German Soft Pretzels

Ladies and gentlemen, we flipped the Kaschper today.  Let me explain.

I'm on spring break, which means I've stayed in Chicago for crew, because ain't nobody got time for that vacation thing (sarcasm).  I'm only able to row every other day because my back is still healing, and so today I was in the launch boat with our coach, Trish.  We were doing some seat racing, which is a pretty accurate way to tell which rowers are faster than others - you have two boats race each other, then switch two rowers (either switch two rowers who were in the same seat but different boats, or swap one rower from the launch for another in one of the boats), and race the same course again.  In this way you can isolate which rower makes a boat faster.  This is a very over-simplified explanation, but for those of you who are here for the food and don't care about rowing, this has already gone on for too long.

In any case, we were racing in 4's (four rowers and one coxswain), while the novices were doing drills in an 8.  After seat racing, we (the varsity rowers) were going to go out in an 8 and let the novices go out in 4's for the first time ever.  Now, 4's are very exciting - it means they're moving up in the rowing world - but they're also much less stable on the water than 8's.  A group of more technically experienced novices went out in one of our 4's, the Power, while some of the less experienced novices with one varsity member went in the Kaschper.  As they were pushing off from the dock, the rowers in the Kaschper were leaning too far to their port side.  The port rowers were also pulling in their oars to push further away from the dock, making the boat all the more unstable on that side; then crash bang boom, plop, and they weren't in the boat anymore.  

I didn't witness any of this myself - the varsity rowers were up at the crate (we don't have a boathouse... sooo we keep our equipment in a shipping crate next to our boats) - but the water-logged coxswain ran up and got us to come down and help.  Trish and I went out in the launch boat, removed the oars from the boat, then pushed it back to the dock.  From there we bailed the water out of it with whatever we could find: sponges, ziplock baggies, bailers, gallon water jugs.  It took seven rowers to lift it out of the water.  This is all quite exciting, but also exhausting for everyone involved, and we never did get to take that 8 out.  Maybe tomorrow.

I was relieved when I returned to the apartment to find that a couple of my soft pretzels had survived the morning, with three hungry rowers milling about here.  This recipe is from Food & Wine Magazine, with a couple minor adjustments, and it's wonderful.  I made a full batch yesterday, and among the four of us living in this apartment right now, they're all gone.  They.  Are.  So.  Good.  Please make them, and dip them in Dijon mustard, or really any good mustard.  The diastatic malt powder isn't strictly necessary, so don't worry if you don't have it, or don't want to bother with it.  The original recipe called for all-purpose flour rather than bread flour, but I figured this would be an appropriate application for the latter, so I suppose you could use either.

German Soft Pretzels 

1/2 c brown sugar
2 c warm (~105 degree F) water
5 teaspoons (2 packets) yeast
1/4 c vegetable oil
~5 3/4 c bread flour
1 1/2 diastatic malt powder 
3/4 c baking soda
Coarse salt

Stir together the brown sugar and water in a large bowl, then sprinkle over the yeast and let it dissolve until foamy.  Add in the vegetable oil, then 3 cups of flour.  After combining thoroughly, stir in remaining 2 3/4 cups of flour and the malt powder.  You may not be able to work all the flour in by just stirring.  Dump the flour mixture onto a clean surface and kneed, adding flouring as necessary, until the dough is soft and smooth, tacky but not sticky.  I kneeded by hand, and it took me 5-10 minutes (it didn't pass the window-pane test, but the dough turned out fine).  Let it rise in a warm place, covered, in an oiled bowl, for ~45 minutes until doubled.  

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  In a deep, wide skillet, bring baking soda and ~half a gallon of water to a boil.  Meanwhile, cut the dough into 24 pieces and roll into sticks.  I divided the dough as evenly as I could, but naturally some of the sticks were longer than others.  After I rolled them out, I cut the ends to make them even, and made those ends into pretzel nuggets.  Let them rise uncovered for another ~25 minutes.  

Once the water-baking soda mixture is boiling, turn down the heat to a simmer, and add 6 pretzel sticks at a time.  After 30 seconds, turn them over to the other side.  After another 30 seconds, remove them from the water, pat dry with paper towels, and place on an oiled baking sheet.  Before boiling another batch, add 1 cup of hot water.  Sprinkle boiled pretzels with salt, then bake ~10 minutes until dark brown.  

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