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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why Bother??? 2012 - Soft Pretzels

Shopping malls.  Sporting arenas.  A street corner in New York City.  An odd collection of places, but they are some of the only places that you can find a soft pretzel.  Sweet and salty, yeasty and warm, soft pretzels are one of the food items that you would rarely think to make on your own.  These huge pretzels are among the only reasons that I like going to sporting events.  Especially baseball games.  I have many memories of sharing a box of soft preztel bites with my mom and these memories also have to do with sporting events too.

Back in the days of the early nineties, the Buffalo Bills were a football team to be reckoned with.  In those years, we had Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Steve Tasker, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed, all under the direction of Marv Levy.  You'll remember that I am indifferent to football these days, which means that these guys were a big deal, because I remember their names to this day.  The dream team went to the super bowl four times in four years.  They also had one devoted fan, my dad.

He would hunker down every Sunday in front of the big screen (or the radio) and watch his team fight their way to victory.  In the years of the dream team, wins outnumbered losses and it was a happy time.  Unfortunately, the dream eventually faded and we were left with a team that was recovering from the retirement of many of its stars.  The win-loss record suffered and so did their fans.

In the years of awakening, those sad years after 1995, the Buffalo fans held out hope that their team could rebuild and return to their old glory.  Those of you who follow football know this, Buffalo has yet to return to those dream win-loss records.  Sundays of those post-1995 years were spent escaping the house, running from the game and hiding from the darkness it brought over the house.  Football meant sadness and depression (and yelling and the TV). 

To escape the football fog, my mom and I would head out Sunday afternoons.  We would hit the mall and shop to our hearts content.  Trying on clothes, looking at sparkly jewelry, but mostly just enjoying some time together.  At the end of each shopping trip, we would head to the pretzel stand and get a pack of pretzel bites.  I'd get the nacho cheese and mom would get the cheddar.  These buttery little bites of bread would be the prefect end to our escape day. 

The decision to make soft pretzels at this time of the year was motivated by the upcoming Super Bowl.  Of the two recipes I tried out, I preferred the buttery mall pretzels.  The boiled pretzels just didn't turn out like I wanted them.  My verdict on this challenge?  It was totally worth it to make these guys.  They didn't take nearly as long as I thought they would and were completely delicious.  I think that I can skip the mall pretzels now, because these were just as good. 

I was unable to replicate the stadium pretzel.  This just means that 1. I'll have to keep trying and 2. I'll have to keep going to sporting events until I get it right!  Let's go BUFFALO!

Buttery Mall Pretzels
Adapted from King Arthur Flour - The Bakers Companion

These pretzels tasted just like the buttery ones you get at the mall.  Perfect when they are hot, they would be even better if I had access to a tub of nacho cheese sauce.  Be sure to check out my little video of making the pretzel shape!  30 seconds per pretzel, you'll be done in no time flat.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
7/8 - 1 cup warm water

1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
coarse salt
3 tbsp butter, melted

Mix together the dry ingredients.  Slowly add in water until the dough comes together, you may not need to add all of the water.  Once all of the flour is incorporated, knead the dough for about 5 minutes.

Coat in a bowl with cooking spray and toss dough in.  Roll it around to coat the dough ball in oil.  Let the dough sit for 30 minutes, it should approximately double in size.

Preheat your oven to 500.

Lightly coat your work surface with cooking spray.  Divide the dough ball into 8 equal portions and allow them to rest for 5 minutes.  Roll out each piece into a 28-inch long rope.  Form into a pretzel shape (see video!) and carefully dip in a bowl containing 1/2 cup warm water and 1 tsp sugar.  Transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.

Allow the pretzels to rest for 10 minutes before baking for 10-11 minutes (or until golden brown), rotate pans 180 degrees at the halfway point.  Remove pretzels from the oven and coat with melted butter. Use ALL of the butter!  That way they taste super delicious!

Boiled Stadium Pretzels
Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

I think it's the recipe that I went with, but these pretzels didn't come out exactly as I had hoped.  They are still crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle, but they lack that dark brown color that you get from the stadium pretzels.  While these were tasty, I think that they would make for a better sandwich roll than snack.

You'll also notice that these pretzels are shaped a little differently than the butter ones.  These are actually tied in a knot.  The knot helps to maintain the pretzel shape during boiling.  Had I put the other ones in a pot of boiling water, I would have been fishing out tubes of boiled dough, not pretzels!

1 1/2 cups warm water
3 tsp dried yeast
3 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp sugar
3 cups plus 2 tbsp flour

1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cream of tartar
1 egg

Mix together water, yeast, salt and sugar.  Let sit for 5 minutes to allow the yeast to wake up (the mixture should start to foam). 

In a large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, add the flour and mix in the yeasty water.  Using the dough hook attachment, mix until all of the flour is combined.  The dough will be very tacky.  Loosely cover the mixing bowl and allow the dough to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.  You can hold the dough here in the refrigerator or use it right away.  It is a little easier to work with when it is cold.

When you are ready to make pretzels, remove dough from the fridge and dust the top with flour.  Turn out onto a flour-dusted countertop and be sure it's all covered in a light layer of flour.  Cut the dough into 8 portions.  Roll each out into a 12-inch rope.  To shape the pretzel, tie the rope in a loose knot.  Set the pretzel on a parchment (or silpat) lined baking sheet.

Fill a large pot with water, 1 tsp of baking soda and 1 tbsp cream of tartar (it will bubble).  Bring the pot to a boil.  Preheat oven to 450 F.  Working 4 at a time, carefully transfer shaped pretzels into the boiling water.  Boil the pretzels for 2 minutes before flipping, boil for 2 more minutes.  Transfer pretzels quickly to a flour-dusted towel (to remove some excess water), then onto a baking sheet.  Boil the other 4 pretzels.

Beat egg with 1 tbsp water and brush onto each pretzel and sprinkle with salt.  Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire cooling rack.  Eat warm with mustard!
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