Tied up in knots

When the Times-Gazette hosted the Relish magazine Cooking Show this fall, the recipe that attracted my attention was easy flatbread. This makes a huge quantity of sticky yeast-raised dough which you keep in a bowl in your refrigerator. Any time you like, you flour your hands, grab a golf-ball-sized hunk of the dough, stretch it out into a little disk and cook it on your George Foreman grill. Seriously. It’s wonderful, and really easy. The dough lasts up to two weeks in the fridge, and actually gets more of a yeast flavor (and beer smell!) as it goes along.

You can also flatten a larger wad of dough into a circle and use it for mini-pizzas.

I’ve made several batches of the flatbread dough, and there’s an experiment I’d been wanting to try. I love soft pretzels. I’ve tried making them at home, but it always required a long rise time. I wondered if you could take some of this easy flatbread dough and use it to make a pretzel.

It turns out, you can.

pretzelsNow, if you see a recipe for homemade pretzels that advises using an egg wash to give the pretzels that distinctive glossy surface, ignore it. That’s not actually how pretzels (or bagels) are made. The glossy surface comes from baking soda – specifically, you take the pretzel and give it a dunk in boiling water to which a handful of baking soda has been added. It will sink to the bottom and then float to the top. Flip it over, give it a few more seconds, and pull it out of the boiling water. Then you salt it (if desired) while it’s still damp, and bake it, at a high temperature, for that glossy brown appearance.

I did not make my little snakes of dough narrow enough, and these aren’t the prettiest examples. But they’re warm, chewy, and I know exactly what’s in them.

Another pretzel recipe I found today suggested brushing them with melted butter right after you pull them from the oven – more for flavor than gloss. That wouldn’t be a bad thing either. If you wanted hard pretzels, you could put them back into the oven at a low temperature to dry them out. But why would you want hard pretzels when soft are available?