Downtown Tom inspired me to get outside my baking comfort zone and try to make a yeast bread of my own.
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon. Kid Two asked if we had any SuperPretzels. I didn’t but knew from browsing through my Joy of Cooking that we had a recipe for the home-made kind, so after a quick check in the drawer for an unexpired packet of yeast, I answered yes, but he’d have to help me make them.
“You mean you can make those things from scratch? Awesome.” He’d only known that big soft pretzels come either from the freezer case or from the vendor at the Boardwalk and was ready to give it a try.
We learned that making pretzels does not give the 60-second gratification of the frozen kind. First you dissolve the yeast, mix the ingredients, knead, and let rise. Then you cut the dough into pieces, roll them into snake-like shapes, form the pretzels, and let rise again. Then you cook them for a minute or so in a mixture of boiling water and baking soda. Finally, you bake them; we started about noon and they were ready for dinner about 6PM. We did dawdle, of course.
There were also several questions along the way. The first was how to measure the temperature of warm water. Yeast is supposed to be dissolved in 110 – 115 degree water, so we dug out a candy thermometer and microwaved water at 30-second increments until it was in the right range. When it came time to knead the dough, I let Kid Two read the instructions in the cookbook and go for it. He’s eleven and impatient when he’s hungry and was ready to declare the dough shiny and smooth when it still probably had a way to go. The last bit of confusion was how long to leave the formed pretzels in the boiling water. We found if you boil them for too long the get gloopy:
Before they went in the oven, we sprinkled them with Hawaiian red clay sea salt because it looked cool. Soft pretzels don’t like to be overcooked, as I discovered with one batch. Happily, though, the rest turned out just fine. We’ll do this again. Best eaten warm from the oven.
Alton Brown has a great episode of Good Eats where he breaks down the process behind the perfect soft pretzel. It’s 22 minutes long; click here to switch to YouTube to watch it or just watch it here:
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Then when you’re done, you can click here to access his recipe from the Food Network’s website. Good luck, and remember – they will taste great, no matter how they look.