Monday, February 14, 2011

Cheap Bastid’s Foodie Tuesday—Soft Pretzels and Capt Ron

Well, another Valentine’s Day is in the books. And when I put my mind to it, there are actually a lot more fantastic women in my life than I tend to think about day in and day out.

There’s my incredible wife Carolyn along with my daughter Susan and step-daughter Miss Meggie. Then there are my granddaughters, Raegan and Emma (MissChif and Spike) and their mom Katie. Oops and I almost forgot my mother-in-law, Mamma Stella. And then there’s my Mom, who just turned 80 and is still “take no prisoners feisty”. That’s a terrific line-up. I love ‘em all.

Not too long ago, after one of my mornings baking fresh baking powder and lard biscuits, Mrs. CB (my gorgeous wife) had a request. In that semi-sexy way that wives get from time to time she suggested that now that I was getting pretty good at biscuits that it would be even better if I tried soft pretzels. This being delivered with a bit of a “come hither” look and that flirty way guaranteeing that you’re going to do anything she suggests.

So I started to do a bit of research online (how did we get along before Google?). There’s lots of recipes out there and I kind of “hybrided” three of them together to come up with one that I thought had the best shot of succeeding given my limited talents and basic “cheap bastidliness”.

I also consulted Capt. Ron. Now Capt. Ron isn’t really a captain. He lives on a sailboat in Oceanside harbor and likes to refer to himself as Capt. Ron. So I indulge him. He’s a fount of information on baking having worked for 20 years as a commercial baker. He’s also my boss—he’s my sales manager at the car dealership where I work. But he knows his stuff. The first sample biscuit I took him he looked at it and said “pretty good first effort.” He took a bite and said “not enough fat and you worked the dough too much.” He’s good. So I consulted him—and got some pretty good advice. He even explained why the pretzels are boiled briefly before baking—it’s what let’s them come out of the oven with that “pretzelly” outside and chewing inside.

So, armed with all that information, I set out last Thursday to try my hand at making pretzels. Now, bear in mind that this is a recipe and the photos are the results of my first ever effort at making them. It actually wasn’t difficult but, like most other baking, it’s a matter of technique. I actually made pretzels that looked, smelled and tasted like pretzels. And next time, they’ll be even better because I made a couple of basic mistakes.

So here’s the recipe and directions along with some photos:

Cheap Bastid’s Soft Pretzels
• 3 cups all purpose flour
• 2 ounces melted butter or margarine
• 1 cup warm water (hot tap water is fine)
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 1 pkg active dry yeast
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 2 tsp salt
• 2 tbsp baking soda
• 4-6 cups water
• 1 beaten egg
• Kosher salt

Combine water, sugar and salt in a bowl then sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Get out a good sized mixing bowl and put the flour in it. Then add the butter/margarine and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix all this together until it is well combined. Keep mixing until the dough starts to come together. Then reach in and start to knead it (if the dough is “tacky” you can remove to your floured pastry board, or to the floured counter and knead it—the dusting of flour will pull the “tackiness” out of the dough and let you work it. Knead for several minutes until the dough begins to get smooth and satiny.

Clean out the bowl, dry it and rub a thin skim of oil onto its surface (use vegetable oil or margarine on a paper towel or napkin). Put the dough in the bowl and cover it with a towel or plastic wrap for about 45 minutes.

Now is time to take out your baking sheets and put a thin skim of oil on it. Turn your oven on to pre-heat to 425. Put a good sized pot of water on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the baking soda. Bring to a rolling boil.

While the oven is pre-heating and the pan is coming to a boil, take out your dough and break it into 8 equal sized chunks. Roll each of these, by hand, into a “rope” about the thickness of your finger or a cigar and about 20 inches long. Then make a “horseshoe shape” with the dough rope. Take the ends and cross them. Then gently press the ends into the opposite side of the pretzel. Put them on the cookie sheet. (I stacked them on my pastry board. And they stuck together and I had to roll and shape the pretzels again. Don’t do that!).

Now, your baking soda water is bubbling merrily away. Take the raw pretzels over to the stove and using a slotted spatula or big slotted spoon dunk the pretzels in the water one at a time for no more than 30 seconds each. Keep the spatula under the pretzel and at the count of 15 Mississippi flip it over. At 30 Mississippi take it out and put it back on the sheet. Then do another one.

Lastly, brush a bit of the eggwash lightly on each pretzel and then put a light sprinkle of kosher salt on the top of each.

Pop the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a nice golden brown color. I should have used a cooling rack but didn’t. Next time I will. It’s good to get the pretzels off the hot cookie sheet right away.

Let your pretzels cool down and eat them while they’re still warm. Smear a bit of mustard on them. Pop a brewski or just bite into them plain. These are good.

Damn, these were tasty! Now these were my first ever effort. They weren’t the prettiest pretzels you ever saw but next time I’ll do a lot better. We bit into them and they tasted fantastic, just like a fat, warm, soft pretzel is supposed to taste like and smell.

I took a couple to work the next day and gave one to Capt. Ron. He took one bite. It was still chewy and pronounced—“Hmmm, you didn’t let your yeast rise enough.” I was surprised that he could diagnose the pretzels that quickly. “Well,” I replied, “that’s because the yeast was pretty much ‘dead’. The package expired last October and didn’t really foam up.” So, that’s two more lessons. First, make sure that you’ve got “live” yeast. And know that Capt. Ron will be able to figure out what you need to do differently almost instantly.

The Cheap Bastid Test: The main expense in making these pretzels is time. It’s going to take close to a couple of hours. We’re talking total expenses of maybe a dollar for a the flour and yeast, some sugar and an egg. Pretty reasonable.

What I liked best though was a couple of hours on a day off to putz around in the kitchen, concentrating on something different and relaxing with the effort to creates something cheap and tasty.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!

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