By Paul Suplee, MBA, CEC, PC-3
After a long day on the road, I say out loud that I would love to stop at a local brewery and have a beer and maybe a soft pretzel.
Both of these things are taboo on my latest diet, but after a nine-hour drive, is there anything better than relaxing with a cold one and some bready goodness to get you ready for bed?
There is something magical that happens with pretzels and bagels, both poached in an alkaline bath before baking that makes them so special, their texture and taste quite unique in the bread world.
What is it about soft pretzels that took the restaurant industry by storm years ago?
I am a huge fan, and I have sold thousands of them, I do believe that the birthplace of said bread’s popularity is the ballpark. At least, that is the first place that I remember having them as a kid.
There has been one major brand over the past couple decades, and it was everyone’s go-to.
However, many artisan bakeries have opened up across the country, wholesaling their wares of freshly baked pretzels that rival the best Bavarian treats from over the pond.
Of course, I imagine I might get some hate mail on that last comment, but I have eaten pretzels in Bavaria, and suffice it to say that there are some producers here who are doing well with their baking abilities, paying homage to the Bavarian predecessors.
As we roll into the summer months, with kids graduating and the town gearing up for the season, sometimes it is a great thing to sit back and make a batch of bread.
To think that I am writing that makes me laugh, as until 14 years ago, you couldn’t pay me enough to make any sort of bakery product. I was definitely one of “those chefs” who had a deep disdain for the bakeshop.
And as time went on, and I had to start teaching the skills, I gathered my kneading wits and now bread baking is one of my therapeutic pleasures. Next semester, I get to teach a bread class, and that is one of my all-time favorites to teach.
It is a skill that is truly humbling in the beginning, and yet it lends itself to a well-rounded kitchen knave once one has the hang of it.
The truck is parked, and now it is time to go grab that beer and a pretzel or two.
It would not break my heart if they had pretzel bites, a great accompaniment to a frothy brew. And when you start playing with these, consider some of the toppings that can accompany, such as crab dip, buffalo chicken dip or myriad other toppings.
You could get all crazy and make them like loaded fries, with shredded cheese, bacon, scallions, crème fraiche, you name it. Your imagination is the only thing stopping you.
For me tonight, though, a pile of pretzel bites will have to suffice, and I will do my best to enjoy them, relax and unwind after a very long day on the road.
Raise your glass. Hearty cheers and restful days as we get ready to rumble. Relax, enjoy a beer and we’ll see you on the other side of September.
Soft Pretzel Bites
makes about 60 or so bites
1 c. Water, around 100-105F
2 tsp. Active dry yeast
3 c. Good bread flour
1 Tbsp. Sugar
2 tsp. Kosher salt
For the water bath
3 Qt. Water
1/4 c. Baking soda
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the water, yeast and sugar and allow to sit for about 15 minutes, or until the yeast is nice and foamy from eating all of that glorious sugar.
- Add the flour and incorporate well. The end dough is a malleable pizza dough-like consistency. Since flour is an imperfect commodity, sometimes you may need more or less. As long as you are not veering more than a cup off course, you should still be fine.
- Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes and once the dough is formed, cover it and allow to rise until doubled in size. This should take about an hour.
- Cut the dough into eight even pieces and then roll them into ropes.
- Cut the pretzel bites and place on a sprayed sheet of parchment and cover.
- Allow them to rise for another 20-30 minutes and while you are waiting, make yourself a delicious homemade mustard (an article for another day) and get the water bath ready.
- Now that the water bath is ready with the baking soda and at a low boil, poach the pretzel bites in batches for about 20 seconds.
- Drain them back onto the parchment.
- You can use an egg wash if you prefer, but honestly these bake really well as-is. The ubiquitous pretzel coloring and splitting occur because of the alkaline bath in the baking soda bath. That is where the magic truly happens.
- Bake at 400F for about 15 minutes (remember that every oven is different so watch carefully)
- Serve with said homemade mustard or gussy it up with some local honey or agave to sweeten the spice.
Paul Suplee is the owner of the boxcar restaurants
and is also Senior Lecturer of Culinary Arts at UMES.