There are times when I absolutely need to decompress by doing something pleasant that involves following exact steps and…craft beer. Like these soft beer pretzels. Definitely needed to make them! These last few days were somewhat unpleasant – collecting payments from customers who pretend that they consistently forgot to mail a check for three weeks in a row is never fun. Oh, the ‘joys’ of being a small business owner – you are also a past due account collector… And you wonder how you ever trusted these people and extended them credit to begin with.
It also rained for the last two days. The entire time. Yikes!
So to cheer myself up I made soft beer pretzels – after all, we cannot have a blog about craft beering without serving pretzels once in a while:)
I enjoy doing things that require following precise instructions. I guess baking falls under this category. It focuses my mind and without much effort I let go of any unpleasant thoughts.
Here is how I shifted my focus away from the less than candid business customers, the rainy weather and a list of other small irritating issues…
The dough for these soft beer pretzels requires using both all purpose flour and pastry flour. Pastry flour has an impact because it contains less gluten, which leads to a softer dough, which is what you are aiming for when making soft pretzels. And I have to say that adding beer as a leavening agent makes things that much better! I used a Pilsner from our local brewery Zwei because it has this wonderful bready flavor, but wheat beers or amber ales will work great too. What you really must make sure you are using is an unpasteurized beer (i.e. a craft beer versus industrially brewed beer, learn more here).
After letting the dough rise, you need to cut it in half, then again and again until you have 16 pieces that you can shape into small balls. This is truly therapeutic. The beer pretzels dough is so soft to the touch that you you may feel tempted to knead and knead even though there is absolutely no need for that… I did:)
The funnest part is rolling the balls into logs and then snipping each side of the dough logs with scissors to create shapes reminiscent of pine trees.
Next comes the all important step of boiling the ‘pine trees’ in baking soda filled water. While I’m not all that knowledgeable when it comes to chemistry, I know that this will replace the traditional Bavarian method of boiling the pretzels into a lye solution. Boiling them in the baking soda water both imparts the specific flavor of the crust and makes it turn a deep brown color during baking. If you were to skip this step, the pretzels will look barely golden when fully baked.
One of Chris’ pastry chef friends explained to me years ago that what happens is that the baking soda added to the water creates a slightly caustic alkaline solution that helps break down some of the proteins present on the dough surface. This alters the ratio between sugars and proteins on the pretzels surface and causes the crust to take on its specific flavor and darker color during baking. I’d love to know more about how this happens and ordered this book to get better at making this popular beer snack. I am sure that I will engage in alterations of many of the recipes, because once you go the ‘add beer to the dough’ route you keep going:) In my case at least.
We love whole grain mustard and always keep several flavors in the fridge. I prefer it with soft pretzels to any cheese dip, even craft beer cheese dips:) The only way to improve on the combo is to make your own beer mustard, which we will post about soon (Chris has several different recipes). For now the focus is on these beer pretzels:)!
Soft Beer Pretzels Recipe
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup pilsner, kolsch, wheat beer or amber
- 2 tbsp soft brown sugar
- 1 packet of active dry yeast
- 4 oz unsalted butter
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2 cups pastry flour
- 2½ cups all purpose flour
- 2 quarts of water (for boiling the pretzels)
- ½ cup baking soda (for the boiling water)
- 1 egg, beaten
- kosher salt or pretzel salt for sprinkling over pretzel trees before baking
- Start by warming the water and then pour it into the bowl of a stand up mixer equipped with a dough hook.
- Add the brown sugar and the packet of yeast and mix on slow until the sugar is dissolved. Allow 5-6 minutes for the yeast to begin feeding on the sugar.
- Meanwhile warm the beer in a small pan over medium heat.
- Melt the stick of butter in the microwave for about 40 sec.
- Add the melted butter, warmed up beer, salt and the two types of flour to the now activated yeast and begin mixing on low.
- After about 3 minutes turn up the speed to medium. Once the dough pulls away from the mixing bowl stop the mixer, take it out an place it onto a lightly floured surface.
- Using your hands form a ball and place it inside a well greased glass bowl. Grease the dough ball and cover the bowl well before you let it rest in a warm area of your kitchen.
- Wait until the dough doubles in size. Depending on the altitude of your location the time will vary. If you live at high altitude the dough will double faster, in less than an hour.
- While waiting, prepare a pot of water and the baking soda.
- Once the dough has doubled, take it out and divide it in half, then each half in half and so on until you have 16 pieces.
- Roll out each piece into a log and use scissors to snip the sides and create a pine tree like shape from each log.
- Bring the pot of water to a boil and turn on your oven to 400° F.
- Make an egg wash by beating the egg well.
- Once the water is boiling slowly add the baking soda. Immerse each pretzel tree for about 45 sec making sure it gets coated with boiling water all over. Take out with a slated spoon, carefully pat dry with a paper towel before setting down onto a parchment paper lined sheet pan. (This step will cause the crust of the pretzels to brown. It will also impart the familiar pretzel crust flavor. If you want darker pretzels, add more baking soda. If you don't want your pretzels to brown too much add less).
- Once you have all the pretzels ready, brush them with the egg wash and season them with kosher salt.
- Place them in the oven and bake until they begin to turn brown, approximately 20 min.