Baking bread, whether as an occupation or as a hobby, is extremely satisfying. Bakers have almost complete control over their bread, requiring little more than some very simple ingredients, time and the willingness to get his or her hands a little messy.
Pretzel bread is not quite a simple as flat bread or dinner rolls, but the loaves come out of the oven with a deep, brown pretzel crust and a slightly sweet, tender center. This particular recipe should be treated as a base to which other ingredients may be added. Cinnamon and extra brown sugar can create a sweet pretzel, or garlic and other spices can create a more savory pretzel. The loaves can be baked into mini-loaves, sandwich loaves or just cut into chunks and served as a snack. If you come up with something good, leave it in the comments.
But now for the bread.
Makes : 2 small loaves.
Prep time : 3-4 hours (including rise time).
1 packet dry active yeast, or 2 tsp.
2 cups warm (110F) water.
1 tbsp dark brown sugar.
1 tbsp honey.
2 tbsp half-and-half.
3 tbsp unsalted butter.
1.5 tsp salt.
3-3.5 cups bread flour.
3 tbsp baking soda.
Step 1: Preparing the Dough
Combine the warm water, dark brown sugar and honey in a mixing bowl and stir. Add the yeast carefully to avoid clumps. Stir again and let the mixture stand until the surface of the water starts to turn a light brown as the yeast begins to foam. It should take no longer than a few minutes. If your water is too hot, too cold or the yeast is bad it will not foam. It's a lot easier to deal with bad yeast or water early on.
Also, note that this recipe uses dry active yeast. fresh yeast or fast/self rising yeast can be used, but be sure to read the instructions on the packet to adapt the recipe.
The yeast, when added to the warm, sugary water, starts to consume the sugar and multiply like crazy. They are what gives the bread its ability to rise and expand later on. While the yeast is started to get going, melt the 3 tbsp of unsalted butter, then add the half-and-half. By adding the half and half to the melted butter, the half and half warms up a bit if it is straight out of the fridge. Add the tsp of salt to the yeast mixture with the butter and half and half then stir well.
Step 2: Mixing the Dough
First of all, to avoid future heartache and dough everywhere, make sure you lightly butter the bottom and sides of a large bowl at set it aside. Be sure the bowl is beg enough for the dough to fit in after doubling in size.
Measure out two cups of flour and add the to the mixing bowl. If you have a mixer with a dough hook, feel free to let it do most of the work at this point. If not, grab a rubber spatula or flour your hands and start mixing the dough. Rather than using a mixing motion like when working with a cake mix, fold the flour into the water. scrape along the sides and bottom of the bowl and fold it into the flour. As the dough starts to come together it will be nearly impossible to stir anyway. Think of flipping a pancake when scraping along the bottom and flipping it to the top.
Once the dough forms a wet mess, add a little of the third cup at a time and fold the new flour into the dough. Do not add the entire cup at one, as it may not be needed. Add a little at a time (a couple tsp) and knead. After a few minutes the dough should stop sticking so the sides of the bowl as much and start to form a ball. Add flour and knead until the dough ball is just slightly sticky. At that point, turn it out of the bowl onto a clean, lightly floured surface or just flour your hands and pick it up. Knead the dough by fold it over and over in different directions until it gets sticky again, then sprinkle just a little more flour on it. Knead until the dough is smooth and just slightly sticky. It should form a fairly solid ball.
Step 3: Pretzel Bread Rising
All of the hard work is done once the dough is kneaded. Take the now-smooth ball of dough and place it in the buttered bowl from earlier. Don't worry if the dough is just a little sticky, but it shouldn't stick to your floured hand anymore.
After the dough is in the buttered bowl, flip it over once so that all sides are coated.
Cover the dough with either plastic wrap or a moist cloth and set it somewhere it will stay warm. If the house is particularly cold, turn the oven on just until it starts to warm a little and turn it back off, then set the bowl in there. If the dough doesn't stay warm it won't rise well, but if it gets too hot it will rise very quickly or, even worse, start to bake. About 70-75 degrees is fine.
After an hour, check on the dough. Because there is not much yeast in this particular bread it will probably take longer than an hour to get nearly doubled. If it is slightly cold, the dough could take more like an hour and a half to two hours to rise. If you really need the bread in, say, two hours total, add another half a packet of yeast when starting it.
Once the yeast has nearly doubled, get a wide pot of water on the stove and add baking soda. More soda will add a stronger pretzel flavor. Additionally, a little honey can be added to sweeten the crust a bit. Let the water come to a boil while getting the dough together.
Step 4: Boiling and Scoring
Get the oven pre-heating to 450 degrees.
Uncover the dough and punch it down. If the dough is sticky again, sprinkle a little flour around the sides and over the top. Peel the dough out of the owl and turn it out onto a floured surface. At this point it can be cut and shaped into what will be its final shape. Keep in mind that the dough is going to have to be boiled and then removed from the water. Smaller loaves will be easier to handle.
Shape the loaves and set them on a lightly floured surface then cover lightly to rise while the water comes to a boil. Once the water has come to a rolling boil, carefully drop the loaves into the pot one at a time with the side that will be the bottom facing up. They should float right back up to the surface. If the water is not hot enough they will sink and stick, so be absolutely sure the water is boiling strongly. Also keep in mind that it can bun rather badly if the loaves and dropped into the water too quickly.
Let each loaf float around for 30 seconds on each side. Using spatulas or a large, slotted spoon, remove the loaf from the water, let it drain for a second, and place it on either a floured baking sheet, a lightly greased sheet or, the easiest option, a silicon baking mat . Sprinkle the still-wet loaves with kosher salt to taste.
Using a very sharp knife, cut an "x" onto the top of each loaf. Be sure to cut at an angle. The slices will let the loaves expand in the oven.
Step 5: Bake and Enjoy
After the oven is up to temperature, set the loaves in the top 1/2 or top 1/3 of the oven. Let them bake for ten minutes, turn them, and drop the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for another 10 or so minutes. The loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the top.
During the last few minutes of baking, the loaves should hit their maximum size and turn a dark brown.
Once the loaves are out of the oven, brush them lightly with melted butter for a softer, chewer crust. If they are not buttered the loaves will keep a crunchy crust.
Keep in mind that baking times may vary based on your oven.
Serve the loaves warm with butter or a dip. A cheddar and sour cream dip is particularly good. Store them at room temperature in a bag. The loaves will keep several days.