Who doesn’t love pretzels? Okay, those super hard pretzels that kind of taste like cardboard, no one likes that. But what about those warm and fresh from the oven, fluffy pretzels topped with large pieces of rock salt? Who can say no to that?
Oregon Culinary Institute graduate Andrea Slonecker agreed and traveled the world, researched the regional varieties, learned the history of pretzels and tested hundreds of recipes.
Her end result is her newly released cookbook, Pretzel Making at Home, filled with over 50 recipes, including various different pretzel shapes and numerous dips and sauces to complement your pretzels.
There are recipes for the traditional soft Bavarian style pretzel, creative twists on old classics like Pigs in a Pretzel Blanket, and then insanely decadent sweet pretzels like Pretzel Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce.
Along with a group from the Portland Culinary Alliance and my good friend Rachel, I got to spend the morning learning all about the world of pretzels from Andrea, seeing her techniques and trying to make my very own pretzels.
One of the hardest parts of pretzel making to me anyhow is rolling and forming the pretzel dough. The shape of the dough will dictate how much each part of this bread-hybrid bakes, the crunch factor and of course, how nice it looks.
But don’t worry. The fun thing about pretzel making is you can make them your own. Add whatever kind of toppings you’d like – paprika, caraway seeds, pumpkin seeds; stuff them with cheese; make them savory or sweet. Make them in the traditional shape, in a knot, or go the simple route and just roll them into a log and top with great salt. Any way they’re prepared, they’ll taste delicious.
Now what makes a pretzel different than any other bread? Well, to make a pretzel have that “pretzel” taste, brown color and crispy coating, the dough gets a light soak in an alkaline bath before baking.
This was historically done with lye – yes, that stuff that you’ve been warned about because it can burn your skin off. A little scary in my opinion that you could then consume that chemical… But nonetheless you can and it turns out you can even purchase “food-grade lye” which is often used in modern commercial pretzel baking.
Andrea’s easier home technique is creating a baking soda bath for your pretzel dough. To create a higher pH, which creates more of a pretzel-y flavor, you bake the baking soda first. Just pour out a few cups of baking soda onto a baking sheet then bake for 45 minutes. It is much simpler and less daunting than the lye alternative!
(Here’s a great article from the NY Times that explains, in non-scientist’s speak, the science behind this.)
Fortunately unlike most bread dough recipes, pretzel dough can be made the night before and then left to sit and hang out while you sleep. The next day, you can get started on impressing all of your friends with homemade pretzels.
Especially when paired with the incredibly easy mustards and other dips Andrea’s come up with, these pretzels are perfect for summertime.