I love pretzels – the large, soft, chewy kind, not the breakfast cereal wannabe crunchy things – but the only place I can buy them round here seems to be Marks&Spencer’s bakery and they don’t even sprinkle them with salt (there’s a fantastic shop that sells them in Kilkenny in the upper floor of the Market Cross shopping center on the main street, but none round here). The other day, I went into M&S to buy some only to find they had none, but instead had taken the dough and made rolls with them. And they were great. And less futzing about is needed to shape the dough, so why not? I put together a decent recipe using a few online recipes and Alton Brown’s good eats episode:
For the dough:
- 1 pkg fast-action yeast (ie. the only kind you find on Irish shop shelves)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup warm milk
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1 cup bread flour
- 2.5-3 cups plain cream flour
For the alkali bath:
- 3 litres water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 cup bread soda
And you need coarse salt, poppy seeds or sesame seeds for sprinkling. Unless you want to make baldies (which aren’t horrible, but really, you’ll prefer these with toppings, and I personally prefer the sesame seeds myself).
In the bowl of your stand mixer mix the oil, milk, water and salt with the whisk attachment for 5-10 seconds. Then add the flour (just the cup of bread flour and the 2.5 cups of plain cream flour, keep back the last half-cup of the cream flour for now) and the yeast and mix with the whisk attachment until the mix all comes together in one large sticky mess (shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds). Then take out the whisk attachment and leave the messy mix in the bowl for ten minutes. After this, put in the dough hook and mix for 3-4 minutes. Look at the dough at this point and see if it’s sticky or satiny. If the former, add in the remaining half-cup of plain cream flour in thirds until the dough goes from sticky to satiny and the entire dough ball comes away from the sides of the bowl as the dough hook is spinning. How much it takes will depend on the day, the temperature, the humidity and so on, so judge it by eye. The dough should also be fairly soft.
Now remove the dough hook, very lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Wash out the mixer bowl and let it dry on the rack while you shape the dough into a ball with a nice tight surface. Put the dough back into the mixer bowl, pour a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil over it and toss to coat the dough and the bowl, then make sure the tight skin of the doughball is uppermost and cover it lightly with cling film. Cover the bowl with a teatowel and leave the dough rise for 90 minutes or until it’s doubled.
Turn out the dough onto a work surface, knock it back and redistribute all the bubbles so that you have a flat sheet of dough, then portion the dough into 10-12 pieces. They’ll look small, don’t worry about that, they’ll expand during proofing and again during the bath. 8 pieces would be too large, 16 too small. 10-12 are a fairly decent size for rolls.
You’ll need two large baking trays for this, and you want to line them with parchment paper. Take each piece of dough, and kindof fold up the corners into the middle underneath the dough until your little piece of dough sheet becomes a little dough ball, then roll it about on the work surface to turn it into a doughball. Leave each doughball proof on the parchment for 20 minutes.
As the doughballs finish proofing, bring the water and sugar to a boil in a large wide pot (and you’ll want one that’s at least six litres in capacity, because when you add the soda it foams up a lot and will boil over quite readily unless there’s room in the pot). And preheat the oven to 210 degrees C (about 425 F) with two racks in there with room between them.
When the doughballs have proofed, add the baking soda to the boiling water. Once the foaming has died down, take each doughball and drop it in the alkali bath and let it boil for between 30 and 60 seconds (the longer you boil, the chewier the roll). Work with two to three doughballs at a time in the bath, any more is awkward – they puff up quite a bit. After the 30-60 seconds, use a slotted spoon to flip the rolls over (they’ll float stably in the bath) and give them the same time on the other side. When done, take out of the bath with the slotted spoon, leave drain into the bath and then put them back on the parchment in the pans. Put in the next batch into the bath and then sprinkle the last batch with the topping of your choice, if you’re using them.
Once all the doughballs are done, using your sharpest knife or razor, slice two centimetre-deep cuts into the top of each doughball in the shape of a cross. The dough will look wrinkly plain weird and when you cut into it, you’ll see the doughballs all have a gelatine-like skin (that’s the alkali bath for you, and it’s a good thing, don’t worry about it).
Bake for 10 minutes, then spin the pans (rotate each pan through 180 degrees and move it to the other rack), then bake for another 10 minutes or until the rolls are deep golden brown. Then de-pan them and leave to cool on a rack for at least five minutes. Serve warm. These rolls won’t last long, but they taste good enough that they’ll wind up eaten before they stale.