Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

All Twisted Up

My day job as a radio broadcaster means that with spring comes the beginning of baseball season. As we broadcast these games my mind can't help but wander to my favorite part of trips to the ballpark, or any sporting event for that matter, the FOOD.

I love street food. Whether it's hot dogs smothered in sauerkraut or fried cheese on a stick there is something about this type of food that calls to me. One of my favorites (i can remember them being the highlight of high school Friday night football games) is the soft pretzel. That beautiful golden brown color, soft chewy inside and decadent jewels of salt. Yum!!!

So when food network recently posted a recipe for soft pretzels I had to try it. I noticed many of those who commented said it was too much work and I had never considered making my own pretzels but how hard can it be? Truth is, it's not difficult at all. Once you've given it a shot I think you will find it's worth the extra effort.

Here is the Food Network recipe.

Soft Pretzels:
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda
2 whole eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
Coarse sea salt

Making your soft pretzels:

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and grease lightly. (be careful not to over grease or it might burn in the oven)

In a large bowl combine the sugar with 1/2 c hot tap water. Mix it until the sugar is dissolved, then add a packet of active dry yeast, stir it gently and let it sit until the yeast is frothy. Approximately 5 minutes. To melt the butter, microwave 3oz approximately 6 tbsp of room temperature butter in a seperate small bowl with 1/2c water for 1 minute until butter is melted. Then mix with the last 1/2c cold water before adding to the yeast and sugar mixture. (you will want to make sure the butter and water mixure is not too hot or it will kill the yeast.)

The original recipe calls for using your stand mixer. I mix all my breads by hand because my mixer doesn't think it should knead and I know when it is ready better by the feel than by looking at it.
So mix in the flour a little at a time with a wooden spoon and once the dough starts to pull together you can use your hands. It's a sticky dough but after about 4c of flour I found it easy to handle. (Keep in mind that humidity will affect your dough and if you live in a damp climate you will likely need more flour than a dry climate where you might need to add more liquid.)

Next turn out your dough onto a floured counter and knead for about ten minutes. While kneading I incorporated a bit more flour (maybe 1/2-3/4c) but stopped when the dough was smooth and elastic. When ready, this dough was still damp and sort of clammy not powdery like bread dough.)

Now it is ready to rise. Oil a bowl with vegetable oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

I use the oven as my warm place and turn it on for 30-50 sec, then turn it off and pop the dough in to rise. You want it to be about 75-80F

An hour later...

Bring the water to a boil in a pot over high heat and add the baking soda. (a bit at a time as it fizzes up!)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, about 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 ounces each. Roll each piece into a long rope measuring 22 inches and shape: take the right side and cross over to the left. Cross right to left again and flip up. Boil the pretzels in the water solution, 2 at a time for 30 seconds, splashing the tops with the warmed water using a spoon. Remove with a large flat slotted spatula or a spider. Place 4 pretzels on each baking sheet, brush the tops with the egg wash and season liberally with the salt. Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.

Remove to a baking rack and let rest 5 minutes before eating. (If you can!)

Sure you can buy them in a box from your local your grocers freezer, but if you make them yourself you can have not only more for your money but you can get creative with the flavors. (Just think of the parmesan herb pretzels from Auntie Ann’s, the possibilities are limitless!)

Consider this, the average price for a box of frozen pretzels is about a dollar per pretzel. Making them yourself will cost you a fraction of that and you will have control over the size, shape and quantity you end up with. You already know they freeze well and if you stop them just shy of being done all you have to do is take them out of the freezer and pop them in the oven for a few minutes to have fresh beautiful home made pretzels whenever you want. Besides, the look on your family and friends faces when you serve them home made pretzels is priceless!

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