Saturday, June 2, 2012

Authentic Pretzels, the EASIEST EVER!

Generally, homemade pretzels are complicated, time consuming and inferior in quality to the commercial counterparts.  But I've managed to put together an EASY recipe that will have you making these in no-time!  In about 2 hours, you will have the BEST tasting pretzels your taste buds will experience.  Before making, be sure to read all instructions and "Tips for Success" thoroughly to understand what is happening and the importance of each step.
Pretzels are mostly made with a dough that is similar to sourdough.  Sourdough requires endless days of fermentation and feeding to create the best flavor and texture.  This recipe, however, only needs about 30 - 45 minutes to allow the dough to double in size.  No flavor is compromised due to the addition of caraway to create the tangy, sourdough flavor unique to pretzels.

Two Pretzels, One Dough!
There is essentially no difference between the hard pretzels sold in the chip department and the pretzels sold on street corners.  The difference is in the baking time.  You can use this recipe and just bake the pretzels longer until they become crisp to make hard pretzels.  Just skip brushing the pretzels with butter when they come out of the oven.  Store the hard pretzels in an airtight container, they will last for several weeks before spoiling.

Tips for Success:
You will notice in this recipe some of the ingredients are weighed rather than using measuring cups.  This is the most accurate and ensure that your pretzels are consistent.  If you don't own a food scale, a digital postal scale will work, too.  Just be sure you take in consideration the weight of the bowl.  If your scale includes a "tare" option, use it to cancel the weight of the bowl.

High-Gluten flour is suggested when making soft, yet chewy pretzels.  However, I realize this is difficult to get in the grocery store.  Instead, vital wheat gluten powder is added to bread flour.  Any wheat gluten powder can be used with success.  Wheat gluten powder is needed to raise the protein content of the bread flour to match that of high-gluten flour.  If you have high-gluten flour, then you can use it in place of the bread flour and omit the gluten powder.  If you would like more information on the importance of protein in baking as it pertains to flour, read The Flour Difference...

The pretzels are poached in a water/baking soda solution.  This is essentially the difference between a pretzel and a pretzel shaped breadstick.  The baking soda helps cause it to turn deep brown when baking in the oven and give that distinctive pretzel taste.

Pretzels ~ Makes 30 traditional pretzels
If 30 pretzels seems like a lot or you don't have 3 full size sheet pans, cut the recipe in half to make 15 pretzels.  Also, be sure that your mixture can handle the amount of flour for 30 pretzels.  If you own a Kitchenaid or similar mixer, this should not be a problem.  However, if you don't own a stand up mixer, you will have to knead the dough by hand.

1/2 ounce active dry yeast
1 quart (4 cups) warm water, 105 degrees
4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
3 lbs, 12 ounces bread flour
1 1/2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten powder

Dissolve the yeast in the water.  Next add sugar, salt, and caraway seeds to the water.  In a electric mixer using the dough hook, add the yeast mixture, flour, and gluten powder.  Mix until forms a dough..  Turn mixer to medium speed, and knead for about 8 minutes; until the dough is smooth and elastic.  If you don't own an electric mixer, knead the dough by hand; about 15 minutes of consistent kneading.  Transfer the dough to a well-buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Place bowl in a warm area until doubles in size; about 30-45 minutes if machine kneaded, about 60 minutes if kneaded by hand.  Meanwhile, make poaching liquid.

1 gallon water
6 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons salt

Place the water, baking soda, and salt in a 10"-12" diameter non-reactive* stock pot and bring liquid to a boil.  Set aside until ready to use.  Also, prepare 3 full-size sheet pans, brushing them generously with melted butter.

After dough has doubled in size, punch down and let rest for about 5 minutes.  Next divide the dough into 3 equal portions.  Roll out each portion to make a 20" rope.  Cut each rope into equal 10 equal pieces.  You should have 30 pieces of dough.
Next roll out each piece to make a 20" rope and form into a twisted pretzel shapes.  Let each piece rest for on a slightly floured surface for about 3 minutes.  After allowing the shaped pretzels to rest, gently stretch the pretzels out with your hands being careful not to tear the dough.  Continue to stretch the pretzels until each one is approximately 7" x 4".

Preheat oven to 475F degrees.
Bring poaching liquid to a boil.  Drop three pretzels at a time into the boiling water for exactly 1 minute; pretzels should be floating in the water.  Remove them carefully with a slotted spoon and transfer them to well-buttered sheet pans.
Once all the sheet pans are filled with pretzels, sprinkle with your favorite topping; Poppy seeds, caraway, sesame seeds, onion, course sea salt, etc.
Bake in oven until dark brown, about 15-20 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Brush immediately with melted butter.  Cool slightly on racks before serving. 

~ Smacznego ~
*Note: non-reactive material is anything that will not react to the ingredients being added to the water.  Glass or stainless steel will fit this category the best.  Anything made of aluminum, copper, non-stick material, etc. is not acceptable as the baking soda will react with the metal potentially contaminating the food with harmful substances.  

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