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Tying the knot with homemade pretzels
April 8, 2018, 2:13 pm

A Pretzel is a type of baked bread product made from dough most commonly shaped into a twisted knot. The traditional pretzel shape is a distinctive nonsymmetrical form, with the ends of a long strip of dough intertwined and then twisted back into itself in a certain way. There are several varieties of pretzels, including soft pretzels, which must be eaten shortly after preparation and hard-baked pretzels, which have a long shelf life.

Here is how to prepare pretzels:

Ingredients: Other than the best known baking soda, the ingredient list for pretzels is short. Most recipes use bread flour. Pretzel dough undergoes a lengthy mixing time and the resulting dough is wonderfully elastic. A high-protein flour like bread flour is ideal for this type of dough. 

Other than the flour, you have got the bread basics: water, yeast, and salt. You can also throw in a little bit of butter for richness, tenderness, and overall good flavor.  

Mixing method: Like many other enriched dough, pretzels are mixed relatively intensely—a process known as the improved mixing method. The mixing begins at low speed, to combine ingredients, hydrate the flour, and encourage the chains of gluten to begin forming. After a period of time (about 3 to 5 minutes), the speed of the mixer is raised to medium, where mixing continues until the dough has reached full gluten development. At this stage, the dough can be pulled to create a ‘window’—a piece of dough so thin that it becomes transparent. This level of elasticity can only be reached through intensive mixing, both in length and speed. 

The result of this mixing method is bread with a very tight crumb structure and a soft, slightly chewy crust.  

Rising: The best pretzels benefit from three stages of rising.

First, the dough will need to rise all together, just after mixing. This stage is called bulk fermentation and is largely for flavor development, though it also contributes to the texture of the final dough. This period will usually take 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Then, you will cut the dough into even pieces and let it rise again. This stage is called bench rest, and is a much shorter period of time—usually about 15 to 20 minutes. This is primarily so the dough can relax before it is shaped.  

After the dough is shaped, it rises once more. This final rise is called proofing and is where the individual piece is rising. A dough that is proofed successfully will have the best texture, and it is also a period where the final flavor develops. This stage takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour.  

Shaping: To shape, first lightly flour your work surface. Work with one piece of dough at a time. Start by making the dough slightly oblong in shape, just by pushing it flat with your fingers. Start at the top of the dough, and fold one third of the piece of dough over onto itself. Press firmly with your fingertips or with the heel of your hand to ‘seal.’ Continue to fold the dough over and press to seal until it has formed a log shape.

Starting with very light pressure in the center of the dough, roll the dough between your hands and the work surface, elongating the log. Roll until it is about 22 inches long, or the log is evenly about 1/3 inch in circumference. To shape the pretzel, hold the two ends in your hands. Twist the strands around each other once, and then again so that you have made two twists in the dough. At this point, lift the rounded part of the dough at the top and bring it down below the two twists. Bring the ends through the round and press down with your fingers to seal. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. The finished shaped pretzels should be covered loosely and left to proof.

Dip and salt: When the pretzels are proofed, carefully dip them in a strong solution made of baking soda and water. Making the solution slightly stronger than the recipe suggests for best results. While the pretzel is still moist, sprinkle it with coarse salt.

Bake and eat: Pretzels bake at a high temperature to encourage a fast oven spring and a chewy, dark exterior. Recipes may vary, but generally pretzels bake between 204 to 232 degrees Celsius. Bake until they are golden brown, between 12 to 16 minutes.  

Fresh is best: Like most bread, fresh pretzels are best eaten the same day they are made.


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