"Um, you know this weekend is kidlet's Super Saturday, right?" my husband said to me last Friday.
Wait, what? Super Saturday means it's the end of his hockey season. April is here, y'all! When did this happen?
April means something else though, too.
Better weather + playoffs means one thing: copious amounts of Man-Time. Usually spent in the Man-Cave, or anywhere else where the guys can gather to celebrate the tradition of combining sports, beer, and television.
Big soft pretzels and sports go together like peas and carrots. While they take some time to prep, mostly because of the time you need to let the dough rise, the effort is always worth it because trust me! You'll never had a pretzel as good as one you make yourself: steaming-hot, fresh, and mouthwateringly yeasty-good instead of stale, cold, over-salted, and loaded with preservatives and dough conditioner agents.
That's true of most bread... store-bought will never be as amazingly good as fresh-baked. And for sure: no store-bought baked good could ever make your house smell as amazeballs.
One thing I often see in homemade pretzel recipes is that they omit key things that make a pretzel look and taste its best. A home-made pretzel will not be much of a pretzel, in my opinion, without being boiled in water with baking soda in it. Here's why:
As I've mentioned in some of my previous posts, such as "Hummus: You're Making It Wrong," baking soda is a common household superhero and it falls on the alkaline side of the pH scale. It's perfectly safe; it can be a naturally-occurring salt, and it's been used for over 100 years as an antacid and leavener- in fact, baking soda and its near-kin in chemistry, baking powder, revolutionized bread baking as we know it. As a leavener, baking soda is frequently used to cause goods to rise by releasing carbon dioxide as it chemically reacts with acidic products. If you've ever done the baking soda volcano experiment, you've seen that reaction at work! In hummus, it reacts with the pectic bonds of chickpeas, breaking them down and making the chickpeas grind into a smooth paste.
On pretzels, baking soda acts as a salty-flavouring, but it also does something else when you boil the pretzels in baking soda and water before you bake them.
You may be familiar with the Maillard reaction--I think it's safe to say that it's one of the best-loved chemical reactions. The Maillard is the browning effect that happens on all kinds of foods like bread and roast chicken at certain temperatures. Chemically, what happens is that sugars react with certain amino acids beginning at around 140F-165F, and other compounds are created that make the food smell wonderful, make it tasty, and cause that beautiful brown color.
Science tastes awesome.
The Maillard process happens even more quickly in alkaline situations. This means that on pretzels, boiling the pretzels briefly before baking them gives it that luscious dark brown and caramelized flavour in a much shorter baking time, meaning that the pretzel's outer crust doesn't get baked hard and dry compared to the inside. The alkaline salt also gives the pretzel its distinctive flavour.
To get that shiny texture, keep the salt stuck to the surface, and to also help keep your pretzels soft, brush on a wash made of egg and a little bit of water!
And simply omit the cheddar for a dairy-free pretzel treat.
In a mixing bowl, combine warm water, yeast, and sugar. Stir to wet the yeast well, and then add salt, olive oil, and 3 cups of flour. Stir until flour is fully combined, and gradually add more flour, stirring, until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl (approximately 4 cups).
Sprinkle some flour on a counter or table surface and begin to knead the dough. Fold in about 1/2 cup grated cheddar as you knead for about 6-8 minutes, flouring your hands and the counter as necessary, until dough is smooth and elastic when pinched.
Lightly grease a bowl and set the dough, covered, to rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until doubled.
Shortly before the dough is finished, set a large pot to boil with 2 quarts of water and 1/2 cup of baking soda. Beat the egg in a small bowl with a little bit of water (about 1tsp) and set to one side. Begin preheating the oven to 425F and prep two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Turn out the risen dough and divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a 20-22" rope, and either twist into a pretzel shape, pressing it together firmly, or cut into 1" pieces (for making pretzel bites). Boil pretzels (2 at a time, if large) for 30 seconds, making sure that all sides of the pretzels are exposed to the liquid. Carefully lift them out with a spatula and set them on the parchment paper.
Using a pastry brush, spread egg wash on the upper surface of each pretzel or pretzel bite. Top with more grated cheddar and coarse salt. Bake the trays for 12-15 minutes, until deep golden brown color develops.
If storing the pretzels for later, allow them to cool uncovered, else the salt will dissolve.
Whisk together the lemon, mustard, and honey before adding the mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight before serving.