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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Soft Beer Pretzels

The office celebrated Diversity Day yesterday by having an international lunch.  My group was assigned Europe, so I decided it was a good time to try these soft pretzels I had bookmarked.  (Why do I always take on the most challenging tasks when they're for the public?)  This was my second attempt at soft pretzels.  The first one, a King Arthur Flour recipe, is posted here.

I have three pretzel recipes bookmarked, and the basic recipe for all three is exactly the same, except for the salt quantity.  (This one had the least amount.) The dough was nice, but I added a bit of extra water and it ended up sticky, which caused problems with handling.  The pretzels stuck to my fingers, ruining their shape.  Allowing them to dry a bit helped, but perhaps better to use oiled hands.

They did not rise much prior to boiling, nor was there much oven spring.  The bulk of the rise happened during the boiling, where they became VERY delicate (often breaking during turning), developed a rough texture, and sometimes cracked, but never achieved that lacquered finish one expects.  They baked 12 minutes, and that was perhaps a little long, although they didn't become very brown.  I used a greased baking sheet rather than parchment, and there was trouble with them sticking – the longer they sat on the sheet after boiling, the more they stuck.  (I've heard from others that parchment does not eliminate the sticking problem.)  The key is to boil them just prior to baking so they don't have a chance to slurry themselves to the baking sheet, which means finessing the timing. Another thought is that boiling isn't even necessary -- the King Arthur Flour recipe requires only soaking in the baking soda solution.

Here's what I used:

For the dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons (7g) yeast
1/4 teaspoon (2g) salt
2 teaspoons (9g) sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) warm water
3/4 cup (180ml) beer
3 2 cups (500 330g) flour
1 cup (170g) bread flour
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons (32g) butter, softened

For the bath:
1/4 cup (50 grams) baking soda
Flaky salt, for sprinkling

Combine the yeast, salt, sugar in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. Add the warm water and let sit for 5 minutes or until foamy.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and cayenne pepper. Cut the softened butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the beer to the yeast mixture (it will foam) and stir briefly to combine. Add the liquid to the flour and mix until the dough comes together. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, or until no longer sticky. Leave on the counter covered with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment and lightly oil the paper. Divide the dough into 32 pieces, keeping the unrolled pieces covered with plastic while you work. Roll one ball into a 12-inch-long rope. Form a U shape and twist the ends together twice. Fold the twisted part backward onto the center of U shape to form a circle. Gently press the ends of the rope onto the dough to seal.  Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining dough. Let rise for 20 minutes. While you wait, preheat the oven to 475 and fill your largest pot with at least 5 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil. (Ideally, this will take about 20 minutes as well.)

When the pretzels have risen and the water is boiling, add the baking soda and gently transfer as many pretzels that will fit comfortably to the bath. Cook for a minute on each side, drain well, and return to the baking sheet.

Boiled on the left.  Unboiled on the right.
Ready for the oven.
Sprinkle with salt and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve warm with mustard.  Makes 32 3-4" pretzels.

Conclusion:  I'm going to need a lot of practice.  These were good, but did not turn out as expected.  This recipe has promise, but something in the technique went wrong.  The beer gave a slightly bitter taste that wasn't especially beer-like (I used Fosters) and the chili was undetectable. To make 32, I used 20 oz of dough for each; I think 25-30 oz would be better, as the thick spots in the pretzels were nicer.  (Compared to the photos of the originals, my ropes might have been too long as well.)  They did not keep well, becoming stale and tough within a day.  But in the end, they got eaten and even complimented, so they weren't a complete failure.

Recipe:  Pretz-ales via butter me up, Brooklyn!

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