But after all those excuses, how about finally getting to the main point. I recently failed miserably in baking buns, and although I usually eat whatever I cook or bake, no matter how disgusting the end result is, this time I actually had to bin my attempt at buns. So my baking confidence was at an all time low. When I used to do horseback riding, my teacher would force me right back on the horse if I fell off, even the time I flew like a missile over my horse and right into a jump when my horse made an unscheduled stop. I knew I had to get my hands flour-y as soon as possible again to find my confidence again.
I have pinned several pretzel recipes, as I think the dark brown funny looking snake-like breads look so delicious. Also, pretzels have that wonderful pretzel-y flavour, and I wasn't quite sure where it was coming from, so I wanted to bake some myself and see if they would actually taste like pretzels or just like regular bread.
Not only did I attempt to bake these pretzels when my yeasted dough confidence was at an all time low, I baked them in the culinary consultant's kitchen. The oven is a gas oven, and we are not on good terms. I was mentally prepared for another yeasted dough disaster on my hands. One thing I did have though was good quality strong bread flour and a good quality instant yeast. So bravely, I just pulled out the recipe and got to work. The recipe I used is from the Brown Eyed Baker, and I used it without making any alterations apart from working the dough by hand instead of a Kitchen Aid, as I'm not yet in possession of such luxury items. For instructions on how to prepare the dough with the help of a Kitchen Aid or other similar food processor, head over to the original recipe.
Soft pretzels (makes 8):
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) water
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp instant dry yeast (I used 2 pouches, i.e. 14 g, I was going to check how much that is in teaspoons, but forgot)
4 1/2 cups (10-11 dl) strong bread flour
4 tbsp melted butter
For boiling the pretzels:
10 cups (2.4 l) water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp water mixed together for the egg wash
salt for sprinkling
Mix water, sugar, salt and yeast. Add the flour and butter. Don't add all the bread flour at once, work it into the dough in batches, alternating with the butter. Leave the dough soft but not runny. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until it's elastic and smooth. I added a little bit of flour during the first minutes of kneading until the dough felt good in my hands. After kneading, leave the dough to rise for about an hour. As room temperature at the culinary consultant's place is quite a few degrees below normal room temperature, I turned on the oven for a few minutes to warm it up a few degrees and then left the dough in the oven to rise. After the dough has risen, start by turning on the oven to 230 degrees C. Also, fill a large saucepan with water and add the baking soda, and bring the water to a boil. Then punch the air out of the dough, and divide into eight equal parts. Roll each part out to a thin snake, and fold over itself to form the traditional pretzel shape. Boil the pretzels for 30-60 seconds before moving onto an oven plate, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Bake for about 15 minutes (mine took about 20 minutes, however this particular oven is known to be a bit inefficient), or until dark brown.
The verdict:I'm happy to report that the total loss of my baking abilites seemed to be reversible, and after a disastrous enriched dough, I was compensated with an absolute perfect pretzel dough. It was easy to knead, it didn't stick and it was easy to roll to shape and form the pretzels. It rose to gigantic heights during the proofing, and it baked to form soft and chewy pretzels. I am starting to be more and more convinced that there is a huge difference in the flours that are available. I always used to buy the really cheap flours thinking there can't be much of a difference between brands of flour. But the two best breads I have ever baked, these pretzels and this bacon and cheddar bread, have been baked from more expensive flour and the texture of the dough has been totally different and much easier to handle than my yeasted doughs usually are. Or maybe watching Paul knead that dough so many times has rubbed off on me.