Bread Machine: Soft Pretzels

Sunday October 27, 2013

Pretzels, with their beguiling iconography of crossed arms connoting the four seasons or the folded arms of Christ, were said to be invented in a medieval monastery as a reward for children saying their prayers.  They were often made in a size proportioned to the individual child.

An angelization of the German word bretzel, pretzel has it’s root from the Latin bracellus, or bracelet.  Its form evolved from a circle with a floating central dot, a symbol of the winter solstice in ancient polytheistic religions.  Since this shape could not be baked, the circles were divided into four quarters to anchor the center dot.  The pretzel shape was baked into the shape of a warrior’s metal arm bracelet, which was buried with the fallen hero as the counterpart to the woman’s sacrificial braid as part of the Celtic burial rites.

The shape has remained intact as it was baked for so many centuries, such as a present-day over sized Russian ceremonial bread, krendl, to be broken apart during wedding ceremonies.  In Germany, soft pretzels are on every restaurant breakfast table to be served with bratwurst.  German and Austrian immigrants brought the pretzel to America in the mid-1800s.  The pretzel shape is the sign of the brotherhood of bakers in Denmark and Norway, strategically placed paintings and reproductions decorating windows and awnings alongside the names of modern neighborhood bakeries.

Chewy pretzels are a great snack food.  They have been pigeonholed by their association with American football, beer, and yellow mustard.  While commercial pretzels are cooked in a water-lye bath, at home, a baking soda bath does the job just fine.  Here are two good recipes; one with the pretzel bath and one just baked.  Children love these.

Makes 12 large pretzels

1 1/2- or 2-pound loaf

Ingredients

Dough

1/2 cups water

1 cup milk

4 cups bread flour

1 tablespoon malt powder

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

Pretzel Bath

2 quarts water

2 tablespoons baking soda

Topping

1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water

About 2 tablespoons coarse kosher or sea salt

Instructions

1.  Place all the ingredients in the bread pan according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Program for the Dough cycle; press Start.

2.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  At the beep, turn the dough out onto the work surface and divide into 12 equal portions (you can make smaller ones, dividing the dough into 18 portions).  With your palms, shape each portion into a 20-inch rope.  To form a pretzel shape, hole both ends of the rope.  bring both ends around into the center to form a large loop.  Twist the ends together once, about 3 inches from the ends.  Bring down the twisted end, up and over the loop and attach it to the bottom center of the loop.  You will have a pretzel shape that looks rather like a heart with 3 sections.  Carefully transfer to the baking sheet.  Repeat with all of the dough.  Let rest, uncovered, at room temperature 30 minutes.  If you want soft, bread-like pretzels, skip the boiling and go directly to Step 4 and baking in the oven.

Shaping pretzels/photo courtesy Williams Sonoma

3.  Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large, deep pan.  Preheat the oven to 400º.  Add the baking soda to the water.  With a large spatula, carefully lift the risen pretzel, then lower it into the boiling water.  You can do 2 pretzels at once.  Leaving the water at a low rolling boil, boil 45 seconds to 1 minute, until puffy.  Remove with a slotted spoon, hold over the pan to drain, then place back on the baking sheet.  Repeat until all the pretzels have been boiled.  Place 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.

4.  Brush each pretzel with the egg glaze and sprinkle with the coarse salt.  Bake one sheet at a time, in the center of the oven, for 16 to 20 minutes, until deep golden brown.  Cool on a rack.  Eat warm or store at room temperature for up to 3 days, wrapped in foil in a single layer.

Baked Rye Pretzels with Seeds

Makes 16 pretzels

1 1/2- or 2-pound loaf

Ingredients

Dough

1 1/4 cups water

1 tablespoon light olive oil

1 large egg yolk

2 1/4 cups bread flour

1 cups white whole wheat flour

1/4 cup medium or dark rye flour

1 1/2 tablespoons malt powder

1 teaspoon salt

Pinch of ground white pepper

2 1/2 teaspoons yeast

Topping

1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water

About 2 tablespoons coarse kosher or sea salt

Sesame seeds or caraway seeds

Directions

1.  Place all the ingredients in the bread pan according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Program for the Dough cycle; press Start.

2.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  At the beep, turn the dough out onto the work surface and divide into 16 equal portions.  With your palms, shape each portion into a 16-inch rope.  To form a pretzel shape, hole both ends of the rope.  bring both ends around into the center to form a large loop.  Twist the ends together once, about 3 inches from the ends.  Bring down the twisted end, up and over the loop and attach it to the bottom center of the loop.  You will have a pretzel shape that looks rather like a heart with 3 sections.  Carefully transfer to the baking sheet.  Repeat with all of the dough, leaving 1 1/2 inches between each pretzel.  Let rest, uncovered, at room temperature 20 minutes.

3.  Preheat the oven to 375º.  Brush each pretzel with the egg glaze and sprinkle with the salt and seeds.  Bake one sheet at a time, in the center of the oven, for 15 to 20 minutes, until deep golden brown.  Cool on a rack.  Eat warm or store at room temperature for up to 3 days, wrapped in foil in a single layer.

whole grain pretzels/photo courtesy of ponsfords place bakery

Excerpted from The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2000, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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