22 April 2011

Baking Disasters

I thought that I would be very clever and bake pretzels for our fasting "snacks." I've never made pretzels before, but I looked through several similar recipes and it seemed easy enough. I am a novice bread baker, but I have done a bit of bread-baking before and am starting to get the hang of dough textures, etc. So, I thought I could handle this. The recipes promised beautiful pretzels like in the picture above, like the kind you'd buy at a mall pretzel stand, or, more familiar to me, at a German music and beer festival.

Perhaps my mistake was improvising slightly. The uncooked pretzels are supposed to be dragged through a bath of baking soda and warm water, which kick-starts the chemical reaction that gives them that beautiful brown, soft crust. The recipe I used called for just a warm water bath, but more traditional recipes use slightly boiling water (really traditional recipes call for lye instead of baking soda, but I don't trust myself around strong chemicals; the last time I used oven cleaner I burned my arm quite badly--twice--so if I were to use lye in an edible application I'd probably inadvertently poison us both, if I didn't burn through the skin on both my arms first). So I used simmering, slightly boiling water with the baking soda. I don't know whether I left them in the bath too long or not long enough, or whether I should have used an oiled instead of a floured surface to roll them out, or whether I miscalculated regarding the consistency of the dough (it was sticky, hence needing to flour my hands and the board I rolled them on). They came out looking like this:

Vaguely pretzel-like, but hideous. Ignore my lack of dough-twisting skill (that especially deformed one was fine until it was in the water bath, but it came untwisted)--that's not the real issue here. They are lumpy all over and not smooth. They are slightly brown in some places, but mostly not. I promise I did cook them long enough--they're the right texture both inside and out, they're just ugly. My husband really likes them, but to me they taste awful, like they've been dusted with baking soda instead of sea salt. Oddly enough, the taste exactly reminds me of a bad batch of waffle batter I made a couple of weeks ago, when I tried a new recipe that called for a teaspoon of vinegar (note: add the vinegar to the milk to sour it and make it like buttermilk, do not add directly to the batter). So, husband will eat another one or two later in the day, and the rest I'll put in baggies for him for the rest of the weekend. I guess I'll have to stick to the store-bought bread for my own needs today. Clearly I need a lot more practice at bread baking.

Do any bakers out there have an idea of what I've done wrong? Should I just forget about the baking soda bath and use an egg wash to make them brown? Should I use both? Was it wrong that the dough was sticky--insufficient flour? I'm sure there's more than one place where I took a wrong turn. I'd like to try making pretzels again, but I'd like to make ones that look pretty and taste nice!

1 comment:

Pie Pellicane said...

I no ideas... but I got a kick out of your story ;-) Sounds like something I would do!