Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pretzels and Lemonade

I should have known that street vendor-style pretzels were not what I was looking for when I began, but I was just itching to make a sponge (something yeasty), and I wasn't in the mood for bread. In fact, for the past few days I have been craving salt. Passover ended over a week ago, and there's still no good snack food in the pantry. What's going on?
I decided, in the spirit of not spending money and being proactive, that I would make pretzels. So I adapted a recipe from the book I turn to when I want basic, classic, American and nothing else (although come to think of it, I think the best pretzels I've ever had have been German yeast-free pretzels from the farmers' market in San Mateo, CA, where Matt and I used to sell cheese). Anyway, I thought what've I got to lose? I had more than enough yeast packets to screw up and make a new batch tomorrow.
So I started to pretzel away. At my old baking job in San Francisco, all of our yeasted products started as a sponge, left to proof overnight in the walk-in fridge. I thought I might as well try this method for the pretzels. The sponge proofed over night, comprised of all the ingredients minus the second addition of flour and soft butter.
I was a little confused about the boil; the recipe I used as a guide said boil the pretzels for a minute before baking, or until they floated to the top. My pretzels floated right away, so they were only in the water for about 10-20 seconds, max.
My last comment about this recipe is to definitely not use parchment paper. I guess because the pretzels were wet when put in the oven, the parchment stuck to the backs of most of the pretzels. This was kind of annoying, but for the half of the batch that had no paper, eating was hassle free and great! I could either spend time peeling off paper from the other half or just suck it up and eat it, like an old candy with some paper stuck to it. And that's just what I did!
I lied- one more comment. In the future, I will definitely try a whole wheat flour and honey batch, because I really appreciate that salty/sweet mixture.

Yeast Pretzels For The Sponge:
1 c water- it doesn't have to be warm
1 t dry yeast
1 1/2 c organic flour
1/2 t salt
2 t agave nectar

For After the Sponge:
1 1/4 c sifted organic flour
1 T soft butter

For the Boil
4 c water
5 t baking soda

For the Sprinkle
2 big big pinches of kosher salt

For the sponge, in a large plastic container or mixing bowl, pour water. Gently sprinkle yeast so it floats on the surface. Go walk around your kitchen for a bit, say, 5 minutes, so when you come back and look at the yeasted water, small bubbles are appearing. If no bubbles after 5 min, something is probably wrong. Maybe your yeast is dead? If bubbles, proceed. Dump remaining ingredients for sponge right on top and, with a whisk, gently stir a couple of times--the mixture does NOT have to be fully incorporated.
Cover the container loosely-- as the dough proofs, gas will need to escape from the container. Make sure your lid is NOT tightly fitting.
Leave this sponge overnight, or at least for a few hours (as many as possible).
In the morning, scrape mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the second addition of flour and butter. With the dough hook attachment, mix the dough until it climbs up the hook, or until mixture is not sticky. The first guy who ever taught me about yeasted breads told me it's done when it feels like an earlobe. Or a booty. Either one. At this point, ball up the dough, and place in a lightly oiled container, no lid necessary. Wrap the entire container in plastic wrap, so it is air tight.
When the mixture has doubled in size (say, an hour?), it's time to shape and form the pretzels. This amount of dough made for me 10 pretzel-shaped pretzels, 10 pretzel sticks, and 10 little knobs, the size of golf balls. To shape the pretzels and the rods, roll the dough between your palms until they become ropes the thinness of your pinky finger. Shape the ropes into pretzels when they reach a little over a foot in length, and stop for the rods when they are about 6 inches long, tops. With the leftover dough, you can continue making rods or pretzels or little knobs. Whatever you like.
On a greased baking sheet (or probably two), let all of these fun pretzel shapes rise again, this time for about 25 min.
When rise is almost over, preheat the oven to 475 degrees and boil the water mixed with baking soda.
When water is boiling, gently place pretzels, about 4 at a time, into the water, for about 20 seconds each. Remove on a slotted spoon and replace on original baking sheet. Repeat until all are done. Sprinkle generously with course salt.
Bake pretzels in the oven on 475 for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
Lemonade by Matt
2 lemons
fresh mint

Juice the lemons into a cocktail shaker, and muddle with mint. Add a bunch of sugar (to taste), and fill shaker with water and some ice. Shake.
Pour through a strainer and serve with ice and a lemon wedge on the rim of the glass.

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