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Soft Pretzel Kit from FarmSteady

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    Posted: 20 March 2018 at 13:29
Soft Pretzel Kit from FarmSteady

For whatever reason, I have always loved pretzels in almost any form. Ever since I was a young child, they have been one of my favourite things, and as someone who is interested in food history, I found it impressive that such an old treat has managed to survive for such a long time and remain as beloved now as it has been for centuries. For these and other reasons, I have been wanting to make pretzels at home for years; but like so many things, it had never really happened. It would be easy to say that "life kept getting in the way," but the truth is that I simply never got around to it.

Then, not terribly long ago, FarmSteady introduced their Soft Pretzel and Beer Cheese Kit:

http://farmsteady.com/shop/soft-pretzel-beer-cheese-kit

I could have done made pretzels any time without this kit, of course; it would have been no trouble at all to find a recipe and make them, but as I said, it just never happened and - to be frank - the project seemed incredibly esoteric and intimidating. But in this case, the timing was fortuitous; FarmSteady launched soon after I learned to brew beer from its sister company, Brooklyn Brew Shop, where the motto is, "If you can make oatmeal, you can make beer" -

www.brooklynbrewshop.com

Such words of encouragement are a boon, at times, and the helpful enthusiasm was just as apparent with this new venture. When I saw this kit, I was immediately inspired; I made the decision then and there to finally move forward with a project that I have been wanting to do for such a long time, and on Super Bowl Sunday, 2018, I finally achieved this goal.

This pictorial follows my journey through the kit, but you, Dear Reader, can of course do exactly the same thing with a recipe for soft pretzels; luckily, we have a couple of good ones right here on this forum. First is this recipe, posted by Brook in his primer on baking bread:

http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/the-staff-of-life-a-primer-on-baking-bread_topic3089_post20759.html#20759

This recipe and method are tried and true - many times over - by Brook himself, and I will also eventually give it a go.

The second recipe that we have here is close to my heart; it comes from a friend in Alsace, who also turned out to be a distant relative:

http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/alsatian-pretzels-bretzel_topic4683.html

He lives not far from where my direct ancestors originated, and over the years we have corresponded about many things. He himself does not do much cooking, although he recently shared a story with me about making some Baeckeoffe with his grandson; however, he has mentioned many times that his wife and mother-in-law love to cook, and are good at it. I presume that this recipe is from them, as he describes it as a family recipe. This will most likely be the recipe that I will use the next time that I make pretzels.

In any case, the point remains: Pretzels are easy, and they are good - don't wait as long as I did to give them a try!

As I said above, pretzels have a long and interesting history; there seems to be a general consensus on the general story of this history, but different accounts will provide some unique and interesting details. Rather than try to rewrite the tale, I will provide the typical example:

Quote Though the exact origins of the pretzel remain mysterious, legend has it that the story began around A.D. 610, when Italian monks presented their young students with treats of baked dough twisted in the shape of crossed arms. At the time, crossing one’s arms was the traditional posture for prayer. As the custom spread through medieval Europe, the pretzel’s three holes came to represent the Holy Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and the twisty baked good became associated with good luck, long life and prosperity.

The first pretzels were baked as a soft, squishy bread, like the soft pretzels of today. Some say they were originally called “bracellae,” the Latin term for “little arms,” from which Germans later derived the word “bretzel.” According to others, the earliest pretzels were dubbed “pretiolas,” meaning “little rewards,” and handed out by the monks when their young pupils recited their prayers correctly. Whatever they may have been called, the popularity of these twisty treats spread across Europe during the Middle Ages. Seen as a symbol of good luck, prosperity and spiritual fulfillment, pretzels were also commonly distributed to the poor, as a way of providing them with both spiritual and literal sustenance.

The Catholic Church played a leading role in the early history of the pretzel. In the seventh century, the church dictated stricter rules governing fasting and abstinence during Lent than it does today. Pretzels, made of a simple mixture of water, flour and salt, were an ideal food to consume during Lent, when all types of meat, dairy and eggs were prohibited....

