I went to Austria this summer and fell in love with the Austrian pretzels. Unlike American pretzels, these were chewy with a thick crust, not soft and fluffy. I've made pretzels once before but the recipe was just so so, more like mediocre bread in pretzel shapes. But since getting back, I've been determined to make pretzels like I had in Austria and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
After some research, I found out that Austrian and German pretzels get their distinctive chew by boiling the dough briefly in a solution of water and lye before baking. Yikes. Apparently their is food grade lye but I had no idea where to get it and I knew my hypochondriac boyfriend would have a panic attack if I used it. He would eat them, sure, but then google, "cancer + lye" for weeks and I would never hear the end of it. Besides, considering that I nearly burned off my toes while making caramel, I'm sure there would be some disastrous incident if I got my hands on some lye. So the lye thing would be a no go.
I was too lazy to look up the chemistry behind it but something about the basic (as in, opposite of acidic) nature of lye makes the pretzels have a delicious crunchy shell. I eventually stumbled on recipes that used baking soda, another base, in the place of the lye. Brilliant! Unless I managed to dump the baking soda directly into my eye, this would be much easier and less dangerous.
Recipe from foodtv.com:
INGREDIENTS:1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.
Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.----
They turned out reeeeeally good and pretty close to the real thing. The recipe was pretty easy, despite the fact that I don't have much experience with bread. The hardest part was shaping them, since you can roll out dough super thin and then have it spring back to a giant blob the moment you let go. So my pretzels were a bit on the big boned side but still delicoius.
The recipe only made 8 pretzels so I suspect they won't make it through tonight. I say 'only' 8 because last night Joe and BJ ate 5 tacos each so 8 pretzels is the equivalent of a light snack for them. They are less like boys and more like garbage disposals.
Speaking of BJ, I have been accused of giving him 'judging eyes'. This started last year, when Brain would announce to us that he was going to go get drunk despite the fact that it was 2:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday/he had a test the next day/his liver was begging for mercy, etc. Instead of saying anything to him every time he did this, I would just give him a look, which he dubbed my judging eyes. I wish I didn't, but apparently I can't help it. And anyways, Brian's liver will thank my judging eyes someday.
Last night, pre-pretzels and still filled with rage, I was ranting and raving to Joe and BJ about the stupid boy and how I would totally give him the worst judging eyes ever if he was around. This followed:
BJ: You could take a picture of yourself with the judge-inist eyes ever and send it to him.
Me: I don't even know what my judging eyes look like.
BJ: Go in the mirror and practice. You'll know you're doing it right when you start to feel self-concious about your actions.