I received an excellent book for Christmas, Beard On Bread, a collection of James Beard’s bread recipes. He is only the father of American cuisine, no big deal. So I’ve been striving to make bread at least once a week, all by hand, to understand the feel of dough and how yeast works and trying to gain a competent understanding of pastry. It’s a very rewarding part of cooking, but it is very different than working on a line and cooking a la minute. Pastry is much more of an exact science because once a dough is made, not much else can be done. Measurements have to be much more precise and little changes can make big differences. This recipe does not come from the book, the inspiration for this recipe is based on Alton Brown’s soft pretzels, which are pretty excellent if you are not cooking for some lactose intolerant, so I changed a couple little things and ended up with these vegan pretzels. I love the way my apartment smells when baking, if you don’t know what I mean, it’s time you get to putting in some elbow grease to make some dough and subsequently salivate when the aroma of baking bread envelopes your kitchen.
- 1.5 cups water, between 105 and 115 F
- 1.5 tbsp sugar
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1.5 tbsp salt
- 3.5-4 cups ap flour
- 4 cups very hot water
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- water for brushing
Bring water up to temperature, measured with a thermometer. Combine water, 1 tbsp sugar, and 1 package yeast. The yeast will activate and small bubbles will start coming to the surface. Let the yeast mixture sit for at least 5 minutes, up to 10. Meanwhile, combine flour, 1/2 tbsp sugar, and salt, whisk together til combined. Slowly add the flour, 1/2-1 cup at a time to the yeast mixture and mix in with hand. When a dough has formed, remove to a well floured surface and knead, adding flour as necessary, until the dough isn’t sticky, but is smooth and springs back when pushed in with a finger. Oil a bowl and put dough in, turning once to cover dough, then let sit, covered, for at least 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 450 F. Bring 6 cups water to boil. Divide dough in 2, then divide 1 part into two and the second part into 4-6 equal parts. The 2 larger portions are for pretzel bread rolls, so roll out and set aside. Roll out smaller portions into a long rope and form into a pretzel shape. Mix in baking soda with 4 cups very hot water, then submerge each pretzel for 30-45 seconds and remove to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush surface lightly with water, then sprinkle very liberally with salt and slash shallow cuts into the pretzel loaves. Bake pretzels for 8-12 minutes, until dark color is achieved, bake loaves for 10-14 minutes, until cooked in the center. Serve with beer cheese sauce or mustard.