After 20-something years abroad, the list of things that I miss from America are pretty few and far between - my family, summers hot enough to grow tomatoes outside and food. I know that the US isn’t known for its culinary fare, but I think that really sells the country short. There is something so magical about the mix of cultures that landed there and the resulting mix of deliciousness that resulted.
Big, fluffy, buttery pretzels are a staple shopping mall food. There is usually a stand in the corner of the food court selling small heart attacks on plates. Dripping with salt and butter, often dipped in cheese these are not for the feint hearted (see above their heart attack inducing power), but man they are good.
Pretzels are german in origin and that distinctive taste is from both the addition of malt (as in our bagels) and in the pre-dip in a lye or washing soda bath. You can also use bicarb here, but you won’t get the same flavour. I’ve used lye (sodium hydroxide) as I have some in the house for soap making. We also have washing soda for making our own laundry soap (sodium carbonate), but you can make your own - simply heat baking soda or in a 200 F/ 93C oven for about an hour. Carbon dioxide and water will be given off, leaving dry sodium carbonate.
550g strong bread flour
110g all purpose/plain flour
340g warm water
40g malt powder
200g mature starter
either 35g household lye or washing soda OR 70g bicarb
1 litre of water
(optional 3g of yeast for a bit more rise)
Mix all the ingredients - knead or mix in a stand mixer until the dough is silky and smooth.
Leave to proof in a warm place for 3-4 hours. Do one stretch and fold in that time.
Refrigerate the dough overnight if making the next day, otherwise move onto step 4.
Roll out into 18in/45cm long tubes - slightly fatter in the middle and thinner at the ends. Keep your dough covered as you work as it may dry out.
Shape by twirling the ends around each other and bringing them down onto the base of the pretzel.
Proof on the counter, covered, for another hour then proof for a second hour, uncovered.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180c/360f.
Set up your lye or bicarb bath in a stainless steel bowl (be sure to wear rubber gloves). Place a cooling rack over a baking tray. Dip your pretzel dough into the lye bath for a few seconds and then place them on the rack to dry.
When they are all dipped, transfer the pretzels over to the baking tray and sprinkle with salt. You can score the fat bit of the pretzel to help with the rise.
Bake for about 10-15 minutes until brown. if you want crispy pretzels, bake for an additional 10 minutes.
For the authentic mall-American style, eat them dipped in melted butter. Heart attacks await!