Friday Afternoon Baking (FAB) is my new venture into regular baking. I love to bake goodies for special occasions such as festive seasons (Chinese New Year and Christmas), as well as for parties and birthdays. But why should I wait for such occasions in order to bake? Loving to bake IS good enough reason to get myself away from boring lecture notes and whip up some yummylicious goodies. My theme for FAB is the search for quick and easy recipes with affordable common ingredients that I can whip up in a jiffy and give away to friends weekly without burning a hole in the pocket.
I first learnt about pretzels through Auntie Anne’s, a pretzel chain that is ever so ubiquitous in Singapore. In fact, Auntie Anne’s is pretty much synonymous with pretzels to almost any Singaporean. I’ve tried it once but never quite liked it because the one I had was soaked in an incredibly soggy amount of fat. Never really wanted another pretzel since then (in 2003 maybe?) until I had the fresh soft pretzels (mit Weißwurst und süßer Senf ) in Baden-Württemburg when I was there for a music festival in October 2009. The roasty flavour of the crust, with its soft interior and specks of saltiness was absolutely addictive. I was instantly hooked and each time I pop over to Germany (I was studying in Wageningen, NL for 6 months before Copenhagen), I’d always make it a point to grab a bag of these ‘steering wheels’.
Pretzels are pretty simple to make, they’re affordable and they make a great breakfast or mid morning / afternoon snack. They are also particularly interesting, from the perspective of a food scientist. If you’ve had any hint of a chemistry education, you might have heard of Maillard browning — the non-enzymatic browning reaction that makes our lovely roast chicken brown and bursting with caramelic roasty aromas. The Maillard reaction is a very complex one, involving a cascade of reactions that begins with sugar and protein (I shan’t go into details of Schiff base formation)… but one interesting fact is that this reaction is promoted by a basic (opposite of acidic) environment, enhancing the extent of browning and flavour development. This is the key to the pretzel’s beautiful dark brown crust. Check out khymos for more chemistry!
Here’s my first attempt at pretzel-making. Not exactly how it would look in a German bakery, but it tastes good, alright! Recipe was adapted from The Fresh Loaf, but I made 9 smaller pretzels instead of 6, sprinkled some poppy seeds and used yeast cakes instead of instant yeast (matter of availability). Enjoy!
Soft German Pretzel Recipe
- Half a yeast cake (or 1 tsp instant yeast)
- 1 cup warm milk
- 1 tbsp brown sugar / malt sugar / any sugar
- 2-3 cups plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- Baking soda bath (about 2 tbsp sodium bicarbonate in about 500ml water)
- Disperse yeast in warm milk.
- Mix 2 cups of flour with salt, sugar and milk-yeast mixture.
- Add additional flour until combined into a soft dough. Knead until smooth (about 5 min), cover with plastic wrap, then set aside in a warm water bath to rest for an hour.
- Preheat oven to 220˚C while preparing to shape dough.
- Shaping of dough: divide dough into as many portions as you want pretzels (how big do you want your pretzel to be?), stretch into cylindrical lengths of dough (I find it easy to grab two ends and gently flick it like an elastic rope). Shape as desired.
- Dunk the pretzel in a simmering sodium bicarbonate bath for about 5 seconds, then transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt / sesame / spice mix / poppy seeds / cinnamon sugar / really, anything you want on your pretzel.
- Bake for 12-14min or until golden brown.