By the 17th century, the interlocking loops of the pretzel had come to symbolize undying love as well. Pretzel legend has it that in 1614 in Switzerland, royal couples used a pretzel in their wedding ceremonies (similar to how a wishbone might be used today) to seal the bond of matrimony, and that this custom may have been the origin of the phrase “tying the knot.” In Germany — the country and people most associated with the pretzel throughout history — 17th-century children wore pretzel necklaces on New Year’s to symbolize good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

When did pretzels make their way to America? One rumor has it that the doughy knots came over on the Mayflower, and were used by the Pilgrims for trade with the Native Americans they met in the New World. German immigrants certainly brought pretzels with them when they began settling in Pennsylvania around 1710. In 1861, Julius Sturgis founded the first commercial pretzel bakery in the town of Lititz in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania....

https://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-pretzel-a-twisted-history


As always, much of this can probably be taken with a grain of salt; however, they do say that all legends have an element of truth in them. Other sources provided much the same stories, with only a little variation or added information:

Quote While the New York Times reported in 1988 that a fifth century illuminated manuscript in the Vatican featured what may be the first pretzel, most sources date the snack's invention a century later...in either Northern Italy or Southern France....

Some scholars believe that the word "pretzel" is not a corruption of the Latin word "pretiola," but rather comes from the Old German "brezitella" from the Latin for "arm" (bracchiatus)....

[The pretzel] started popping up in medieval art as a lucky symbol, most famously in Herrad of Landsberg's encyclopedia Hortus Deliciarum. A 12th-century German nun, Herrad depicted pretzels as an important part of any feast....

In the 16th century, it was heroic pretzel bakers who saved Vienna from ransacking by Ottomon Turks. The story goes that in 1529 soldiers from the Ottoman Empire began the Siege of Vienna by tunneling underneath the Austrian city under the cover of darkness. However, several monks in the monastery's basement, hard at work making the next day's pretzels, overheard the commotion. They quickly altered the city leadership and military. By doing this, the monks were able to thwart the attack and save lives. In thanks, the Austrian emperor gave the pretzel bakers their own coat of arms which included angry lions holding a pretzel. It's still used at European pretzel shops today....

http://www.foodandwine.com/lifestyle/religious-history-pretzels




Quote The exact origins of pretzels are unknown, but most sources cite 7th century monks in Italy or Southern Germany who adapted the Greek ring bread, which is itself derived from communion bread.... By the 12th century, pretzels, or bretzels, were firmly established in the German baking tradition, to the extent that the pretzel was used for the first time as the symbol of the German Baking Guild. It remains the emblem of many baking guilds today....

The first visual record of the pretzel is a frame from the illustrated manuscript Hortus Deliciarum, a 12th century work from Alsace (then part of Germany). The picture is a a scene from the Megillah, the Hebrew text describing the story of the holiday of Purim. Queen Esther and her evil husband King Ahasuerus are shown with a pretzel on a banquet table....

Legend has it that a baker, neglectful while baking pretzels, left them in the oven a bit too long, until they were dried out and hard. He realized that these pretzels were still delicious and had the advantage of keeping for longer. From then on, hard pretzels were given as charity to the poor....

https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:mKVg0d1_pBMJ:https://breadthroughhistory.com/2015/03/11/the-catholic-history-of-pretzels/+&cd=18&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us




There is probably much more to be said regarding the origin, history and traditions of pretzels; but for our purposes, this brief introduction is surely adequate.

On to pretzelmaking!

