If you are keeping up with the events in your city right about now, I’m sure you’ve seen something or the other related to Oktoberfest. (Read more here). I know it’s not even remotely an Indian thing, but I can’t help but notice promotions and offers related to it everywhere. Except it kills me that, in my city, it’s all a big sham. The festival is all about special brews, but there’s hardly any of that going on. And the traditional food that accompanies the beer is either hard to find, or not very good.
The whole micro-brewing culture is relatively new in Delhi. It’s catching on and there are more places opening up every year but I feel that there isn’t any concentration on brewing signature brews, exclusive to that particular micro-brewery. Each will typically have 4 varieties – a lager, a dark (slightly caramel-ly but definitely not a stout), a light/ premium and a wheat. They’ll brand them all differently, according to the theme of the brewery but, frankly, each brewery’s version of each of these tastes similar with nothing particularly distinctive.
As much as I love beer, I’m no expert – mainly because of the lack of exposure. But I learn and taste a little more each time I travel somewhere with a more evolved (craft)beer and micro-brewing scene. My cousins, Vinay & Gautam, are big fans and try to bring us (read smuggle around 20-25 bottles in checked-in luggage) their current favourites each time they visits. (And they also bring me hard pretzels!) Vinay’s even produced a web-series on the craft beer revolution.
Getting back to the point – the beer scene in Delhi and around is dominated mostly by age-old domestic, mass produced, brands which mostly offer lager. Of late, they are supplemented by a few micro-breweries. And some bars have now started stocking imported beer (beyond Corona) from Europe and the Americas, but they’re hideously over-priced and, more often than not, most of the listings on the menu are not actually available.
The reason I’m on this beer rant is that Oktoberfest is making me crave Pretzels, along with beer of course. The only good ones I’ve had in Delhi are at the Oktoberfest celebration at the Indo German Chamber of Commerce. My cousin no longer works with them so I doubt I’m going to go this year, and I’m definitely not going for the over-priced shams at every single bar pretending to host the celebration. So I decided that we would replicate some of the stuff at home. Granted we only drank Tuborg, but fresh soft pretzels and a mean game of “teen-patti” or Flash (which wiped my/our wallet clean) made the Tuborg seem much grander!
Apart from the fact that I LOVE soft pretzels, and a good one is near impossible to find in Delhi, the reason I decided to make them is part of my fear of making “real” bread. So I’m easing myself into making it by making pizza dough and pretzels!
Without further ado, here’s how I made the pretzels (based on this recipe)…
What I used for 8 mid-sized pretzels (I personally don’t think they’re miniature!):
1 cup warm water (not uncomfortably hot, not comfortably room temperature, but warm & somewhere in between – Deb says about 40 C)
1 tbsp + 2 tbsp sugar
1-1/8 tsp dry active yeast
Approx 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp vegetable (any neutral tasting) oil to grease the bowl
1/4 cup baking soda
Toppings: sesame seeds and deep fried onions
Here’s how I made them:
First, I made a comfortable home for the yeast by mixing the sugar and warm water.
Then I sprinkled on the yeast and let it rest for about 10 minutes without stirring.
While we waited, AK fixed us a drink each – vodka with green apple and with peach tea (L-R)…
After 10 minutes and several gulps of the “refreshing beverage” , the yeast mix looked cloudy like this…
Giving it a stir, I poured the liquid into my large steel mixing bowl. To it, I added 1/2 cup of the flour and stirred well with a wooden spoon until there were no lumps.
Then I added the salt and stirred well to combine.
Adding 1/2 cup flour at a time, I stirred well between additions and used up a total of a little-less-than 2-1/2 cups flour,until I thought the dough was the right consistency – neither overtly dry nor overtly wet, but not smooth.
I ended up using less flour than in Deb’s recipe, but like she says – the exact proportion also depends on the weather, so I had to trust my instinct!
Next, I floured the counter and plonked (!!!) the dough on it.
Then I kneaded it for about 7-8 minutes. It was very sticky to begin with but started holding its own in a short while.There’s no method to this per se – just push down, fold over and push down with the heel of your palm again and again.
Here it is – sticky, but so much fun to play with – please ignore the watermark overdose…
And here’s where I left it – as soon as it started holding its own. It stopped being as sticky but was still elastic and soft.
