When I am looking to create a recipe I usually go through the same process: If it is something new that I have never made before, I will study different recipes on the internet. I also study the why's of how something works and one of my favourite sites to get information is Serious Eats (seriously, this is an exceptionally good site). I will then use my intuition and experience and try to create something that is tailored to my own likes and preferences and that hopefully will work. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I can get a recipe right the very first time but often, it is a trial and error process that requires a lot of fine tuning and taste testing.
When I made the beer and cheddar soup recently, I wanted to accompany it with a fresh chewy pretzel and so, the process of learning pretzel making began. I wanted a pretzel that tasted like the ones we would get when we lived in Switzerland. The ones they sold at the train station in Lucerne that were huge, with a chewy, tender, slightly sweet centre surrounded by a crisp golden salty crust. One of the things I dod already know was that, like Montreal bagels, pretzels need to be put in an alkaline water bath before cooking in order to achieve that perfect texture and colour.
Traditionally, pretzels are dipped in a lye solution to create the crisp dark crust - I don't have lye, don't know where to get it and don't really want to use it (it's quite toxic). The alternative is to dip the pretzels in a baking soda bath. Like the lye, this will alkalinize the crust allowing it to turn that rich brown colour very quickly when baking - allowing the centre to not "over-bake" and remain soft and chewy - and give it that distinctive pretzel flavour.
After a few trials, here is my recipe for a delicious chewy pretzel. I hope you enjoy.
Chewy Soft Pretzels: Makes 12 large pretzels
- 3 teaspoons (15ml) of active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups (375ml) of warm water
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 1/2 cup (125ml) of sugar
- 4 cups (1 litre) of all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) of salt
- 1 Tablespoon (15ml) of oil
- 3 Tablespoons (45ml) of baking soda
- 4 cups (1l) of hot water
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to sprinkle on the pretzels before baking
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) of melted butter to brush on the cooked pretzels (omit for vegans or use melted vegan margarine)
Note: For a sweet pretzel, omit sprinkling the corse salt before baking - instead, when the pretzel are golden and cooked, brush with melted butter and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar.
Preheat your oven to 200°F (100°C) for 5 minutes to create a warm place for your dough to rise. Turn the oven off and begin making your pretzels.
Place the warm water, sugar (1 teaspoon) and active dry yeast in a soup bowl and whisk to mix. Let it sit for 10 minutes or until it begins to bubble and the yeast is activated.
Place the flour, sugar (1/2 cup), and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine.
Add the active liquid yeast mixture and oil and stir to combine with a fork until you obtain a shaggy dough.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough comes together in a smooth ball, about 3 minutes.
Place 1 teaspoon of oil in a large bowl and roll the dough around in the bowl to cover it completely in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp dish towel or plastic wrap and place in your warmed oven or another warm area to allow to rise for 1 hour - it will double in volume.
When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and punch it down.
Form a U shape with the dough rope with tips pointing up and away from you.
Cross the right strand over the left.
And then cross the strands a second time - bringing the left tip back and over the right one.
Lift the 2 tips up and pull them back toward you to press them into the curved lower part of the U shape. Press them down gently for them to stick.
Place the 4 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a gentle boil. Add the baking soda (3 Tablespoons) and whisk to dilute it completely in the hot water.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until puffed and golden. Brush with melted butter and cool on a rack. Serve with mustard or cheese sauce (see my stretchy cheese sauce recipe below).
Quick Stretchy Cheese Sauce: Makes 1 cup
2 Tablespoons (30ml) of flour
2 Tablespoons (30ml) of butter
1 Cup (250ml) of milk
1 Cup (250ml) of mozzarella or curd cheese
salt to season
chipotle powder to season and add a little heat (optional)
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to cook the roux for about 1 minute (this will eliminate some of the raw flour flavour).
Add the milk an increase heat to medium high, whisking continuously until the sauce thickens (about 2 minutes). Add cheese and stir until cheese completely melts. Taste and season. Serve warm with warm pretzels.