Thursday, 31 January 2008

BBD#6 - Part Three

In order not to miss my own deadline, I'm finally posting my main Bread Baking Day #6 event: soft pretzels prepared with a lye solution - the way you get them in Germany! Pretzels are a very popular snack allover my home country - no matter if for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack or dinner. You see, the Germans really like their pretzels. There are many slight, regional differences but for me, a five-star pretzel needs to have a very fine-textured, soft crumb that doesn't dry out easily whilst the surface has to be of a shiny, reddish brown colour and needs to be quite crusty.

Obviously, it's one of the typical things that an ex-pat might miss fairly soon because chances aren't very high to get the real thing anywhere outside of German-speaking countries. Luckily, in case the desire for pretzels becomes overwhelming, there is a German bakery in Sydney where one can get a quick fix. Since living in Australia, I twice tried to reproduce pretzels but both times the results had been only so-so. Fresh from the oven, they had been good enough - however almost anything that comes straight out of the oven usually tastes good.

Where would I get a proper recipe? German baking books seldom provide one as no one I know has ever bothered to make them at home. When reading Jeffrey Hamelman's "Bread - A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes", I found out that he actually started his career with making hundreds and thousands of pretzels. So he should know what he was talking about, right? Indeed, he does. Using a preferment not only improves the tastes but also the shelf-life quite dramatically. In contrast to pretzels made with the straight dough method that deteriorated fast once they had cooled down, these pretzels tasted in the evening as good as they had during my lunch break. The only thing that hadn't turned out a 100 percent perfect was the crust. It wasn't quite crusty enough but still well above average.

In case you're not too intimidated by handling a lye solution, please give it a try! It's not at all complicated. Most importantly, never touch the lye with your bare skin and give the kitchen a good airing during and after the process. The biggest problem will be to buy the lye. Pharmacist sell it, however, I've always gotten odd looks for this request - like I'm asking for bomb material. I've also boiled a few pretzels in a baking soda solution which is a common replacement. However, it only produced a slight yellow hue instead of the brown colour and the characteristic taste. Next time, I'll just have to improve the crust and I will hopefully get my perfect pretzel!

Jeffrey Hamelman’s Soft Pretzels

I had to convert the recipe and ended up with slightly odd numbers so don't be put off by that. Regarding the yeast, I used instant dry yeast instead of fresh. For the preferment, I've simply used a light sprinkle of yeast. If unsure, you can use a little more than that. The time to ferment will be shortened but if retarding the dough anyway, this should not impart the overall flavour.

72g bread flour
47g water
1.5g salt
0.01g fresh yeast

Final Dough
290g bread flour
170g water
5.8g salt
7.1g fresh yeast
18g butter, soft
3.6g diastatic malt powder (I substituted a teaspoon of malt syrup)
121g preferment (all of the above)

Makes about 600g of dough (recipe could be doubled).

Mix pate fermentee using a wooden spoon. It should have the rather stiff consistency of finished bread dough. Let stand for 12-16 hours at room temperature. When ripe, the preferment should have doomed and just start to recede.

2 Mix the final ingredients for 3 minutes together, and then add the preferment in chunks. It will be fairly stiff. Mix for another 5-6 minutes. The dough should come off the walls of the bowl.

Let sit at room temperature for about two hours or until doubled in volume.

4 Divide dough into pieces of roughly 85g. Shape into cylinders and let rest for a few minutes under a cover.


Roll into stretches of 40 centimeters in length with the middle slightly thicker. Quickly pick up the pieces and swirl around into pretzels (or simply fold the dough strands around one another). Press ends into dough.
Note: I didn't manage to get my dough strands as long as that and ended up with slightly chubby pretzels.

Let proof for 30-45 minutes or until risen to 75 percent. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow a skin to form.
Note: Hamelman suggests that the pretzels can be retarded overnight. To do this, refrigerate after the first 20 minute of proofing. To accomodate my schedule, I decided to retard the finished dough after step 2 instead of the finished pretzels.

Prepare 3 percent lye solution: Put a litre of water into a pot, add 30g of lye and bring to a boil.
Note: Use gloves and take care not to get any lye solution onto your skin. Use a slotted spoon for handling the pretzels.

