "U"
- Form all the pretzels at once; after each pretzel is formed, place it on the oiled parchment paper (this keeps the dough from shrinking)
- Once all pretzels are formed, using a spatula or spider, gently lower one pretzel dough at a time into the boiling water; let it boil for 30 seconds; you might have to hold the spatula/spider in the water for a bit-or until the pretzel floats; if the pretzel comes apart in the boiling water, remove it immediately and reshape it, and place it back in the boiling water
- After each pretzel is removed from the boiling water, place it on the oiled parchment sheet
- Once all pretzels are boiled, separate one large egg and place the yolk in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of water; beat lightly
- Using a pastry brush, lightly coat each pretzel with the egg wash; sprinkle pretzels with course sea salt
- Place in oven and bake 15 minutes, or until pretzels are golden brown
- Remove pretzels from baking pan and place on cooling rack
- The most challenging part of making pretzels is keeping them shaped in the boiling water; if they start to fall apart, you can either remove the dough, re-shape it and place it back into the boiling water, or
- Form pretzel balls! Just roll the dough into bite size portions, boil for 30 seconds, place on sheet, and continue process.
- Americans generally dip pretzels in mustard, but the Germans and Austrians dipped them in melted butter!
- Dip them in the sauce of your choice, mustard, butter, hummus, peanut butter, chocolate!!!