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Tying the knot

Tasting

CHILD’S PLAY A proud Penny with a tray of tasty homemade soft pretzels that she craved and helped create.

Homemade pretzels are fun, and easier than you think  

Food
Redmond Cabot

You know those TV programmes when someone does something mad? Like, swallowing a bottle of petrol then sticking a firelighter on the end of a twig and doing a massive big impressive fire-eating routine? There’s always a big warning: Do Not Try This At Home!
There are culinary equivalents of this.
My biggest trauma in trying to make something at home that is best left to the experts? Brioche.
It was demanded by the kids, who were going by the philosophy that most things you make at home are better than you get in the shop. (Nope, it turns out. Not always.)
Brioche demands overnight resting – not a winner when you have children hungry for brioche now, yesterday. Even before the creature’s final overnight respite in the fridge, the making process involves yeast, warm milk, a mixer with a dough hook attachment, and intermittent goes and rests with the dough hook. Wake up in the morning and it’s still haunting you! Honestly, my advice: Buy it instead from a good bakery.

Persistence wins
There was a special on at one of the supermarkets – frozen uncooked pretzel dough you pop in the oven for 15 minutes and Bob’s your Uncle.
Those German knot-shaped, salty bread rolls, they were very tasty. However, they were only on sale for a week. We started getting terrorized by the kids – why can’t we make our own?  Yikes. A return to brioche territory?
Penny and Louis persisted. How would you even shape the terrifyingly alien things? Reader, I googled it and found a recipe from a brilliant US food writer, Sally, who runs Sally’s Baking Addiction. She allows people to pass on her recipe.
The bread dough is easy. I was worried about shaping the pretzel but that’s surprisingly straightforward (well, especially if your kids do it for you!). And here’s a massive bonus for a yeast bread – you only need to rest the dough for ten minutes before shaping.
Dousing the shaped pretzel into a boiling soda bath before baking scared the living daylights out of me. Irish people put the soda in the bread, not outside the bread… But it was fine. After around 17 seconds (we counted) each pretzel floated to the top. It was elating to pull this off, and the finished pretzels were delicious. Go to Sally’s website for more information about shaping and the soda bath. Dip your finished pretzels in soft butter or cheese sauce.

Sally’s Soft Pretzels

What you need
For the dough:

  • 360ml lukewarm water
  • Two and a quarter spoons of dried yeast
  • One teaspoon of salt
  • One tablespoon of sugar
  • One tablespoon of melted butter
  • 460-500g plain flour
  • Coarse sea salt for topping

For the soda bath:

  • 120g bicarbonate of soda
  • 2.1 ltrs hot-to-boiling water

What you do
Whisk the yeast into the lukewarm water and leave for a minute. Whisk in the sugar, salt and butter. Slowly add the flour, about one third at a time. Mix until you form a thick dough, and stop then, even if you have some flour left over. You can use a dough hook but we did it by hand and it was fine.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for three to five minutes, until elastic. Roll into a ball and rest for ten minutes. Preheat the oven to 200ºC, and line two baking tins with parchment, lightly buttered. You are aiming for six pretzels on each tin.
Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 12 sections. Using your hands, on a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a 20-inch rope. Meet the ends together to form a circle. Twist the ends so you have two lengths overlapping the circle – like one-and-a-half-inch butterfly antennae sticking out at the top of  the circle. Flip it over and double the circle towards you, pressing each antenna to form a triangle in the dough towards yourself. (Rubbish description – look at a picture of one and see if you can work it out. It’s easier than it sounds!)
In a roomy saucepan, bring the bicarbonate of soda and water to the boil. Drop each shaped pretzel into the bath and scoop out with a fish slice/slatted spoon when it rises to the surface after 17-30 seconds.
According to Sally, leave it too long and it will taste metallic. Give each pretzel a shake to remove excess water then place on the baking tray. Apply the coarse sea salt atop each pretzel, remembering that less is more. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown – you will smell and see when they are ready. Enjoy!

Red Cabot has had a lifelong interest in food. In 2010 he began selling fresh food sauces at Westport Country Market, open every Thursday at the Old Railway Hotel, North Mall, Westport, 8.30am-1pm.

 

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