Pretzels

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Dough Yield:

    72

    pretzels at 3 oz each

Appears in

Bread

By Jeffrey Hamelman

Published 2004

  • About

I Had to Beg and Beg for my First Baking Job. The owner didn’t want me because I had no experience. I didn’t give up. The other bakers were Frenchmen and Germans, and I, so the owner told me, couldn’t possibly bake because I was American. I persisted. Wearing down her resistance was no easy task, but eventually I succeeded, and got hired to make the pretzels. Although this was the lowliest position in the bakery, I couldn’t have been happier. I rolled them out by the dozens; I made hundreds each day, thousands each week, tens of thousands within a few short months. It was a great early education for my hands: Slack doughs, dry doughs, young doughs, old doughs—my hands got to feel all the variables, and begin to learn the effect of subtle changes in the dough. Never have I regretted those pretzel days.

Pretzels are the preeminent symbol of baking in Germany, and they date back hundreds of years. The story of their origin is that they were given to children who had successfully completed their prayers: The pretzel’s shape, with its interlocking twist of dough, is meant to suggest the arms folded in prayer. During medieval times, merchants hung an object or carving outside their door that would let passersby—a great number of whom were illiterate—know what sort of shop was within. The pretzel became the symbol for the baker in Germany, and to this day, wooden or iron pretzels still hang above the baker’s door in hundreds of shops throughout the country.

Pretzels are unique in that just before baking they are first dipped in a solution of sodium hydroxide (lye) and water. They are then quickly slashed with a blade, coarse salt is sprinkled on, and into the oven they go. The lye dissipates in the oven, leaving a very thin, shiny crust and an appealing brownness. It is of the utmost importance that gloves and even eye protection are worn when dipping pretzels, as lye is quite highly caustic. Long-sleeved shirts are also advised, unless the gloves fit well up above the wrist. Finally, the dipping bowl that holds the lye pellets and water must be made of stainless steel.

U.S. Metric Home Baker’s %
Bread Flour 8.28 lb 3.762 kg 1 lb, 6.1 oz (5 cups) 100%
Water 4.47 lb 2.031 kg 11.9 oz ( cups) 54%
Salt .17 lb .075 kg .4 oz (2 tsp) 2%
Yeast .17 lb .075 kg .15 oz, instant dry ( tsp) 2%
Butter, Soft* .4 lb .188 kg 1.1 oz (2 T plus ½ tsp) 5%
Diastatic Malt Powder .02 lb .008 kg .04 oz ( tsp) .2%
Total Yield 13.51 lb 6.139 kg 2 lb, 3.7 oz 163.2 %

* The butter in the dough can be replaced with lard.

Note: 20% of the overall flour can be pre-fermented in a pâte fermentée. In this case, a bulk fermentation of 1½ hours is adequate. For a tasty variation, replace 10% or so of the flour with whole rye flour and acidify another 10% of the white flour in a stiff levain.

Method

  1. Mixing: If production is 9 dozen pretzels or fewer, a small spiral mixer or 20-quart planetary mixer can be used. Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl. In a planetary-type mixer, mix on first speed for 3 minutes in order to incorporate the ingredients. The dough will be stiff. Turn the mixer to second speed and mix for an additional 5 to 6 minutes until the dough has moderately strong gluten development. Desired dough temperature: 75°F.
  2. Bulk Fermentation: Two hours.
  3. Folding: Fold the dough once, after 1 hour of bulk fermentation.
  4. Dividing and Shaping: If using a 36-part dough divider, weigh off 2 presses at 6.75 pounds. If dividing by hand, strive to cut squarish pieces at 3 ounces each. Roll up the dough pieces into blunt cylinders. Use the heel of your hand to get a tight seam on the bottom edge. Let the dough relax for a few minutes under a sheet of plastic.

    To shape the pretzels, roll the cylinder to about 18 inches long. The center should be perceptibly thicker than the ends. Do leave a small bulb of dough at each end, however; the finished pretzel looks nicer with those bulbs. Pick up the dough by the ends and, with a quick motion, twirl it in such a way that it twists around itself twice. This motion is done in the air, and as soon as the second twist has occurred, quickly lay the thick part of the pretzel down, still holding the ends in each hand. Take the ends and press them into the dough at each side. The little bulbs of dough at the ends should protrude just barely outside the body of dough. The illustrations on the next page show the shaping process in detail.

    The motion of forming pretzels, like so many other hand motions in baking, requires some practice and attentiveness before it becomes second nature. Another, albeit slower, method of forming the pretzel is to lay it down on the bench with the thicker part away from you, like an upside-down letter U. Take the two ends and twist them twice around each other. Then bring the ends onto the sides of the body of dough and press them into it. Whichever method is used, the shaped pretzel should look like the one in illustration C. Place the shaped pretzels onto sheet pans that have been covered with lightly oiled parchment paper to facilitate release.

  5. Final Fermentation: Let the pretzels proof until about 50 percent risen, 20 to 30 minutes at 75°F. Refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes to chill the pretzels and to allow formation of a skin. This makes them more durable for the dipping to come. The pretzels can also be retarded overnight. In this case, refrigerate after 20 minutes of final fermentation, lightly covering the sheet pans with sheets of plastic.
  6. Dipping: Wearing gloves and optional protection for the eyes, slide the pretzels into the lye solution. Leave the pretzels in the solution for about 5 seconds, lift them out, and put them onto a steel cooling rack to drain for a few seconds (the cooling rack should be on a sheet pan so any lye solution that drains is captured there. Then place them onto sheet pans that are covered with lightly oiled parchment paper. Sprinkle coarse salt lightly over the top, thickest part of the pretzel. Using a lame or other sharp knife, make one quick slash along that thickest part of the pretzel.
  7. Baking: The pretzels can bake either on sheet pans or directly on the oven hearth (in this case it’s easiest to leave the pretzels on the parchment paper). Bake them in a 450°F oven, with the oven vents open. They will brown nicely and bake in 14 to 16 minutes. The lye dissipates completely in the oven, and the warm pretzel is left to be enjoyed either plain, or with mustard and meat or cheese. In Germany, beer is close at hand.