Oktoberfest…in August.

 

Beer & Brown Butter Soft Pretzels

A 12-pack of beer is a lot for this girl — even when paced out over time.  As a result, I’ve found many ways to get crafty with beer (mostly to free up fridge space).  Beer-braised carnitas, beer pizza crust (no additional yeast needed), beer bread, even beer chocolate chip cookies!  You name it, I’ve probably tried to make it with beer — still perfecting my beer overnight oats though… (totally kidding)

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Experimenting with baking is a bit tricky because you not only have flavor decisions to make, but you still have to respect wet:dry ratios and consider levening power.  As such, many baking experiments are fabulous failures.  Every once in a while, however, you strike gold.  These beer pretzels are gold.
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Simply swapping the water for the beer (1:1 ratio) results in a dough that rises spectacularly, even without heating the beer first, and it yields a soft, chewy pretzel with subtle-but-distinct undertones of beer.  Magic.
I used an amber ale for this recipe, but use whatever beer whose flavor you can honestly say you enjoy — no point in using a cheap, nasty beer here because then you’ll just end up with cheap-tasting, nasty-tasting pretzels.  Tl;dr:  no Keystone Light, please.

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If you scroll down to the recipe below, you’ll see a diagram showing how to form the pretzels.  To get the optimum Auntie Anne factor for your pretzels, roll the divided dough into ropes as long and thin as you can (they puff when boiled and baked), and really stretch them out before dropping them in the water.  Also, to prevent the raisin-factor (think of your toes after you’ve been in a swimming pool for too long), only let the pretzels sit in the hot water-baking soda mixture for 10 seconds.
The traditional topping for these pretzels is a quick egg wash and coarse, pretzel salt.  I also have included a sweet & salty variation with the recipe below, if that’s more your speed.  Or, even better, make your batch half-and-half!  Now, all that’s left to do is crack open an ice cold beer, don your lederhosen, and dive in 🙂

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Beer & Brown Butter Soft Pretzels

YIELD:  8 large pretzels
3 tablespoons honey (bonus points if it’s local honey!)
12 ounces beer, room temp (I used an amber ale, but use whatever type of beer you prefer/have)
1 packet active dry yeast (~2 1/4 teaspoons)
4 1/2 bread flour, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned and semi-cooled in fridge for 10 minutes
1 teaspoon table salt
Large pot of water + ~2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg (discard most of the white — just keep a bit of it), beaten until homogenous
Coarse sea salt (or pretzel salt, if you have it)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the yeast, honey, & beer.  Let stand 5 minutes, until frothy — if the mixture doesn’t froth, the yeast is dead, so start over.  Add 2 cups of the flour,  and mix vigorously with a rubber spatula until smooth, ~1 minute.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Add the remaining flour, the semi-cooled brown butter, and the table salt, and let your dough hook go to town, on medium-low speed, for ~8 minutes [you can knead this by hand if you feel like it – ~10-12 minutes, but don’t add extra flour if you can help it].  Once done, your dough should be in one smooth, elastic, and springy mass.  Transfer dough to a greased mixing bowl, and cover with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise until doubled in bulk, ~45-60 minutes, depending on how warm your kitchen happens to be.
Start preheating your oven to 420 degrees farenheit, making sure that all small children, pets, and wayward boyfriends keep clear of your oven.  Meanwhile, turn your dough out onto a lightly floured countertop, and use a pair of kitchen scissors or a bench scraper to divide the dough into 8 equal pieces — no need to get neurotic here, just eyeball it by repeatedly halving the dough until you have 8 pieces.  Roll each piece into ~2-3′ long rope (the longer the better).
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (verify the “safe to” temperature on your parchment first!).  Shape pretzels [see diagram below, taking note of the pink and green ends to keep you oriented]:
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  1.  Working with one rope at a time, grab one end in each hand
  2. Twist the ends once, keeping hold of each end
  3. Make a second twist by switching the ends in your hands
  4. Place the bottom of the twist on the countertop, and bring the ends straight down to the bottom.  Dip your finger in a little water and dot the interface between the ends and the bottom with your wet finger so that they stick together and lightly press to seal.
Plop the baking soda into a large pot, fill with cold tap water, cover, bring to an enthusiastic boil, and turn off the heat.  Place beaten egg in a small bowl, and have a pastry brush at the ready.  Line a cooling rack with a thin, clean dish towel.  Using your hands, pick up one pretzel by its big loops, gently stretching it out to exaggerate the shape, and gently place it into the hot water.  Use a large, slotted spatula or wire spider to gently submerge the pretzel in the bath, and let sit for 10 seconds.  Using your spatula or spider, remove the pretzel from the water, and allow it to drip until it stops before placing on the towel-lined rack.  Repeat with remaining pretzels.  If you’re new to pretzeling, just work with one pretzel at a time; if you’re more experienced, go crazy and double up, just space your pretzel insertions by ~10 seconds so that they don’t stick together in their hot tub.
Once you’ve dunked all 8 pretzels, brush each one with a thin layer of the egg wash, making sure that you don’t have any large egg globs on the pretzels or dripping onto the baking sheet — they will burn like no other if you do.  Sprinkle generously with the pretzel salt, and bake ~13-14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, if you notice one side browning faster than the other.  There’s nothing wrong with baking the sheets of pretzels one-at-a-time — there’s a fine line between perfectly deep-golden-brown and perfectly-burned…watch ’em like a hawk!  If the tops look done but the bottoms still seem soft, you can bake them for an additional 30 seconds directly on the cookie sheet (i.e. remove the parchment paper) to firm them up a bit.
Let sit on sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks for slight cooling prior to eating, ~5 minutes.  Unsalted pretzels may be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for up to one day.  Unsalted, baked pretzels may also be frozen (once cooled) in thoroughly-burped zip-top freezer bags — just brush tops with water, sprinkle with pretzel salt, & bake at 420 for 10-12 minutes.
VARIATION :  For Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels, apply your egg wash as directed above but skip the salt.  Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven, use a clean pastry brush to quickly apply a thin layer of melted butter, and sprinkle with a mixture of salt, cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice), and granulated sugar.  Return to oven, and bake an additional 3-4 minutes.

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