Tuesday, January 30, 2007

pretzel logic

I love pretzels. As a kid, they were a treat that was allowed when we went somewhere special, because in general, they were coated with salt not sugar. I mean, they were practically health food! When we went to the fair or museum type thing, I would spot the pretzel cart first and start plotting a way to get over to it, making for damn sure that I was behaving good enough to get one into my hands once we got there. I liked the big ol' salt crystals stuck to that shiny yellow crust, and being able to self-administer some tangy mustard all over it. But really, it's that chewy dough.....

Last week, the monkey and I were up in Tilden Park, carving sine waves through the winter air with our bodies atop the various beasts of fantasy. While she was busy squeeling and kicking her legs up and down as we went around, something about the lingering popcorn smell in the building triggered me daydreaming. Before I knew it I was salivating, lost in my own childhood fantasy, imagining a big soft chewy pretzel in my hands while I recuperated from cramming my noggin' full of science fun at the Exploratorium in SF.

We got home and I started looking for pretzel recipes on the 'puter. I found at least a dozen out there, but none of them used sourdough. It wasn't an exhaustive search, but the statistics of the situation weren't looking likely of gaining any ground. They had other variations, but somehow the folks who have pretzel recipes out there are either not into using sourdough for a good reason, or out of ignorance. It was time to find out for myself. I fed my pet, set it out for the night, and went to bed thinking of some beery smelling dough, and just hankerin' to dream of big chewy, sourdoughy knots. They were out there somewhere.

I did up a somewhat "typical" dough, and after letting it rise once I punched it down, formed it into a largish rectangle and started cutting strips off of it. I gave each strip a gentle roll to round the edges some, and then things began getting knotty (sometimes, I just can't help myself, sorry).

As this was my first time making pretzels, my technique got better and better as I went. By the time I was nearly finished though, I was wanting to try a new shape, and I love bagels, so I just had to make a few. Also, I had settled on boiling my pretzels to really "set" the outside of them like bagels and having never made them before, figured that somehow making a bagel would help me gauge what was going on. This is somewhat ridiculous however; I had never made bagels either, so this is possibly some family remembrance through enjoying bagels at great grandma's house as a wee one, or its a hedge-your-bet type of maneuver engineered to up the odds of some sort of success should the primary experiment fail.

I boiled the now risen shapes for a bit on each side, and then placed them on a rack to cool a bit while my oven heated up. With the pretzels on their baking sheet I gave them an egg-white wash, sprinkled them with some chunky gray salt and popped 'em in. I peeked in at about ten minutes and they we're looking muy fantastico. Heaven was almost fully baked. In another few minutes we took them out, put them on a cooling rack, got out two plates, and no more than 30 or 40 seconds later we were going to town on them.

I had to take this photo fast as the only reason it was not being chewed already was because I demanded we get to the table first. Call me strict, but large salt crystals aren't too pleasant to step on when you walk around barefoot most of the time.

The monkey was still working on number one while I plowed on through two and three. They were chewy and moist, shiney and salty. I think it took me until the third one before I realized I hadn't even got the mustard out. If there is a good reason that sourdough wouldn't be suitable for this kind of pretzel, then it remains completely illusive to me.

By the time it came to take the fancy staged shot of the best looking specimens, I had only four left. What the hell am I TALKING about? As you can tell by the technical quality of the shots I usually post, I shoot them myself using a vintage 2.0 mega-pixel digital with a fixed optical lens, usually resulting in me taking a bunch of pics to get one that isn't blurry, lacking in focal depth completely, or unrepresentative of what was in the tiny screen. And that doesn't even address the lighting issues of living in a 1950's kitchen with one window, located four feet from the place next door.

Whew! Am I complaining or what? What I'm really trying to say is that as a complete amateur, with bad equipment, generally poor lighting and what I consider a VERY hit and miss eye, I'm a little embarassed with some of the stuff I post sometimes. And then I think of having been in therapy and how this isn't really about you is it? Then I post a shot that may not be entirely aesthetically pleasing, but sums up the experience. If others out there take photos qualifying for "food porn" then maybe my work would be more aptly called "food trade journal" or something else that just screams function rules over artistic beauty. I guess it was this type of thinking that has prompted me to start being better about writing a recipe and posting that alongside.



