Brian's Photo Blog — Article 474
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Making Pretzels At Home
Wednesday 23 September 2015   —   Category: Cooking & Food
If you follow this blog on a regular basis, you already know that there have been a lot of articles about cooking and food recently. In fact, today’s article is the 16th in the Cooking & Food category that I created only last month. So how did I get started on this new-found obsession with culinary adventures?

The spark that lit the fire was a soft pretzel I had in a restaurant at the end of a photo outing in June — see Mount Hood Summer Sostice for all the de­li­cious details. This huge, tasty pretzel — the first I have eaten in many years, and one of the few in my entire half-century life — was served with an awesome, spicy, whole-grain honey mustard.

At the time I thought that the $5 Gustav’s Bargarten charged was kinda spendy. However, after looking at quite a few menus from Portland-area res­tau­rants since then, I have seen that there are some which charge even more! For the Gustav’s pretzel, by the time I paid for a beer to go with it, along with a tip, that little snack cost me $15 — way too much to afford very often!

As an alternative, I bought pretzels at three different bakeries in Portland. That was a cheaper solution, but they still seemed on the spendy side. In addition, two of the locations had hardly any pretzels on hand, and at one the pretzels seems somewhat old and stale. Why pay someone else to make a pretzel and some mustard for me when I can have the fun and satisfaction of doing it myself?

During my search for Portland pretzel vendors, I ran across the Pretzel Making at Home cookbook by Portland-based food writer and instructor, Andrea Slonecker.

After getting my own copy from Amazon, the first recipe I made was her Spicy Whole-Grain Pub Mustard. After letting it ripen in the fridge for three weeks per the instructions, it turned out really great. That pint jar of mustard is almost gone, and I have a second, slightly-less-spicy double-batch in process.

Once I had made the mustard, I got a bit sidetracked from my pretzel making by some eggs-perimentation with recipes from Andrea’s other cookbook, Eggs on Top: Recipes Elevated by an Egg.

But eventually I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get my hands on some homemade pretzel dough. In the remainder of this article, I will share my experiences, step by step, with photos, as usual.
Because it was my first attempt, I de­cid­ed to start small and make only a half-​batch of four pretzels, following An­drea’s Traditional Soft Pretzel recipe.

Once the dough was made and had spent the night in the fridge, I divided it into four equal portions and rolled each out by hand to about 12 inches long.
The next step was to at least double the length of each strand of dough. When you enlarge this photo by clicking on it, you will see that I was able to roll the dough out to 30 inches, which was, literally, quite a stretch!
I didn’t take too long to roll out each piece of dough to a sufficient length, and then twist them into the classic pretzel shape. Somehow they remind me a bit of another classic shape, the peace symbol.
In the silver sauce pan to the right is two tablespoons of food-grade lye dissolved in six cups of water. Once it got hot enough, the raw pretzels, after being left to rise for an hour or so, were ready for their short lye bath before being baked.
Even though I had bought the pictured Asian skimmer strainer specifically for handling the pretzels during their lye bath, I found that the pictured spatula, which I have owned for years, worked better for me. It’s all part of the learning process.

Unfortunately, the risen pretzels were a bit sticky and hard to remove from the parchment paper. Next time I might try putting each pretzel on an individual square of wax paper.
After the lye bath, the pretzels were returned to the parchment and baked for 8 minutes at 500°F. I was quite thrilled with the glorious results!
As you can see, the pretzels rose even more while baking, and turned out a bit on the pudgy side. I think I need to roll them out to a full 36 inches next time. However, the shape had no negative effect on the wonderful consistency and taste.
Time to eat one of the first pretzels I have ever made. Accompanying it was the homemade mustard I mentioned above, as well as a bratwurst sausage, a dill pickle spear, and pickled pearl onions. It was all washed down with a bottle of authentic Bavarian Pilsener beer made in Montana.
A closer view of my scrumptious and satisfying pretzel meal. Why pay a lot of money to eat this same food at a restaurant?
Because lye is a very caustic substance, Andrea gives some safety tips in her book, including wearing some chemical-resistant gloves as well as some onion goggles to keep the fumes out of your eyes.

As you can see, I took her advice quite seriously! I love the onion goggles — they are great when cutting onions too!

All in all, I would say that my first attempt at making pretzels was a great success. As I mentioned above, the consistency and taste were marvelous — better than some of the pretzels I had bought in Portland. And as Barney sang about popcorn, they are fun to make and fun to eat!

The only thing I would do differently next time would be to roll the pretzel dough out to 36 inches, so they don’t turn out so pudgy, and to let the pretzels rise on something other than parchment paper. Once I make my second batch, you can be sure that I will give you a full report.

There are also lots of other recipes in the Making Pretzels at Home cookbook, although some of them seem pretty weird to me — like the Peanut Butter, Banana, and Bacon Pretzelwich, or the Pretzel-Dusted Calamari with Mustard Aioli. But since I have been eating adventurously with duck eggs lately, maybe it is time to break out of one more box and eat adventurously with pretzels as well!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 474
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