Completely submerge pretzels for about 5-10 seconds. Let drain on the slotted spoon and then transfer to the baking sheet. Quickly slash at the thicker part and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Note: If you don't have a very sharp knife for slashing, rather use scissors instead. The cut won't be perfectly straight (as you can see) but that's better than destroying the dough structure.

Bake at 450 F/220 degrees Celsius in a preheated oven for 14-16 minutes.

The Source
Jeffrey Hamelman: Bread – A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What beautiful Pretzels! They look ever so perfect and tempting! Yummy



Katy said...

oh my gosh, yum. pretzels are so on my list of things that i need to cook in 2008! phenomenal.

Petra aka Cascabel said...

Hier in Deutschland sind Brezeln auch oft nicht mehr so, wie ich sie aus meiner schwäbischen Kindheit kenne. Hamelmans Rezept ist ausgezeichnet (hier mein erster Versuch). Könnte ich direkt zum Wochenende wieder einmal machen!

Elizabeth said...

What? No poppy seeds? ;-)

Your pretzels look wonderful!


Nora B. said...

WOW!!! That was the first word that came out my mouth (G is my witness, he heard me shout it out). In my opinion, it looks exactly what a pretzel is supposed to look like, including the very authentic split. You are a true genius, I hope you are not tired to hearing me say that.

I've already told you about my very bad experience of making pretzel. The first one disintegrated when I tried to boil it. And the ones I didn't boil tasted good, but was too soft and bread like, not dense enough. I don't know if I would try it again, but yours look so good, maybe I should give your recipe a try.

Bella Baita Marla said...

You could have fooled me that the crust isn't perfect, because they look perfecto!

Eva said...

Thank you Rosa! Although they're not big enough, this time the shaping went much better than during the first few attempts.

Katy - That's definitely a nice project! And I promise that only getting the lye will be difficult!

Da hast Du Recht, Petra! Oft sind die Bretzeln schon nach kurzer Zeit entweder ausgetrocknet oder laetschig...

Sorry Elizabeth..;-) But I'm sure I'll be making more poppy seed cakes in the future!

Nora - that's how I'd like it to be..;-) Unfortunately, they're all long gone but we could make some together next time! I think using a preferment really is the key for success with pretzels.

Thanks Pasticcera! I hope that baking them maybe five minutes longer will make them absolutely perfect!

Coffee and Vanilla said...

Hi Eva,

Just a short note to let you know that you have been nominated to Inspiring Food Photography event:

Have a wonderful weekend, Margot

Madame K said...

I've always wanted to make pretzels - I know they'd be a huge hit with my kids, too.

Your photos are lovely!

Eva said...

Wow, Margot, that's great news! I'll head right there!

Thank you, Karen! I'm sure they'll like it - I've never seen anyone who disliked pretzels..;-)

Eva said...

Ooohh...dear Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas has left a nice comment and I accidentally deleted it... Sorry about that, Brilynn!

zorra said...

Ich finde die sehen perfekt aus, zum Reinbeissen! Bis jetzt habe ich nur die direkte Methode verwendet, ich werde deine Variante bald mal ausprobieren.

LyB said...

Your pretzels look perfect, such great photos! Like I could grab a pretzel right through my computer screen!

Helene said...

They are wonderful! If only the computer had an instant delivery option!!

Eva said...

Hi Zorra, mit preferment fand ich sie wesentlich besser. Mit anderen Rezepten sind sie beinah sofort trocken und hart geworden. Damit's nicht zu lange dauert, werd ich in Zukunft aber wohl eher Laugensemmeln anstelle von Laugenbretzen machen..;-)

Lyb, feel invited..;-)

Tartelette, that's what I always think when I see your desserts...

Y said...

FAB.U.LOUS! I can't wait to try your recipe. I'm a complete pretzel/bretzel addict and have always wanted to make my own but have been put off by the whole lye thing in the past too. Also, didn't really see a recipe around that I fancied trying, until now. Will let you know how I go :)

Eva said...

Yes, I'd be very interested in your results!

Anonymous said...

hi Eva, you made really good pretzel and your pictures are very nice! thanks for visiting my blog too!

JEP said...

Gorgeous photos!