As I work my way through the yeast chapters of the baking book, I find myself fascinated by all the intricate details that are involved with bread making. I have always loved to make bread, and more so now, as I discover the beauty and art of handmade dough. It's amazing to me how a dough starts out a sticky mess, and within minutes turns soft and pliable as the gluten strands form and connect. I am learning about all the things that get in the way of gluten, like bran and sugar, and how to work around these to still achieve beautiful, soft and perfectly risen bread. It's tough to retain all this information, so I go over every written word again and again, and put it into practice as often as I can. Today I wanted to do something different, and, being German, I figured pretzels would be the perfect place to start with shaped dough. I have eaten pretzels here in Canada - they are soft and chewy, but mostly taste like a simple sweet dough shaped as a pretzel. German pretzels are salty, with a hint of sweetness, they are soft with a chewy crust. I was sceptical of this recipe, and maybe also my capability to produce a pretzel in the first place! As far as yeast dough goes, pretzel dough is much simpler than other doughs and does not need a long fermentation or baking time. Shaping is also quick and easy, after the first or second try. The tricky part comes after shaping, where the pretzel needs to be dunked entirely in baking soda water, to give that beautiful dark crust and the soda flavour that is unique to it. There was a quick option, however, to brush the pretzels with soda water instead of dunking. I decided to try it, since it was easier... with the full intent of doing it the hard way next time. After baking, I realized that the hard way is definitely the better way, as with the short cut browning is uneven, and the crust could have a more pronounced flavour.
When the oven timer went off, and that wonderful smell of freshly baked dough filled the kitchen, I couldn't help but plate a pretzel right away and devour it. (I did share it with my daughter.) There are after all 5 of them, and only 4 people in our family, which means everyone still gets one (including myself!). It's just one of the perks the cook of the house enjoys. How did they taste? They were so good, maybe because I was proud of myself for making them, I don't know. I could be biased, but us Germans are super picky about getting it right, and I have to say these pretzels come pretty close to the real thing. Perhaps one day I will find the nerve to ask a German bakery to show me their secrets. Until then, this recipe will certainly suffice.