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Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Tale of Two Pretzels - Part 1

I was in Norfolk, VA this week for two days and got to do something I never get to do... watch daytime TV.  Martha Stewart's show was on and I watched a segment where a guest, Lina Kulchinski, founder of Sigmund Pretzels, shared her recipe for soft pretzels.  The dough looked gorgeous that I haven't been able to get them off my mind since.  I knew as soon as I could get myself into the kitchen I would be making these pretzels.

Prior to making the Sigmund pretzels I went over to the Food Network's website to see what Alton Brown had to say about the subject.  The same Alton Brown who has you roast your own peanuts and then pulverize them into homemade peanut butter before turning them into a decadent peanut butter pie makes a one-day pretzel with much less rigamarole.  I wondered which pretzel recipe would produce a superior result and decided to try the pretzels head-to-head to see if the beer, brown sugar, and overnight nap really created a better pretzel.

Both original recipes call for the kneading to be done by machine.  Both recipes re-produced on this website call for hand-kneading.   If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment links are provided to both original recipes.

First Up - Alton Brown

You'll Need:

1 1/2 cups warm (110 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt*

*I used kosher salt for the pretzel topping as we couldn't find pretzel salt in our local supermarket.

Getting Started:

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.

Weigh and melt butter.

Weigh flour.

Now You're Cookin':
Add the flour and butter to the yeast mixture and mix until well combined. 

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. 

Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. 

Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil.  Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. 

Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope with your hands.  

Make a "U" shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. 

Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. 

Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula and return boiled pretzels to the half sheet pan.

Brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. 

Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes.

Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.


These pretzels were awesome.  Crisp and chewy on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside.  Delicious with mustard and darn good looking.  The Sigmund pretzel dough resting in the refrigerator has a lot to live up to.

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