January 8, 2011
Homemade Soft Pretzels - Just like from the street corner !
I know these pretzels more from malls than street corners - probably because I only recently have lived in areas that have enough foot traffic to merit pretzel stands on corners. The places that served the pretzels at the malls were always in those depressing food court areas, so I never frequented them much.
However, NYC pretzels are anything but depressing. They come extra salty and warm, and the smells of the pretzels mix with those of roasting nuts and grilling street-meats from the neighboring food vendors. It's one of those scenarios where the smells are often more enticing than the actual food. But man, those pretzels are delicious. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside - they make for a perfect snack while walking the bustling NYC streets.
Jeremy adores street corner pretzels. If it were nutritionally and socially acceptable to eat them for dinner each night, he likely would. Nor does he discriminate - he likes them not only from the street vendors, but at baseball games, football games, and with his morning coffee. Okay maybe not that last one, but I bet he would if he could.
When making these pretzels for the first time, I learned that they are on par with a really fun science experiment. What's that? You don't think science experiments are fun? Well try this one, it's pretty cool. I'll tell you why.
In order for the pretzels to get that smooth, brown exterior you know and love, they need to be submerged in an alkaline solution prior to baking. At this point you may recall the pH scale you learned in 8th grade science class. The pH scale measures the acidity of something. A low pH level means a higher acidity, while a high pH equates with lower acidity (alkaline).
What does this have to do with the pretzels? Well, traditionally pretzels are made using lye, which has a pH level of 13. This low level of acidity allows the proteins on the exterior of the pretzel to break down, while the hot water gelatinizes the starches - causing that nice, brown color. Since lye is not recommended or sold for daily household use, baking soda (which has a pH value of 9) is used instead. Cool, right?
Some notes on this recipe:
- When rolling the dough out into a long snake, try to keep your hands symmetrical. If one hand rolls further forward or backward than the other, then the dough will twist - causing cracking or breakage while baking.
- Alton Brown recommends obtaining special pretzel salt, which consists of larger flakes of salt as compared to traditional table salt. I found that using coarse table salt worked just fine.
- The egg wash applied prior to baking is important in that it helps facilitate the browning while the pretzels are in the oven, and also helps to keep the salt in place. Don't skip this step! If you are adding a sweet topping, such as cinnamon sugar, in place of the salt - butter works just as well as the egg wash.
- These pretzels do not save well. So plan to eat them the same day as baking them.
Homemade Soft Pretzels
From Alton Brown
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk whisked with 1 Tbsp water (egg wash)
In bowl of electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix warm water, sugar, and salt. Sprinkle yeast over the top and let sit for 5 minutes, or until mixture begins to foam. Add butter and flour (all at once is fine), and mix on low speed until just combined. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough forms into a ball around the hook, about 4-5 minutes. Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand at this point, if you prefer. Place dough in bowl rubbed with oil and cover with dish towel. Set in warm, draft-free area until the dough has doubled in size - about an hour.
Divide dough into eight equal sections. Roll each piece out into a long snake about 24 inches long. Holding ends of snake, twist into shape of pretzel and press down ends to secure.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
Bring water and baking soda to a boil. One by one, gently place each pretzel into boiling water. Let boil for 30 seconds and then remove with spatula and place on parchment-lined pan. Repeat until all pretzels are finished. Brush each pretzel with the egg wash and sprinkle salt on top.
Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. These taste best warm. Enjoy!