As I mentioned above, my first attempt at making pretzels utilised the kit that I purchased from www.farmsteady.com. The kit has two elements: the beer cheese dip for the pretzels, and the pretzels themselves. You can read about my experience making the beer cheese here:

http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/farmsteadys-beer-cheese_topic4957.html

FarmSteady also ran a special edition of this kit in which they included instructions for making beer mustard for these pretzels. I contacted FarmSteady and got a few of the details so that I could also make the beer mustard, which you can read about here:

http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/farmsteadys-beer-mustard_topic4949.html

With those two prerequisites satisfied, I proceeded on to begin my Soft Pretzel project. One thing I noticed is that the method had some similarities to my previous Everything Bagel project, so I will include that link in the event that anyone wants to review the information:

http://foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/everything-bagel-kit-from-farmsteady_topic4718.html

The instructions for the pretzels can be found here:

http://farmsteady.com/instructions-how-to-make-soft-pretzels/

These instructions explain the procedure pretty well, but for those who are also visual learners, FarmSteady produced a great instructional video:

https://youtu.be/q10kKAJ2FYs

Armed with the instructions, the video, and some related prior experience, I got started.

Along with the kit itself, here are some additional ingredients that you will need:

Water
1/4 Cup (59 ml) Baking Soda
Oil or Cooking Spray
Flour for Dusting Surfaces
4 Tablespoons (59 ml) Cold Butter, Cubed
1 Tablespoon Butter (15 ml), Melted

And here is some additional equipment that you will need:

Electric Mixer with Dough Hook
Plastic Wrap
Kitchen Towels
Rolling Pin
Stock Pot
Large Slotted Spoon or Spider
Baking Sheet
Baking Mat
Pastry Brush

Here we are, all ready to get started:



The instructions are very straightforward and easy to follow; first, I mixed the yeast with 1 cup of warm water and a couple of tablespoons of the "baking mix," which is simply a bag full of the dry ingredients needed to make the pretzels.



Once the baking mix and yeast were fully integrated into the warm water, I placed the mixture into the turned-off oven with the light on for a few minutes. The idea here is to proof the yeast and let it get started, and after 5 or 7 minutes, the mixture was foaming up and ready to go.

Next, I dumped the bag of baking mix into the bowl of my KitchenAid stand mixer, followed by the butter which I had previously had cut into small cubes and kept very cold.



The instructions say to mix these ingredients by hand in the bowl of the stand mixer until they are crumbly; in an effort to cut down on the mess, I used a pastry blender to achieve what I figured would be the same results. I then added the foaming yeast slurry and mixed everything together by hand until I had a "shaggy dough."

Once this was accomplished, I let the dough hook work its magic on medium speed for 8 or 10 minutes.



After the allotted time, the dough was a tight, elastic ball. I covered the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and set it in the oven (once again, turned of...and once again, with the light on) so that the dough could double in size.



After about 45 minutes, I turned the dough out onto the table top, which I had generously dusted with some flour. I flattened it out a bit with my hands, then used a rolling pin to roll out an area that was as close as I could get to a rectangle that was 12 inches by 14 inches; it wasn't perfect, but it was better than I thought it would be!

I then used a pizza cutter to cut the dough into 12 strips that were each about 1 inch wide by 14 inches long:



When I began this project, what I expected was to divide the dough into 12 equal portions, then roll each portion of dough into a rope, and then shape the pretzel from there; however, the instructions and the video departed from this idea somewhat, keeping the strips of dough in a flattened shape for forming. I followed this instruction for my inaugural pretzel-making experience, and it worked just fine. In the future, I'll try rolling the dough into a rope as I expected to, and compare the results.

In any case, now comes the time to shape the pretzels!

Using my hands, I formed each strip into a large U:



I then crossed the ends over about two-thirds of the way up from the bottom of the U and brought the tips down to the bottom of the U in order to form the customary pretzel shape:



I then pressed the ends of the U into the dough to seal the seam. The instructions say to flip the pretzels over after forming them, but I neglected to do this.

I then repeated this procedure until all 12 strips of dough were formed into pretzels. There was a bit of a learning curve with this, but I eventually got fairly good at it, to varying degrees.



For whatever reason, the most difficult part of this was getting the ends of the U sealed into the pretzel; the reason for this is probably my failure to flip the pretzels over and let them "settle in" to their new shape. A few ends came slightly loose later on, but it didn't really affect things too much, in the end.

Once all of the pretzels were formed, I covered them with a kitchen towel and moved on to the second part of the process that would define these creations once and for all as pretzels: I began heating up 4 quarts of water in a stock pot to boiling over medium-high heat for the baking soda and malt syrup bath. I also began preheating my oven to 450 degrees.

