On a roll, with pretzel bread

You know how you get hooked on a food, only to discover that it’s just not that easy to find at local grocery stores?

Last year, when I was working a temp job at a huge company that had its own cafe, I became known as the pretzel bread girl. I’m not ashamed. The menu offered a barbeque sandwhich on the dark brown, salty bread and after a few of those, I just started ordering the bread without the filling. Slathered with mustard, the roll made the perfect 2 p.m. pick-me-up with a cup of their organic coffee. Sniff. I miss that place.

But, after that contract expired I was left without a job, and maybe worse, without pretzel bread. I know it’s a common item on menus up north, but here it’s as scarce as a fan of Nicki Minaj’s judging capabilities.

So, the only solution is to make soft pretzel rolls at home. Turns out, it’s not that hard and there’s a secret step that creates that shiny, mahogany crust. You boil them like bagels, except you use a different solution. Bagels are usually boiled in a malted sugar solution before they are baked. With pretzel bread, you use baking soda. The alkaline solution helps form that iconic crust during the rolls’ brief baking period. Cool, huh?

I did a little research (OK, I surfed the net) and found some people who didn’t want to go to all the trouble of boiling 2 quarts of water and adding some baking soda. Instead, they brushed the solution on the rolls. I think it’s funny that they would take the time and effort of letting the dough rise and forming and kneading the rolls and then complain about having to boil some water.

Anyway, a note of caution, add the baking soda to the boiling water by the tablespoon. If you pour it all in at once – well, you remember those volcanos you made for science class. If you want a great snack for the upcoming tournament, divide the dough into 12 cigar-shaped rolls and reduce the baking time by 3-4 minutes. Serve with plenty of Dijon mustard for dipping.

Bench-warmer Pretzel Rolls

1 1/2 cups of water at 110 degrees

1 packet active yeast

2 tsp. sugar

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. salt

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

2 quarts water

1/4 cup baking soda

1 egg, beaten, combined with 1 tsp. water

sea salt

Warm the bowl of a stand mixer by filling it with hot water. Dump the water out and add the warm water, yeast and sugar to the bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes, until foamy. Add 4 cups of the flour, the salt and butter and using the dough hook attachment, mix thoroughly. Add the remaining flour as needed until the dough is soft and only slightly sticky. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for an hour.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Divide the dough into eight pieces. Form rolls by pulling four corners of each piece toward the center and pinching. Place the dough on a floured surface and roll with the flat of your palm 1 to 2 minutes until you have a firm ball. Repeat with each piece. Place the balls, seam side down, on the baking sheet and cover with a towel. Let them rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring the water to a boil and gradually add the baking soda. Using a large slotted spoon, place two of the rolls in the boiling water. Turn them over after 30 seconds and boil another 30 seconds. Remove them from the water and place them back on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining rolls.

Brush each roll with the egg and water mixture and slice a shallow X into each one with a sharp knife. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake 15-20 minutes, until the rolls are dark brown and shiny.






4 thoughts on “On a roll, with pretzel bread

  1. Your timing is prescient with this recipe — I bought some pretzel buns the other day because Keith volunteered to grill burgers even though it was a) maybe 20 degrees out and b) snowing! When a man is ready to cook up some meat outdoors, though, you just say “thank you” and get out of their way! 🙂

    Around here (Chicago) pretzel rolls aren’t all that easy to find, either (not sure what your “north” geographic boundaries are). But, they are so darn tasty and the structure stands up so well to a condiment-laden burger that I seek them out. Now I don’t have to, though, thanks to your recipe!

    (Actually, I was surprised to find them at the chain grocery store closest to my house last Friday, because it is definitely not standard grilling season yet around here.)

    However, I do have a couple questions about your recipe — for the first rise/rest, how much should the dough increase in volume after an hour? Should it double?

    And, what is the finished size of the rolls if you make eight? Sandwich-size? Dinner-roll size? Slider-size? (I need a visual!)

    Thanks, my friend!

    1. Sharon, the dough should double in size, but mine was a little smaller. Didn’t seem to matter in the finished product, though. Eight makes a sandwich sized roll. Not a humongous sandwich, but enough for a 4-oz grilled hamburger. As for using rapid-rise yeast instead – the water should be 120-130 degrees. Mix the yeast with the flour and add it to the hot water and sugar. It probably will only have to sit covered 30 minutes the first time, then proceed as written.

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