Having washed and wiped the mixing bowl, I greased it generously with the oil and placed the dough in it. Tossing it round a little until the dough was also well coated with the oil, I covered the bowl with a lid and wrapped it in a big towel. Placing it in a warm place for about an hour, I allowed the dough to rise to approximately double. This is before the rise…
I punched it down to deflate a little, kneaded it for a few seconds and then rolled it out into a rough, thick circle.
There’s no need for precision here. The only reason I did it was to be able to cut the dough into 8 (approximately) equal pieces. You can decide how you want to go about dividing the dough, as long as it is divided as equally as you can manage.
When you’re cutting it (with a sharp knife of course), you’ll notice how neatly you’re able to cut it and how easily each wedge will fall away from the whole. I’m not sure why but I think the fermented, airy, texture of the dough allows neat division!
Before shaping the pretzels, I made sure I had lined a 9×13 baking sheet with butter paper and greased it very lightly with oil. In fact, I rubbed some oil on the paper and then wiped the excess off with a paper towel.
To shape, I took each section and rolled it into a long rope (approximately 18″) – ideally the ends should be a little thinner than the middle section. Then, holding each end in one hand, I brought them inwards to form a circle with the middle half of the rope and twisted the loose ends together twice before settling them on the circle surface and pinching them a little to keep in place. I know that probably sounded like instructions in a foreign language but please bear with me. I’m hoping the photographs will help.
Rolling into a rope…
Circle, twist and pinch to seal…
If this doesn’t help, then maybe this diagramme from Martha Stewart will help. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this simpler method before…!
I placed them on the prepared baking sheet, a few centimetres away from each other because they rose a little bit more before boiling & baking…
While twisting into shape one-by-one, I covered the ready pieces with a damp kitchen towel to avoid drying out (since my kitchen fan was running). But this was a bad idea because the damp made the bottoms slightly soggy and a few of the pretzels stuck a little bit to the paper. I had trouble lifting them up when I was ready to boil them. Next time, I would cover them with another piece of butter paper or foil, greased lightly – so that they don’t dry out but don’t stick either.
Also, the divided balls of dough were drying out a little and I had trouble rolling and shaping after the 3rd one. So I put the remaining dough balls back in the greased mixing bowl and kept it covered with the lid, retrieving them one at a time. Will probably make sure I do that right from the beginning next time.
Leaving the shaped pretzels (all 8 of them fit on 1 sheet) covered – to allow them to rise a little bit more for about 15 minutes – I placed a large shallow saucepan with about 2″ of water to on high heat until it came to a rolling boil. I also turned on the oven to pre-heat at 250 C. Next time I’ll turn on the oven before rolling and shaping because the pretzels took almost 40 minutes to bake whereas Deb’s took about12-15 minutes.
Once the water came to a boil, I added the baking soda, which made the water foam up very quickly.
Adding the remaining 2 tbsp sugar, I lowered the heat to a simmer.
Carefully lifting the pretzels, I lowered them into the water. I could have added 2-3 at a time and they wouldn’t have touched, but I had a bit of a struggle lifting them from the sheet so it was more like 1-2 at a time. I boiled/ poached them, turning once using a slotted spoon. Deb said to do 1 minute on each side, but with the panic that the sticking had created, I neglected the advice a little and didn’t boil them long enough. I suggest you make sure you do because that may have had something to do with the longer baking time as well.
After lifting them out of the water, I set them back on the baking tray – minus the paper but re-greased. Again, I think it wasn’t a great idea because the wet and soggy dough + greased tray caused them to stick a teeny bit while baking. Nothing major. I pried them off the tray and they didn’t burn at all but they did get slightly stuck and cause me some more momentary panic! Next time, when I lift them out of the water I think I’ll place them on a cooling rack to drain off for about 5 minutes.
Next, I beat the egg with 1 tbsp water…
Using a pastry brush, I brushed on the egg-wash on each of the pretzels…
Then I sprinkled the toppings on them – sesame seeds on all and fried onions on 4 of them. Ideally, I should have sprinkled on some coarse salt but I didn’t have any and didn’t feel like driving out to the specialty store.