There they are: shiney, salty, golden and pretty much boring to look at. They might not be some fancy, 20 something step elaborate thing that leaves folks intrigued with the delicate combination of spice and stem, saying things like "this is so unbelievably tasty! Shit, I'd pay at least 30 bucks for that if it was on a menu somewhere." No this one is more like standard fare from those dreamy distant childhood memories. You know, where without any chemical interference you relished in kicking your legs while spinning round and round getting dizzy riding a wooden horse, while one of your parents was in the snack bar saying "A BUCK FIFTY? DO I LOOK LIKE I'M MADE OUT OF MONEY OR SOMETHING? HELL, I CAN MAKE THEM MYSELF FOR LESS THAN THAT!"

Only this parent does go home and make them himself..........

D's Sourdough Pretzels (A work in progress):

2/3 cup sourdough starter
1 cup warm water
3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 T sugar
1 T olive oil
1 t table salt
Coarse grained salt of choice (I was thinking some of those colorful artisanal hoity-toity salts might be fun to dress these up with and call them something like: Rinpoche's Karmic Knots or maybe Honua's Ono Salted Pahoehoe)

Mix starter, water, oil, flours and salt. Adjust flour until you have a nice ball of dough (keep it soft though). Knead until smooth and set aside to rise in a warm place (at least a few hours). Punch dough down, form into a big rectangle and begin cutting off strips to work with as individual pretzels. Give the pretzels your version of the "knot" and place to rise on parchment/waxed paper to rise. When fully risen (more or less doubled) lower carefully into a large pot of boiling water with baking soda dissolved in it (I saw a number of recipes that did this and it just felt right, so I used at least 1/2 a cup per 4 quarts of H2O). Turn over after about a minute and boil for another. Remove with the biggest slotted spoon-like thing you have and place on a rack to drain. I found that putting them back on the parchment at a slight angle from horizontal aided drainage. I arranged as many as I could on a perforated round pizza pan and carefully brushed them with an egg-white wash and immediately sprinkled them generously with coarse salt. They baked for about 12-13 minutes in a 450+ oven and looked toasty and yummy at that point.

I did not have any beer in the house, but I suspect that something dark and heady would compliment these quite nicely. But with today's beer prices, I guess I'll just have to try making some myself to go along with them sometime.....

18 comments:

Callipygia said...

Well knotty or knot...these look great trade show pics and all. I think with all the fancy schmancy salts you could also pair up some with fennel seeds, nigella seeds etc. just to blast them into the 5th dimension. Oh that's right, these are the pretzels of our youth. I also liked the chai fuyu post- I had problems with my computer and couldn't post.

cookiecrumb said...

I can't say which impresses me more, your pretzels or the wonderful story you tell. Nice.

Tea said...

Thanks for your comment on Tea & Cookies. I'm definitely going to have to try your fuyu-chai sorbetto (two of my favorite things--persimmon and chai). Now if only I could adapt your pretzel recipe so that it was gluten free...

As for Steep Ravine and Matt Davis in shorts on New Year's Day, that sounds like a little bit of heaven to me.

Thanks for stopping by!

D-man said...

Thank you fellow bloggers. It's nice to get a few responses now and then...

callipygia: nice call on the seed options; I made a sourdough rye last week with caraway and I almost kept some dough aside for a few pretzels so the thought is in there, it needs growth....oh, and the beet/persimmon soupy thing; sounds like a challenge. Stay tuned, for you have added fuel to the flame (not sure when the next round of persimmons will fall into my hands, but they will)

cookiecrumb: (blush) Aww, gee willikers, you sure are nice for someone so, so.........mad. Sending folks my way is a greatly appreciated thing (Muchas gracias), and when it comes with a post so eye-candy-rific, damn! If I were in Texas right now I'd say "Shee-it. That's mighty kinda ya' ma'am!"

tea: Believe it or not, I'm still learning to love the persimmon. When I met my wife (Fall 98) I had never had a Fuyu. I was sick of Hachiyas because they were only good when goopy. Fuyus were a smack in the face. For someone who grew up in Sebastopol and ate Gravenstein apples all the time, it was a marriage of a sublime order: a persimmon with some of the good qualities of an apple. I fell in love, but still cannot eat more than a few raw and crisp before taking a few weeks off of them for some reason (mouthfeel probably, the slightly slimey nature of them is a bit tough for me to overcome sometimes). My rash of persimmon use is really me being frugal, and learning on the way. Drop on by sometime in the future, for as you can see above, callipygia has stoked the flames of a small fire in my head involving persimmons in soup (if you can believe that one) and I'm feeling crazy enough to do it, as the persimmons will be around a bit more.

Stacie said...

