March 12, 2014

By: Ryan Hodros, Pastry Arts Student

Courage Under FlourWhen I was in high school, there were things that I just assumed you need a factory in order to make.  Beer and soda, bread, cake icing…some things just seemed outside of the realm of the home kitchen.  In going to pastry school, I found out just how much of a fallacy that is.  I’ve made soda syrups, several dozen types of bread, and at least four types of cake frosting. The list of “things you can’t make” shrinks to the point where you can assume that there’s nothing you can’t make.  See something interesting on television?  Figure it out!  And of course, once you get out into the industry, you’ll have access to all the cool industrial magic that streamlines some of the home cook’s methods.

But the hardest part is taking that first step.  It takes a certain kind of courage to leap into a task you’ve never faced before, particularly if you’ve spent much of your life assuming that task is impossible.  But in many ways, this courage leads to the most rewarding triumphs you will ever experience.  While there is joy in performing a familiar task skillfully, succeeding in the face of “something you can’t do” is the reason to get into pastry.

We experienced this most pointedly during some of our practical exams.  The list of things you need to make just seems overwhelming and you start to panic because “there just physically isn’t enough time.”  But after you start your first task, then your second, and third, you start to get into a rhythm that carries you to the end of the test with time to spare.  Eventually you develop the confidence that you can tackle any task no matter how daunting or alien.

Our class also went through this experience when it came time to bake pretzels.  We’d been making yeast-leavened breads for over a week, but all of those recipes involved making a boule or a batard.  We hadn’t done any complicated shapes yet.  Add to this the fact that most pretzels are made using a lye bath, and  pretzels just seem like the sort of thing you need unusual industrial equipment to make.  But the intimidation quickly gave way as we started working, and the pretzels became one of our favorite things to make.

The recipe we used is a slight variation on the Alton Brown recipe online.  An important difference between ours and his is that we don’t use an egg wash on our pretzels.  While it does give your product a nice golden brown sheen, it gives the pretzels an off-putting, slightly tacky texture.  You might lose more salt than you’d like, but overall your pretzel will be tastier.


Soft Pretzel Recipe:
1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
2 tablespoon sugar
1 package active dry yeast
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
22 ounces all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Vegetable oil, for pan
½ gallon water (approximately)
1 cup baking soda

Combine the warm water with the sugar, the melted butter, and the dry yeast with a whisk.  Let sit until bubbles start to form, approximately five minutes.

Combine flour, salt, and yeast mixture in the bowl of your stand mixer.  Mix using the hook attachment until combined.  Once combined, knead on medium-slow for five to ten minutes, or until dough is soft but springs back when pressed with your fingertips.  If the dough doesn’t come together entirely, add water tablespoon by tablespoon until it becomes a dough ball.

Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic, and let rise to twice its original size, which should take about an hour but can take longer depending on the air temperature in the room.

I usually split the dough into four ounce balls, but you can avoid taking out the scale if you split it roughly into 8 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a long snake and fold into whatever shapes you like.  For the classic shape, lay the snake out on the table in the form of an upside-down U.  Twist the right side over the left twice, and then press the loose ends into the top part of the U.

Let proof covered by a tea towel for about five minutes.  Combine the baking soda and the water and bring to a boil.  Boil each of the pretzels in the solution for roughly one minute, then place onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and greased liberally.  If you don’t grease the parchment paper, the pretzels will stick and you’ll have to cut the bottoms off.

If you like salted pretzels, now is the time to lightly press it into the surface of your dough.  Bake at 450 for about ten minutes, but keep an eye on them.  The surface of the pretzel will turn dark brown and be firm if you squeeze it.  Let them cool on a wire rack and enjoy, preferably with some honey mustard!