The reason that you bathe the pretzels in a baking soda and malt syrup bath is to develop the colour, texture and flavour that are quintessential for pretzels, resulting in some very good eats. Traditionally, food-grade lye is used, rather than baking soda, and Brook's link above goes into some detail about this. For me, the baking soda was perfectly adequate for my purposes, and I have no regrets about using it. The amount of baking soda to use with 4 quarts of water is 1/4 cup.

As for the malt syrup, it helps to promote the Maillard Reaction on the surface of the pretzels, giving them a nice colour and deep flavour that is augmented by the effect of the baking soda. This is also a slight departure from the "traditional" way to do achieve the same end, but I can certainly live with (and enjoy) the results. The kit comes with a small vial of malt syrup - enough for one use. For future preparations of the pretzels, you want to use 3 to 4 tablespoons of malt extract, either in syrup or dry form; if you cannot find malt extract, you can use honey or brown sugar as a substitute.

One thing that I found to be important is this: you want to add your baking soda and the malt syrup before the water is boiling; I missed this instruction and added them after the water was already boiling, which resulted in a pretty wild boil-over. I am guessing that this was a reaction caused by the baking soda hitting the boiling water.

I wasn't able to get a good photo of the water bath procedure for the pretzels, but the concept is covered pretty well in my bagel pictorial (link above) and in the instructions. I used a large slotted scoop to add the pretzels to the water bath; I bathed the pretzels one at a time, but after some practice, a person could easily do two at a time. The pretzels will sink and eventually rise to the top of the water. After 1 minute in the bath, I removed them with the slotted scoop and placed them onto a kitchen towel, patting them dry.

During this phase of the process, I was able to smell, very definitely, the effect that the baking soda was having on the pretzels as they were in the water bath. The reaction between the pretzels and the baking soda was making them smell incredibly good, and I was getting very anxious to try the finished product.

Once I had bathed all 12 pretzels, I placed them on baking sheets, brushed them with melted butter and sprinkled them with pretzel salt, which is included in the kit:



Pretzel salt can be found on Amazon.com; in a pinch, Kosher salt will give you decent results, as well.

The instructions say to set the pretzels on sheet that is lined with a baking mat, but I only had one baking mat, so the other sheet of pretzels went without. It didn't occur to me at the time, but I could have baked the pretzels in two batches; indeed, I probably should have, not because of the lack of baking mat, but for another reason that I will explain in a moment.

At this point, the pretzels go into the oven for about 12 minutes, or until they are a deep brown; halfway through baking, the baking sheet should be rotated for even cooking. I followed this instruction, but because I had two sheets of pretzels, there was a bit of an issue. I wasn't able to fit the baking sheets into the oven side-by-side, so I placed them into the oven on separate racks, one on top of the other. What I should have done, as I mentioned above, was to simply bake them in two separate batches. The lower rack of pretzels interfered with the upper rack, and as a result, the pretzels were a bit under-done. I saw this coming early on during the baking, and was going to bake them longer to compensate; however, the situation got away from me, and I still ended up with pretzels that weren't quite done as they should have been.

Having said that, the pretzels did look pretty good!



They tasted very good, as well; with deep a pretzel flavour and a decent texture resulting from the preparation process. They were a bit under-coloured on the outside and under-done on the inside - and didn't quite have that almost-but-not-quite crunch of a good home-baked pretzel - but they were very close to ideal, and very good for a first attempt.



We enjoyed the pretzels with both the home-made beer mustard and the home-made beer cheese. I couldn't really pick a favourite way to have them, because all three ways were excellent. They made a really nice addition to our Super Bowl festivities and everyone was quite happy with them.