YUM!!! I've made bagels a few times, but never pretzels, thanks for the recipe! And the great story too! Thanks for stopping by the Mosh Pit... I'll be back for more great food!

Tea said...

You're a Sebastopol boy? (I knew there had to be a reason why I liked you). Yeah, you can't easily go from a Gravenstein to a persimmon. That's a mighty big jump to make.

D-man said...

Stacie, you rock! I'd love to know more about your former bagel behavior or anything that might come in the future, let me know......oh, and Tampico, I've never been there, but with the Ronnie connection and your work description you must be way happy to no longer work in a town that's name would fall between "tamper" and "tampon" in the dictionary. (I know, BAD joke, but you'll have to excuse me since I was up a few times last night tending to a monkey with one of those early morning "mystery" illnesses that shows no face in the morning despite your exhaustion attesting to it.)

Tea, yup. Sebastopol unified K-12 (Analy, bum bum, tigers, bum bum, Analy......)

And a gravenstein story: 7 or 8 years ago, I was taking the casual commute from here in Oakland over to the city when I got into a man's car that had that sweet/slight manure smell of too many apples having been in close quarters for too long. He apologized for the smell and motioned toward a full bag of beat-up apples behind his seat, saying that unfortunately they were still in his car because he couldn't find anyone who liked gravs. You should have seen the guys face when I told him I was from Sebastopol and that I would be honored to take the rest of them off his hands regardless of their condition. I think he even offered to start picking me up at home before getting in line.

Cherie said...

hey, thanks for the recipe! i have made pretzels before but without a sourdough starter and it's nice to see that you have used partially whole-grain flour with good results!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Hey there Cherie!: Thanks for dropping by and glad to hear you like what you see. Come on by again, I'm not exactly sure when I'll get to pretzels again, but it can't be too long as I have some nice whole wheat I'd like to try them with.

Sarah said...

Yum! I just found your blog from google-searching "sourdough pretzel recipe" and this looks like just what I was looking for. Will be making them tomorrow with my whole wheat starter! Thank you!

Best,
Sarah

PS - Looking forward to perusing your archives! I've been exploring sourdough these last few months and have been having a blast (a few recipes on my blog). We live in SoCal now, but previously lived in North Beach and Lafayette (and Alaska!) and miss the genuine sourdough available there . . . I wish that we still lived in the area! :)

Monkey Wrangler said...

Sarah: Coolio! Thanks for giving it a read, and even braver, giving the recipe a go. Are you gonna blog about it? I'd love to know the results. Let me know.....

Funny you wrote this comment because I woke up thinking that I've gotta feed the beast and try my hand at pretzels again.

Anonymous said...

I made fantastic pretzels with the recipe but the dough simply wouldn't rise without the addition of two tablespoons of yeast.

Monkey Wrangler said...

Anon: Maybe try feeding your starter for a few days in a row before next time so it is at maximum strength. Or try letting the dough do it's first rise in the fridge overnight. This always works wonders for slow risers and packs a nice sour flavor. Hope this helps......

sachin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
junglemama1125 said...

So, I just made these!!! I started them yesterday. Just pulled them out of the oven and ate two! I cut this recipe in half on everything but used 1/2 cup of my own starter. It was very slow to rise, as most commercial yeast-free breads are, and by the time I realized it, bedtime had snuck up on me. So I popped them in the fridge overnight and out they came first thing this morning. About an hour ago they met their maker. I was wary at first, having never made pretzels before. I felt the dough was really tough and that I would be glad I had cut the recipe in half. I was just hoping it would give me a good "feel" for this experiment and not be a total waste of my time. Dammit...I wish I had not only made the full batch but that I had doubled it. My husband will be lucky if there are any left when he gets home from work (I made 8). Not only was the crust just perfect but the inside had a nice tooth to it from the whole wheat. I added some sesame seeds to one, poppy seeds to another and am about to go sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar over another. As soon as they came out of the oven I lightly brushed them with butter (no explanation necessary). AMAZING! Thanks for posting this!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Junglemama: Damn! That is one killer response! I'm sooooo glad you tried your hand at these and they turned out spectacular. Fresh pretzels are hard to beat. And now, you have the power.....

Thank you so much for writing this, especially some 3.5+ years after the post. It tickles me that there are a few posts that folks still can draw inspiration from. Well, that and this one in particular is one of my faves.

Anonymous said...

Just found this. Been looking for a soft sourdough pretzel recipe for a while. I will find the time to try this week!
Cindy

Monkey Wrangler said...

Anonymous: (Whoever you might be) Let me know how they turned out huh?