How to Make Soft Pretzels at Home
After reading Chef Vogel's contemplation of the pretzel, I decided that I wanted to get into the act, too. I agree that most mass-produced hard pretzels are generally eaten in a fugue state while sipping a beer and watching a game above the bar. At its heart, though, the pretzel is a delightful specialty bread and deserves a bit more respect.
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be part of the opening team for a gastropub. We did everything from painting picture frames to mopping the floors to setting the opening menu. The restaurant was split into three parts: a chef's room, the main dining area, and the bar. The bar was quite the showpiece, and we always had a wonderful selection of fine American craft beers on tap. We would grudgingly hand someone a can of Budweiser if they insisted, but we only kept a few in the fridge.
Part of the fun, and challenge, of working at a restaurant that had "pub" in its name was trying to find as many ways as possible to integrate our great selection of beers into the food without its seeming forced or contrived. Enter, the soft pretzel--the quintessential bar snack that we made over into the most popular appetizer on the menu.
Secret #1: Feed The Yeast With Sugar
There are two secrets to making great soft pretzels that I will now share with you. When making a yeasted bread product, bakers always like to feed the yeast a bit of sugar to give it a head start. That sugar can be in the form of honey, granulated sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, even maple syrup. But the form that lends itself to the traditional soft pretzel is malt syrup-more or less the same stuff used in beer making. The malt syrup provides a subtle yet complex flavor that just says "soft pretzel."
Secret #2: Poach The Pretzels In Alkalized Water
Secret number two is to poach the pretzels in alkalized water, or water with a high pH. The hot water provides the gelatinization necessary for a shiny, crackly crust, and the low pH encourages deep browning in the oven so your pretzels come out pretzel-colored instead of roll-colored. Your standard bag of hard pretzels get a bath in a lye solution. In the home kitchen, this can be more than a little risky, so a good substitute is baking soda, one of the most alkalizing ingredients in the kitchen. It's cheap and readily available, and it works.
Now that you know the secrets, on with the recipe.
These pretzels are made with the straight dough method. That just means that you put all in ingredients in the mixer at one time and then let it mix. Very easy.
How to Twist Pretzels Video
Here's a quick video with Chef Jenni showing you how to twist a pretzel for this recipe. If you want to see the entire pretzel procedure on video, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIhioueIzQI