Ever since I made bretzel rolls (something I just learned are actually called Laugenbrötchen, such a cooler name) in October, I have been looking for excuses to do so again (and not leave them to stale and condensate in a plastic bag this time). It hasn’t helped that I am suddenly seeing varieties freshly-baked pretzels in all sorts of places, above and beyond the stale street cart fare. First, there was an impulsive trip to the Schaller and Weber store on East 86th Street two weekends ago, where the most gorgeous soft pretzel sticks were sold in threes, clamoring to be dipped in something fantastic and spicy. Then, I saw them again at the Garden of Eden by us last night. And, could fuel for my pretzel obsession not get any stronger, there is apparently a place called the Columbia City Bakery in Seattle whose charming s-shaped pretzel slits might alone be enough reason to visit.
This time, I used Martha Stewart’s recipe, mostly because her 1-2-3 easy diagram for making the pretzel twists alone make it a worthwhile click. The recipe barely differs from the bretzel one in proportions, though a less-speedy yeast, less glutinous flour and slightly more salt and sugar are used. However, the one place with a noticeable variation — her boiling bath calls for just 2 tablespoons of baking soda and no sugar versus 1/4 cup soda and 2 tablespoons sugar, though equal poaching times — my best educated guess tells me is the part the made a difference I didn’t want. I had really hoped for that dark, stunning and shiny brown exterior I had last time, but even with several extra minutes in the oven, these remained lighter in color, like the ones bought on the street. Their flavor was spot-on, however, I just might revert to the more soda-heavy poaching liquid next time.
As I learned last time, store these open and uncovered for up to a day or two, though they are best eaten soon after they are baked. Storing them, however, is really a non-issue because they barely made it to halftime, which is a shame because I bet they would have loved the Prince-in-a-doo-rag show, too.
Finally, because something I made last week too just doesn’t warrant a separate post, I also made icebox cakes in cupcake form on Sunday. Just like the cake, they were super-easy to make, but be wary! It uses even more cookies. From three packs of Nabisco Chocolate Wafers, I was able to make about 22 cupcakes (5 cookies high) before running down to just the broken ones in the pack. Another trick: always use way more whipped cream than you think you’ll need (the cookies should stack, freshly made, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart). Once it sits overnight, much of it gets absorbed into the cookies (yum), so if you put too little, you end up with a stack of cookies, and no white ribbon-ed effect.
I expected that we’d have to eat them by fork or spoon, but they were surprisingly easy to eat by hand, or, really no more messy than picking up one of those abundantly-frosted cupcakes from Billy’s or Magnolia bakery.
Finally, the discs are slightly big for a standard cupcake liner. I centered them over it, flattening the paper a little, but if you have any big muffin liners, this is a good time to use them. Oh, and if you want one for yourself it’s best to grab these, too, in the beginning of the party. But you already knew that.
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Updated with a few tweaks 2/20/2009
Makes 16 full-sized or 32 miniature
2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook* and stir to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.
2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten times, or until smooth.
3. Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
4. Heat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each) or 32 if making miniature pretzels, and wrap in plastic.
5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. [I find the pretzels much easier to roll on an unfloured board, oddly enough, but see what works for you.] Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; eight will fit on each sheet (you may need a third sheet if making miniatures). Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.
* These days, I mix all of my bread doughs by hand, with a wooden spoon. I find it a fantastically easy process, and not very hard to stir by hand. No need to mix for several minutes, just a minute or so after it looks combined. To save even more dishes, I rinse out the bowl, oil it and use it for proofing the dough. And you thought making bread wasn’t simple!