Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels

I have never met anyone who does not like pretzels.

Come to think of it, I don't know anyone who would refuse when offered a second pretzel.

The only pretzel store I went to when I was still an elementary school student was Aunty Anne. That was because there wasn’t any other store near my school that sold pretzel at that time. I loved the texture, the taste, and as I clearly recall it, their pretzels did make my little hands greasy and that would make mom annoyed because I would clean my hands using my skirt. Could the absence of pretzels in my late elementary school years be the effect of Aunty Anne’s policy of no selling to ill-mannered kids? Like all mom who enjoys the guilty look on their kids faces, that was what I believed. Only after I was in my 20s and completely forgot about Aunty Anne I found out that they were closed because the store moved to a mall in the western part of Jakarta. The area mom has always dreaded to go to because of the hellish traffic. That’s low, Mom.

Time passed without pretzels and voila, I got married and have my own little daughter. Then history repeats itself. A year ago, Aunty Anne opened a booth at our favorite mall, simply because the mall has many bookstores and isn’t too far from where we live, and since then Amiko would enjoy two pretzels every time we go to there.

Aunty Anne’s pretzels haven’t changed. They’re still yummy, though a whole lot more greasy than I remember. But it’s me who has changed. I’m not the little chubby, missing one front tooth, pony tailed girl who’d stuffed whatever taste and look good in her mouth anymore. I’m a very curious woman who needs to know how a certain food was made and what ingredients are in it before I even eat it. No, I’m not gonna do it to my friends’ cooking, if ever you wonder how freaky I am, I’m only doing it to the food I buy. A trust issue would perhaps be a more appropriate accusation.

So after about 6 month of occasional weekend mall visits and countless pretzels, I gave Amiko my usual money saving proposal which of course benefits all of us. No more store bought pretzel but I’d let her keep the money so she could buy an extra book or toy. Knowing the prospect of more books and toys for her collection, she would never say no.

Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels is one of my favorite pretzel recipes from King Arthur Flour. Why didn’t I post it sooner? Because the pretzels disappear so fast I can’t even take a picture of a single one of them. I made them healthier, as usual, by adding wheat bran and skip the baking soda basking. The 2 minutes dough dipping in baking soda solution will give the pretzels their trademark caramelized look. Same goes for bagel. But since these are meant to be enjoyed, gulped down, and put smiles on my family and friends’ faces, not for aesthetic display, I'd never bother making the baking soda solution. You shouldn't, too.

Yield: 8 awesome pretzels
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
10 gr wheat bran
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup warm water*
*Your goal is a soft dough. You can skip the wheat bran but don't forget to use less water.

3 tbs melted unsalted butter
Cinnamon & brown sugar mix, optional but delicious
Coarse Sea Salt, optional but delicious

1) Place all of the dough ingredients into a bowl, and mix until well-combined. Knead the dough for about 5-7 minutes, until it's soft, smooth, and quite slack. Allow it to rest for 30 minutes in a plastic covered bowl to retain its moisture

2) Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into 8 equal pieces (about 70g each).

3) Preheat your oven to 245°C. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it with vegetable oil spray, or lining it with parchment paper.

4) Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. 

---An army of pretzel wannabes!---

5) Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin rope (about 28" to 30" long), and twist each rope into a pretzel.

6) Transfer the pretzels to the prepared baking sheet.
In this stage, you can sprinkle them lightly with coarse, kosher, or pretzel salt, if you want salted pretzels. But if you want to top them with something else, no salting should be done. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

7) Bake the pretzels for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they're golden brown.

8) Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter. Keep brushing the butter on until you use it all up; It may seem like a lot, but that what gives these pretzels their ethereal taste. Then proceed with any topping you want, if you haven't salted them before.

I once read about a guy’s journey in finding a perfect pizza in American Pie: My Search For Perfect Pizza, one that reminds him of his childhood. That guy is Peter Reinhart who happens to be one of the world’s bread masters. As he gets older he craves for the pizza he used to have when he was still that kid from the block. His favorite pizza store is still in the same corner, but somehow it’s just not the same. The smell is still there, the atmosphere is still there, but the taste isn't.  So he tried to recreate the one like he remembered but eventually discover something worth remembering for the rest of his life.

The point of that story is that we will seek comfort in old memories. But if we try to go back, something will always be off and it will only mar the fondness we have towards that fragment of memory. After all, memories are merely a part of our life that is done. No one stays the same and why cling to the past if we can make a better future. Oh, sorry for being a little philosophical. Blame baking bread for giving me more time to contemplate.

Anyhow, I thank Aunty Anne for giving me wonderful pretzels and happy memories with my beloved mother, sister, and brother. Those were one of the jolliest times of my childhood. But now it's up to me to give Amiko even better pretzels so that she would remember my pretzels as she grows. As for my husband, so he would clean the house on weekends.


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