Now, when I hear ‘pretzels’, I think of the salty, savoury, crackery kind of snacks that I could easily eat by the double handful. Bread pretzels are also, as it turns out, pretty awesome. I’ve made this recipe a few times now, usually just rolling up little balls of the dough and serving as pretzel bites instead of taking the time to shape them into the real thing – this is because I’ve always made them as a party nibble before, and rolling up 40 odd pretzels is not usually on my ‘things I have time to do’ list, which is usually populated by other items such as ‘have a shower to get all traces of flour off face, arms, hair etc’, ‘stress out over not having any clothes and put on jeans and a top as always’ and ‘go on Twitter’. The last one doesn’t always make the written down list, but it almost always happens anyway…
This time I decided to half the recipe, which says it makes 12 medium pretzels, and use the smaller amount of dough to make four large pretzels, enough for four sandwiches. I was extremely enamoured with the idea of pretzel sandwiches; I’m not sure how it got into my brain, but it seemed to pop up of its own accord last night when I was wondering when I’d have time to make another sourdough loaf. The pretzel sandwich leapt to the forefront of my brain as an alternative option that I could make in one night without having to stay up really late. I decided to test out using Louie the sourdough starter straight from the fridge without feeding and activating him first – this way it was like making a compromise between a proper sourdough loaf and using the much quicker instant yeast. I’m pleased to say that it worked! The dough didn’t rise as much as with instant yeast, or with an active starter, but the end result was just as good; nice and chewy, nicely flavoured and a lovely golden colour on top. It was good to prove as well that I didn’t have to look out special sourdough recipes, and could just go ahead and convert any yeast bread to sourdough. A rule of thumb I learned during the Daring Bakers sourdough challenge was that 1/2 cup of yeast starter is equivalent to 2 1/4 teaspoons (about a sachet, depending on which brand you buy) of instant yeast. This tip was courtesy of Audax Artifex, Baking God.
I did alter the original ingredients and instructions, so here is my amended sourdough bread pretzel recipe, which makes just four:
- 2 cups plus 2 tbsp plain flour
- 1/4 cup sourdough starter
- 1 tablespoons golden caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (I used my black salt, but I wouldn’t recommend it!)
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp warm water
- 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
- 1/2 a large egg yolk – slightly tricky to do
- 1 large egg white and 1/2 large egg yolk (the rest of the egg, basically), beaten
- Smoked sea salt and ground black pepper to garnish
- Put all the dough ingredients in the mixer bowl
- Turn the mixer on at the lowest speed for eight minutes
(If you want to do these by hand you totally can, all you have to do is mix the ingredients with a spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, then get your hands in and knead, still in the bowl, for about ten minutes, until smooth and elastic.)
- Remove dough and rest while you clean the mixer bowl
- Lightly oil the bowl, place the dough in the bottom and seal the top with clingfilm
- Sit in a warm place (like a pot of hot water with the lid on) for three to five hours, until doubled in size. Sourdough takes a LOT longer to rise than bread made with instant yeast
- Prepare two baking sheets – either lightly oil them, or lightly oil some greaseproof paper and line the sheets with that. If you’re using the paper, OIL IT. Please. Few things are so frustrating as trying to peel paper off the bottom of otherwise beautiful baked goods.
- Heat the oven to 220C
- Divide the dough into four then, one piece at a time, roll and gently stretch into a rope about one inch thick. The dough is nice and elastic; I made the rope by holding up in the air in front of me and rolling the dough, letting gravity stretch it downwards then working my way along the rope to even it out as necessary. Not easy to explain, next time maybe I’ll try and get pictures…
- Shape the dough into a pretzel; you know what a pretzel looks like.
- Brush thoroughly with the beaten egg, then sprinkle liberally with the salt and pepper
- Bake for eight minutes, then rotate the sheets from back to front and top to bottom and bake for another eight minutes. Watch out for the tops being too browned and don’t be afraid to turn the heat down to 200C if your oven is too hot.
- Remove from oven and cool before slicing and filling with whatever you like; anything with mustard is especially good.
I think my pretzels would have benefitted from a couple more minutes of baking – I’ve amended my baking time in the recipe above to eliminate the little, still damp patches in mine. Overall though I’m delighted with the texture of the bread, the presence of some uneven air holes and the wonderfully chewy crust that I didn’t achieve with my bagels. Oh and the smell! The delicious, slightly nutty, very bready, fresh smell – Louie is a mix of flours, so he brings a great extra flavour to everything with hints of rye and buckwheat, as well as the classic sourdough tang. Honestly, discovering sourdough has improved my bread-making skills so much. It could still be beginners luck, of course, I shall try not to be too proud in case there’s a big old fall just up the road…
My sandwich filling was (in order of appearance from bottom up) rocket, gouda, ham, gherkins, mayonnaise, chipotle mustard. I have to say, I looked forward to lunchtime all morning, even more than usual, and it was with a certain measure of pride that I opened my tupperware box and lifted out this beauty. It was also delicious, though I’d under-utilised the mustard for fear of it being too hot. Pretzels and mustard go together like ramalamalama-dadiggideddydingdadong. Fact.
Edit: I have submitted this post to Yeastspotting!