Thursday, May 22, 2014
Guess what we’re making this weekend?
I have been obsessed with make soft pretzels at home since about 16 seconds after I learned that you could, 7 years ago. For something that looks so twisted, dark and complex, they’re actually simple to make, requiring only a basic bread dough (flour, water, salt and yeast), formed into pretzel knot (a rope with the ends twisted together, then folded back over itself), dipped briefly in a baking soda solution, salted, and baked until pretty. This is almost exactly the way they are made in southern Germany and surrounding pretzel-loving regions, save one bit: instead of a baking soda bath, the pretzels are dipped in a lye solution. Lye, as in the poison. As in the stuff used in oven cleaners, drain openers, the kind of thing you shouldn’t touch without a mask and latex gloves, the kind of thing no sane cook would bother with at home.
Or so this was the case nearly a decade ago. In the time since, as the DIY/handmade/homemade ethos has swept the food-curious population, things that once seemed adorably old-fashioned (pressure cookers, water bath canning, freezer jams, just to begin) or just plain nuts to do at home (making you own bitters, butter, or barley hops) have become delightfully mainstream, and I suspect directly related to this shift, the last five times I’ve read about pretzel-making at home, seemingly sane people with their whole lives ahead of them have suggested that you, another seemingly sane person who probably didn’t have Dabble In Harmful Chemicals Because This Food Blogger Told Me To on your holiday weekend agenda, should go buy lye, done some gloves and goggles and make Laugenbrezeln as if you were a 10th generation baker in Bavaria. No big deal at all.
Continued after the jump »
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Nobody could mistake me for a person who moves quickly. I “run” at a treadmill speed that would never catch a thief, and barely these days, a preschooler on the loose. It took us 3.5 years, until two weeks ago, in fact, to finally put the kid’s toys away. We’ve been “redecorating” the living room for the better part of a year — we’ll probably put the pictures back up in a week or six; please, don’t rush us. Thus, it should surprise nobody that it’s taken me nearly four years to conquer the cake you see here, which sounds even worse if you consider that it was a special request from my own mother, as this was her favorite growing up.
In my defense, in that period of time, I moved apartments, had a kid, wrote a book, and went on a 25-city book tour, all while (mostly) keeping up with this here website and
spending a truly horrific amount of time staring slack-jawed social media ahem, maintaining occasional hobbies. But I know the truth, which is that I’ve been intimidated by making it because I felt like I was cooking blind. The Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich) is a German specialty and while my mother’s parents came over in 1935 and 1936 respectively, the areas once known as German epicenters (the middle of Queens, where my mom was raised, and Yorkville, in the Upper East Side of Manhattan) have now mostly dispersed, and most of the accompanying stores have shuttered. Calls to German bakeries to see if they sold it were almost futile, until I found one in Ridgewood, Queens that sold us a whole one that was rather awful; let’s not speak of it at all. The only thing left to do was go it alone, researching obsessively along the way.
Continued after the jump »