Pretzels. Whenever I hear that word, an image of George Dubya choking on one will invariably come to mind. How that happened continues to mystify me. I mean, a pretzel! What are the odds?! Just like, shooting your friend because you thought he was a quail. Thankfully, there were no fatalities in both incidents because that would be so NOT funny.
Homemade cinnamon sugar. Looks like sand, doesn't it?
Anyway, back to pretzels. I made a small jar of cinnamon sugar the other day, with the intention of sprinkling it on toast. Then the idea of making soft cinnamon pretzels came about. Hmmm ... warm, toasty cinnamon pretzels, the type sold at Aunty Anne's outlets ... yum yum. But, there was a catch: I've never tried baking breads before. I've always thought it would be too difficult. However, the lure of warm cinnamon pretzels was too great to ignore, and I meekly conceded defeat. So out I went, to get the ingredients.
I decided on this recipe. It looked fairly straightforward, but I was still apprehensive, since I was venturing into unknown territory. The first few steps were a no-brainer. It was the kneading of the dough that stumped me. Just how do you know when to stop? It was a gooey, sticky, messy, uncontrollable glob with a mind of its own.
As I tried my darndest to get out of that sticky situation (pun intended), I imagined how it would be like trapped in quicksand (yes, I have a fertile imagination). The more you move, the more it swallows you up. Kinda like what was happening to my fingers. At one point, they were well and truly cemented.
I knew I was a long way off. I had seen enough on TV to know that dough had to be kneaded till you can effortlessly shape it into a ball. And it should not stick to your fingers. So persevere I did ... I was even breaking a sweat!
Kneading is hard work, period. I think I might just develop biceps if I do this thrice a week. Is it any wonder why artisan bakers (like those in a boulangerie) tend to be men? Think about it: it takes a whole lotta arm power to handle sacks of flour and sugar AND knead, knead, knead.
Anyway, I think I was entangled in that gluten-y glob for a good 25mins. Then, the magic that is bread-making took place. At some point, the glob of stringy gluten just came together. And I finally understood what it meant to knead till it feels "as soft as a baby's bottom", because that dough was as delicate as my baby son's bottom!
At this stage, I was just relieved that all my ingredients did not go to waste, never mind how the pretzels turn out. As I left the dough to proof, a part of me berated myself for even attempting this at all: "Couldn't you have picked something easier for a start?" But hey, what was the worst case scenario? Just dump everything ... and try again :)
An hour or so later, my daughter and helper ran to me, squealing in excitement - the dough had risen! Remember, we all knew diddly squat about bread-making, hence the buzz ;) So yeah, I proceeded with the rest of the recipe, ie, shaping the pretzels, boiling them in a water bath, drying them, baking them and eventually adding the cinnamon topping.
How did they turn out, you ask?
Pretty darn good :)
Better than expected results!
My kids and helper went for the jugular and had two each ;) I tried a small one and was pleasantly surprised myself.
Cinnamon. Sugar. Pretzels. 'Nuff said.
By the time the second tray of pretzels were done, I was too beat to finish the small mound of dough left. So, I took the easy way out and made rolls! LOL. When they came out of the hot oven, everyone simply tore them apart, dipped 'em in melted butter before going for a good frolick in the tray of cinnamon sugar. Instant gratification, I say!
All in all, I am greatly inspired and encouraged to try bread-making again. Next time though, I will do it during the school hols, when I don't have to send and fetch the kids in-between kneading and baking. I also have a strong feeling that there will be more requests for cinnamon sugar pretzels from now on, seeing how there were no leftovers at all!
Recipe for easy reference (adapted from here):
Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels
- 1 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 4 cups regular flour
- 1 1/8 teaspoon salt
- A tray of cinnamon sugar
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
For boiling the pretzels
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
2. Add flour and knead dough until smooth and elastic. Let rise for 40-60 minutes at least.
3. Shaping the dough: Divide the dough into parts and roll it out. Make sure to keep both the ends thinner than the rest of it since the ends will be tied together and become thicker eventually. Also, make sure that you roll them out thin, not more than 1/2 inch in diameter, because they will swell up twice - once after the water bath and then when they are baking.
4. Next, boil the two water and add the baking soda. Reduce heat till you get a gentle simmer. Drop the pretzels in the water bath and let them stay in for about 5 seconds. After the pretzels are removed, make sure you dry the excess liquid on a kitchen towel before placing on the baking sheet/silpat/baking stone.
5. Place the pretzels on a baking sheet and brush with a lightly eaten egg. Bake in a preheated oven at 220 degree celsius for ten minutes or until golden. Let cool on a wire rack. Brush with the melted butter and sprinkle the sugar cinnamon all over it.