Friday, June 12, 2009

Allow me to toot my own pretzel horn

You ever start a recipe, dump all the ingredients in a bowl, and then actually read the recipe and go, "Hey, this recipe's for crap!"? (No? That's just me? You all mise en place everything and read each recipe thoroughly before beginning? Well, jolly good for you.)

Me, I prefer to live on the edge. And since I'm too petrified to hang-glide, half-reading recipes is as edgy as I get.

So, I'd never had a pretzel roll 'til I moved back to Chicago and picked up a bag at the incredibly super-awesome Paulina Meat Market.

Imagine one of those big soft pretzels you get at the mall -- only fresher and more flavorful -- but turned into a bun and stuffed with a sausage. Sounds pretty tasty, no? Yes. Yes it is.

I was reminded of pretzel rolls again last weekend, at a kiddie birthday party, where the hostess served the preschool guests little PB&Js and cheese sandwiches on soft, slightly salty pretzel buns. 

And I thought, "I gotta make me some of those."

So, I started looking up recipes. And wound up a little underwhelmed. Nothing seemed quite right. Either the dough didn't sound very flavorful or the instructions didn't make sense. But then I found one that looked pretty good. I liked that it called for a little fat and some sugar. 'Cause I pretty much like anything with a little fat and sugar.

So, I dumped everything into the mixer. And then I realized the original recipe I was following was -- how to put this nicely? -- bad. Lame-o. Half-cocked.

'Cause, after dumping all this stuff in the mixer, it basically told me to stir it all up for 1 minute, shape it, boil it and bake it. 

Um. Hello? Let me introduce you to a little something called "gluten." You need it to make bread and you ain't gonna get it after one minute of mixing and no fermentation.

So, I basically stuck with the dough recipe (adding some rye to make it a little more interesting) and then adapted the rest of the instructions from Epicurious, following fairly standard mixing, fermenting, shaping and proofing practices for yeasted breads.

And the results, if you allow me to toot my own pretzel horn, were splendid. Here's last night's dinner, a Trader Joe's chicken sausage, smothered in onions and peppers, cooked in a little beer, and lovingly cradled on a fresh-baked pretzel roll.

See? Sometimes it pays to live on the edge.

(P.S. There's still plenty of time to join the "Cooking Away My CSA" Challenge. Read the post below and drop me a note or leave a comment here to sign up. We'd love to have you!)

Pretzel Rolls
Adapted from multiple sources, including Recipezaar and Epicurious
Makes 8, 4.25-ounce rolls

4 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup rye flour, if you've got it (or extra bread flour, as needed)
1 1/3 cups warm water
2 tablespoons warm milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup light brown sugar
Big pot full of water
1/4 cup baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar

1 egg white, beaten
coarse salt

Combine bread flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl or a stand mixer. Mix to combine.

Put butter and milk in a small, microwave-safe container. Heat about 30 seconds, 'til butter melts. Add warm water and brown sugar to container. Stir until brown sugar dissolves.

Add milk mixture into flour mixture and mix until dough ball forms. Continue kneading, by hand or with dough hook, for about eight minutes, gradually adding rye flour or bread flour so dough is tacky -- not sticky, quite firm and clears sides of mixing bowl. (The dough shouldn't be as stiff as bagel dough, but it should be more firm than typical bread dough. It needs to hold up to boiling before baking.)

Put dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic or a towel until doubled, about an hour.

Divide dough into eight equal pieces. (Use your scale, if you've got one.) Shape into boules for hamburger buns or small logs for hot dog buns. 

Slash down the center with a lame or sharp knife. Spritz with oil and allow to rest, covered, until nearly doubled -- about 20 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, set a big pot of water on the stove over high heat. Bring to a boil. Preheat oven to 375. Sprinkle a baking sheet (or two if they're small) with cornmeal.

Once water boils and rolls have proofed, add baking soda and sugar to the pot. (Do this slowly or you'll get a boiled-over mess.) 

Carefully add two buns (more, if your pot will allow) to the boiling water. Boil 30 seconds, flip, and boil another 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon to cornmeal-lined baking sheet. Bake with egg wash and top with light sprinkle of Kosher salt. Continue boiling and topping rest of the rolls.

Put boiled and topped rolls in 375-degree oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes until deep, nutty brown -- like a pretzel.

Cool before serving. Store these lightly covered with paper, or in the freezer. Don't store in plastic as they tend to "sweat."


  1. Looking good!! A great roll for a sandwich!

  2. How beautifully this illustrates that ingredients are only a third of the equation. Method, another third, and skill/experience/knowledge the final, key piece!

  3. Those look really nice! Yum!

  4. My. Goodness. Don't these look amazing!?! I can't wait to try this recipe. Right away. It is a priority.

  5. Made them today! Very nice (didn't have rye, but used half whole wheat). Going to serve them with grilled lamb kofte for dinner. I forgot the baking soda for the boiling of the first two, so conducted a wee science experiment on browning. (Click on my URL to see the photos on my blog.) Voila!

  6. Those look SO good, I will definitely try out your version of the recipe too!!

  7. I know we'd love these and I also know they'd probably never make it to the sandwich stage around here. Yum! I do have to confess that I am definitely one of those mise en place read the recipe a few times type of cook. I'm sure it's a control problem. Hahahaha!

  8. Toot away! These are lovely.

  9. Oh, that is a gorgeous roll. Can't you see it with crisp greens and a sharp cheese - say, cheddar - and a thick slice of beefsteak tomato?

    What a delight.


  10. Great Recipe. Really loved your post. Keep Updating with lots of more recipe.
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