I held back four of the under-done pretzels so that I could take them out to my parents' place at a later time and share them with my dad. A couple of weeks later, we were able to get together for this impromptu pretzel party; for this second round, I wanted to bake the not-quite-finished pretzels for a bit of extended time, in order to see if I could develop the colour and flavour as intended. This worked well, darkening the pretzels, deepening the flavour and giving them a nice, slightly crunchy exterior that was an improvement over the pretzels that were under-done. My dad, my youngest son and I enjoyed the pretzels with the beer mustard, the beer cheese and some good, German beer (well, my son had root beer....).

In all, I would call this project a success, with some lessons learned and room for future improvement. The best part was that I was able to fulfill a long-held desire to bake some good, old-fashioned German-style pretzels, and I did a pretty good job of it. I am confident that the next ones I bake will be better, and am looking forward to the challenge. I personally feel that I probably wouldn't have gotten this project off the ground if it weren't for the inspiration provided by this kit, and therefore consider it a worthwhile purchase.

If you want to bake pretzels of your own, you can use one of the recipes above and this pictorial as a guide, or you can also purchase a kit from FarmSteady and give it a go. Either way, I believe that you will be glad that you did so. As always, I look forward to questions, comments and other feedback, and invite you to take part in a discussion on this topic.

Prost!

Ron
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 March 2018 at 17:51
Not a bad first attempt, Ron. I prefer them a little thicker, which may be why my recipe makes only 8 instead of the 12 you made.

One thing to try: When I have to use two sheet pans for a project, I put them in perpendicular to the door, rather than parallel, off-setting them right & left. There will be a slight amount of overlap, but not enough to affect the air flow.

Then, halfway through, in addition to rotating the trays, I replace one with the other. The one that had been on top now goes to the bottom, the original bottom one to the top.

Very rarely, additional baking time must be added. But usually not.

You have to work expeditiously, of course, or the oven temp reduces too much. And that can affect baking time.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 March 2018 at 07:37
Good morning, Brook - and thanks for taking the time to read and reply. It's great to be able to bounce some ideas around, especially on such a beloved topic!

Quote When I have to use two sheet pans for a project, I put them in perpendicular to the door, rather than parallel, off-setting them right & left. There will be a slight amount of overlap, but not enough to affect the air flow.

Then, halfway through, in addition to rotating the trays, I replace one with the other. The one that had been on top now goes to the bottom, the original bottom one to the top.


This is almost exactly what I did try to do, but unfortunately, it didn't quite seem to do the trick. Opening the door probably was a factor, now that I think about it. I also probably should have simply baked them a bit longer, but I was impatient, and the "Big Game" was literally just beginning....
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pitrow Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 March 2018 at 09:48
Phew, took me almost three hours to make it through this with all my interruptions, but I finally made it! Thanks for this awesome post.

like you, pretzels have been on my list of things to try for a very long time. I need to get on it one of these weekends.

I'm curious why they have you roll the dough out into strips, seems that the regular ropes would be much easier. I wonder if it has something to do with the surface area for the water bath. I think I would be tempted to roll them into rounds despite the instructions.

As for the malt syrup in the bath, it's my understanding that malt syrup is also moderately alkaline, just slightly more than baking soda in fact, so it probably helps with that crust you're looking for along with the milliard reaction. Plus the Farm Steady group probably is very familiar with malt syrup already Wink

Thanks again for this write up and inspiration to get me off my butt and make some pretzels soon.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 March 2018 at 09:56
Originally posted by Mike Mike wrote:

Plus the Farm Steady group probably is very familiar with malt syrup already


I imagine so ~

As for the flat vs round, I think it was just a variation; I'll bet either way works well.
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For whatever reason, the most difficult part of this was getting the ends of the U sealed into the pretzel; the reason for this is probably my failure to flip the pretzels

That might be true, Ron, although I've never seen instructions like that. More likely, the surface of the dough had dried enough so the two parts didn't meld.

A simple solution is to wet the area of contact before pressing them together. That should take care of the problem.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 March 2018 at 07:17
Originally posted by Brook Brook wrote:

A simple solution is to wet the area of contact before pressing them together.


That makes perfect sense, Brook - thanks!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 April 2018 at 15:57

Ron, 

These pretzels look stunning ..  

Thanks for posting ..  

m.
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