I popped it in the pre-heated oven until golden. I was expecting them to be done in about 15 minutes, but they took closer to 40. As I said, next time I’ll pre-heat earlier and boil/ poach the pretzels for the correct time. The taste wasn’t affected but the process just took longer…
Here they are with the mustard…
And that’s me digging in (refusing to wait for AK while he spoke with a client on the phone)…
This was definitely one of the more satisfying experiments because they turned much better than I expected. Soft chewy bread encased in the classic shiny golden pretzel exterior – smothered in spicy whole grain mustard they make me want to swoon!
Last piece of advice from Deb:these are best eaten the same day so best not to make ahead. However, if you have left-overs, then store them uncovered at room temperature for up to 2 days. They will become soggy in a covered container.
And if you MUST make them ahead, then after shaping them, cover with greased foil/ clingfilm and store in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Bring them back to room temperature before boiling them.
Other suggested toppings:
- Poppy/ Khus-Khus seeds
- Black Sesame
- Kalonji/ Onion Seeds
- Dried Garlic & Herbs
- Grated Cheddar
- Sugar & Cinnamon
These are on my list for next time… OK now I’m REALLY signing out. But only after you promise that you will try these…
- 1 cup warm water (not hot)
- 1 tbsp + 2 tbsp sugar
- 1-1/8 tsp dry active yeast
- 2-1/2 cups AP Flour (approx)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2 tsp canola/vegetable oil (to grease bowl)
- ¼ cup baking soda
- 1 egg
- Toppings of your choice: sesame seeds, coarse sea salt, deep fried onions
- Stand Mixer
- 10x15 Baking Tray
- Parchment Paper
- Pastry Brush
- Cooling Rack
- Dissolve 1 tbsp sugar in the warm water. Then add the yeast to it, stir gently and let it sit for about 10 minutes until the mixture is cloudy and a little frothy.
- Pour this mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer, or into a large mixing bowl. Add ½ cup of the flour and the salt and stir with a wooden spoon until there are no more lumps.
- Add the flour, ½ cup at a time and mix until all the liquid has been absorbed - the dough should be neither too wet nor too dry.
- Knead this mixture in the stand mixer (with dough hook) or by hand on the counter for about 7-8 minutes, until it is no longer sticky but still elastic and soft. Shape it into a ball.
- Smear a large mixing bowl with the canola oil and place the dough ball in it - roll it around to coat with the oil. Cover and let it rest in a warm place to rise for about an hour. It should double in size.
- Before handling the dough again, turn on the oven to pre-heat at 250 C and place a baking rack in the centre of the oven. Also, line a tray with parchment paper and grease it lightly.
- Gently punch down the dough and then roll it into a disc (without handling it too much or it will lose all it’s airy-ness).
- Using a sharp knife, divide this into 8 wedges.
- Roll each into a long rope, approx 18 inches, keeping the ends a little thinner than the rest. Cross the edges over each other like an inverted ribbon (like the breast cancer/ AIDS symbol). Now lift the loose ends and fold inwards so that the tips come to rest on the middle and fattest part of the pretzels. Look at the images in the above post.
- Place each on the prepared tray, a few inches apart to allow for more rising room. Cover with a tea towel or an inverted tray and allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes.
- Fill a large-ish (12”) pan with 2” of water. Place on the stove and bring to a rolling boil. Add the baking soda and reduce the heat to a simmer. It will cause the water to froth up a lot and very quickly. Once it settles a little, add the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar and stir to dissolve.
- Gently lower the pretzels into the simmering water, two at a time, and poach for 1 minute on either side. Using a slotted spoon, gently lift from the water and allow to drain on a cooling rack or a large, flat colander.
- Beat the egg with 1 tbsp of water to make a wash and keep aside.
- Line a 10x15 inch baking tray with parchment paper and grease it slightly. Gently transfer the pretzels to the tray and arrange them with a few centimetres between them.
- Brush the tops of the pretzels gently with the egg wash and sprinkle your choice of toppings over them - you can use poppy seeds, sesame seeds, nigella seeds, coarse sea salt, dried garlic and herbs, grated cheddar etc.
- Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 12-15 minutes or until golden.
- Remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool in the tray for 5-7 minutes before transferring them onto a cooling rack to cool further.
- Serve warm , with mustard (and a cold glass of beer to wash them down).