~ Mel's Philly-Style Slider-Sized Soft-Pretzel Knots ~
I love biting into a steaming-hot, crispy and salty on the the outside, chewy and tender on the inside, soft pretzel. More than eating it as is, I adore pulling bite-sized pieces from it and dipping each one into some Gulden's brown mustard. I save the knot for last -- it's the brass ring of the soft-pretzel world. Yes indeed-y, for me, the soft pretzel is on my short list, with a hot dog or a slice of pizza, in terms of "walk around the county fair or carnival" and eat yourself happy foods.
That said, NO WHERE will you feel their presence more than in The City of Brotherly Love -- Philadelphia. They sell them on street corners and in cafes, convenience and grocery stores, gas stations, sports stadiums and race tracks, movie theaters and concert halls, and, they hand them out in school cafeterias too.
As per Wikipedia: The signature S-shaped soft pretzel, served with brown mustard was established as a part of Philadelphia's cuisine for snacking at school, work or home and considered by most to be a quick meal. The average Philadelphian consumes twelve times as many soft pretzels as the national average. (The above "S-pretzel" photo is courtesy of philadelphia.backstage.com.)
I mostly find myself baking soft pretzels in the Fall because they are the quintessential snack food for tailgate and Oktoberfest. They're not as hard to make as you might think (they're actually fun), but, I know my limitations. Not being a professional pretzel twister by trade, I quickly realized they were much easier for me to handle if I made small slider-sized ones, and, once I figured that out, there was no reason to go big -- everyone adored the little ones. There's more: half-sized pretzels bake up into an adorable pretzel knot -- what's knot to love about that!
If I hadn't watched Alton Brown make them on TV, you probably wouldn't be reading this post. By meticulously following his recipe, my first attempt came out great. What I'm telling you is: this is his ingredients list -- I've noted the minor changes I made to it. The major change I made was to prepare the dough in the food processor (rather than in a stand mixer), and, rise the dough in a food storage bag that has been sprayed with no-stick (rather than in an oiled bowl) -- the food processor is much faster and lots easier, and, the food storage bag is mess free. His recipe is written, in my own words with my photographs, to reflect my food processor method.
22 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour, weighing the flour is important, do it
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons fine sea salt (Mr. Brown uses kosher salt.)
1 envelope Fleishmann's yeast (Mr. Brown uses rapid-rise yeast I do not.)
For the wet ingredients:
4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups hot tap water (Mr. Brown uses warm water, the food processor requires hot water.)
no-stick cooking spray (Mr. Brown uses canola oil to coat the bowl the dough rises in.)
For the water bath:
8 cups water (Mr. Brown uses 10 cups water -- he's making bigger pretzels in a bigger pot.)
1/2 cup baking soda (Mr. Brown uses 2/3 cup baking soda -- he's using more water.)
For the pre-baking finish:
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
coarse sea salt, for sprinkling on pretzels
~ Step 3. With processor running, via the feed tube, in a slow steady stream, drizzle in the butter, then start adding the water (pictured above). Continue adding the water until a ball forms, meaning: stop adding water when a ball forms. Continue to knead dough in the processor for 30 seconds.
~ Step 3. Place dough in a food storage bag that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, seal the bag closed and set aside until dough is doubled in bulk, 40-45 minutes. Mine took 40 minutes today.
Note: If you haven't invested in a kitchen scale -- do it. This recipe is foolproof if you have a scale.
~ Step 5. One-at-a-time, place a ball of dough on an unfloured surface. I use a wooden pastry board. This may seem odd, but I find this dough remarkably easier to work with on an unfloured surface. Using the palm of your hand, start by fashioning it into a cigar-shape by rolling it up and down the board.
As it gets longer, use the palms of both hands to roll it into a 16" rope. Fashion the rope into a a classic pretzel knot as follows:
Form the drop-shaped bottom into a curved-sided triangle. Lift the two loose top ends up and drape them down over the triangle. Tuck the two loose ends underneath and voila: you've got a classically shaped pretzel knot. A full-sized pretzel, of course, would be formed in the same manner, using a longer rope and the same knot tying skill, only it would be much looser.
~ Step 7. As you continue to form the knots, place them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. You will have three rows of six knots. Cover with a flour-sack-type cotton towel for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, line a second baking pan with parchment paper, then, prepare the water bath as directed below:
~ Step 8.* In a wide-bottomed 3 1/2-quart chef's pan stir the water and the baking soda together. Bring to a boil over high heat and adjust heat to simmer. One-at-a-time carefully and gently drop four pretzel knots into the the water. I do this with my fingers, but, you can use a large slotted spatula if you are afraid to do that. Simmer pretzel knots, for 30 seconds.
*Note: Poaching the unbaked soft pretzels in alkalized water is key to this recipe. The water bath gives soft pretzels their shiny, crackly crust and dark brown color. Test one to prove how easy this is. The baking soda gets very foamy when the pretzels get dropped in, and it tends to sputter too. The white residue it creates on the side of the pot is harmless, and, because baking soda is a natural cleaner, it leaves your pot and stovetop shiny clean too.
~ Step 9. Using a large slotted spatula, remove each knot from the simmering water, in batches of four, arranging them, well-apart, nine-to-a-pan, on each of the two parchment-lined baking pans. How adorable!
~ Step 10. Using a pastry brush, paint the tops of one pan of the pretzels with the egg wash, then sprinkle them with the coarse sea salt. Bake on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven for 14-15 minutes. Pretzel knots should be a deep golden brown.
Note: Do not paint and sprinkle 2nd pan until 1st pan is out of oven.
~ Step 11. Using your fingertips or a spatula, immediately transfer the baked pretzel knots to a cooling rack. Wait 5-10 minutes prior to serving hot, or longer to serve warm or at room temp -- and always the same day they are made.
Don't throw mama from the train just yet boys...
You can successfully make them a day ahead of serving them with little compromise -- I won't say no compromise, because that's just not so. Allow them to stay on the cooling rack, uncovered, overnight. Place the day-old pretzels on a plate or on a platter and heat, uncovered, in the microwave (a conventional oven will dry them out) for about 30 seconds.
They will emerge in a totally enjoyable state -- if they are consumed immediately!
Special Equipment List: 2-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; food processor; food storage bag; kitchen scale; pastry board, preferably wood; paring knife; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; flour-sack-type kitchen towel; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large slotted spatula; cooling rack; thin metal spatula
Cook's Note: To get my recipe for a classic ~ Philadelphia's Famous Cheesesteaks a la Melanie ~, just click on the Related Article link below. For a twist on that recipe, you can find ~ Philadelphia-Style Cheesesteak Pizza ~ by Clicking into Categories 2, 12, 17 or 19!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)