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.
|Diastatic Malt Powder|
* 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.
© 2004 All rights reserved. Published by Wiley.